Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Q in "Cultural" Kingston - My Letter to Jian Ghomeshi

Dear Jian,

I’m scribing this letter in regards to your question re: why we think - culturally - our town is somewhere Q should come and celebrate. While it is my own thoughts and opinions, I hope that it will speak to and for others excited to welcome you and your team here.

First of all let me say how amazing it is to consider that the other cities are formulating strong responses with examples of culture. I love that all of these cities provide opportunity for us to delve deep into the richness of our Canada in different ways. I am so grateful to call Canada home and to be afforded the freedom to celebrate and actively engage in our amazing cultural diversity.

I lived in Kingston from 2005 – 2008. I just came back in July of 2011. What I love about Kingston is the opportunity it presents to us, each of us to engage in the development of making our community better, and the challenge to see past the limestone structures to what is just below the surface.

Much of the conversation around Kingston’s Culture focuses on our buildings and the history we have in relation to the development of Canada as a Nation. Many of the pictures we have tweeted and posted of mini Jian have been connected to historical buildings. This is one of the reasons I love Kingston. However there is so much more.

While some of these examples are ones that I posted on your wall two days ago, Kingston provides opportunity to talk about a) the prison farms and restoring communities. b) the Kingston writers fest and the value of local/community talent. c) island commuter communities: WOLFE island and how they are doing amazing things to enrich community. d) hockey and Canada...the first game of hockey in Canada was played here. e) fine arts program at Queens getting cancelled. f) awesome Kingston - $1000 grants for great ideas to better Kingston...........

Moreover, we live out our celebration of culture through a significant number of culturally defined organizations. http://www.cityofkingston.ca/residents/culture/links/index.asp. The list is long. The list is diverse. The list is not complete. What is important to highlight that many of these organizations are supported by and impact our community (our thoughts, our perspective) because of volunteers, people who want Kingston to be about something more than just a City that hosted the first hockey game, was the 1st capital of Canada and was the 1st city in the province of Ontario.  

A really strong of example of how we live out our culture is through the Kingston Multicultural festival. What I love is that the people of Kingston have creatively found ways to celebrate and express the vast cultures that make our city home.  https://www.facebook.com/kmaf2011

I can list for you all the committees that we have, the buildings that some say define our culture. For there is a vast and beautiful list of artist that we have coming through Kingston some at the Grand Theater, some at Sydneham United Church, some in lecture halls on campuses, some in public libraries, some in the screening room and some wherever they can find a place to be heard.

I do however believe that this list will only be complete when you reflect on the sentiments that Mohandas Gandhi shared when he said that “A nation's culture resides in the hearts and in the soul of its people”.

And Jian, I believe that while Kingston boasts amazing talents that have made their way to national and international levels, we also boast people who care deeply about sharing identities and values with each other, who want to find space to display those identities and values. These are people who will continue to work together and live together who will never make it to the Grand Theater or to The Sound Academy or to The O’Keefe Centre but will be part of the story that gets told to our children, and to their children. This story will be about how ordinary, talented people with a passion in their soul for the arts and for culture continued to stay focused and committed to ideals in such a trying time when culture wasn’t to be a topic of conversation. It will be a story that says our Canada is creative and caring and diverse because of people who in cities like Kingston expressed the heart of their nation. 

So Jian, come hang out with us here in Kingston and hear our stories, challenge our understandings and celebrate with us our amazing community and how we are making it better one day at a time. 

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

letter to PM Harper .....and other leaders.

Dear Prime Minister Harper,

I want you to read this letter. I am aware you probably won’t. I want you to hear these words. I am aware this may only be a hope. I want you to admit that the behavior towards our own people living in the Attawapiskat First Nation is unacceptable. I know this may not happen.

I write this letter so that I can say I did something. It will not be everything. It may not even be close to what I want to do, but it is a start.

I want this letter to clearly articulate my deep disappointment, sadness and anger pertaining to the lack of leadership and what appears to be ignorance from the Canadian government regarding the quality of life afforded to our Attawapiskat First Nation. Our people are living in what Charlie Angus; MP for Timmins-James Bay has said “was like stepping into a fourth world”.   

Mr. Harper, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and article 25 states:
(1)  Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
Notwithstanding this Universal Declaration, as a nation we must be accountable to our most vulnerable and to those in need. With the resources that we have there is no reason for lack of action. I believe that there are creative, thoughtful individual in the government of Canada who can quickly find ways to move money around so that we can get our people what they need, what is their right to have access to.
The Children of Attawapiskat First Nation do not have a school. How is this acceptable?
Mr. Harper. I don’t care if the paint is wearing off our planes. I don’t care if there is gold on business cards. I don’t care (and don’t agree) that we are building more prisons. I want my Canada to be on the world stage for our commitment to caring for our people. I want us to honor and provide a quality of life to each Canadian that shows to the world Canada is a country of opportunity.   

I understand the province of Ontario also has a responsibility. I will write them as well. I understand you have ministers who are in charge of this area and I am copying John Duncan into this letter. That being said, this emergent issue requires more than just a provincial response. This is about leadership. This is about accountability. This is about service.

Do you reflect and consider that as leaders, as those granted power and authority, we are accountability for direction and setting a course for our country? At the national level the action we exhibit and the policy we create must clearly articulate who we are, where we are going and the values that move us forward.

This is not happening at the national level under your leadership. I wonder how you reconcile this. Let Attawapiskat First Nation flourish; allow them to have the same opportunities that are afforded all Canadians. Do not be silent on this matter. Lead this country with dedication to the people not the forces of power and pride.  

Mr. Harper, I didn’t vote for you in the last election. I won’t vote for you in the next election. I will work as hard as I can and use the influence that I have to challenge others to consider how they will vote.  Maybe in this moment while you lead a party that has the majority of power you don’t care but I know that you are aware of how close the margins are right now. I believe that you watch those numbers. If this letter draws attention to the lack of leadership and compels even one person to not cast a vote for you, then I will have done some good.

Mr. Harper, let us not forgot that the very origins of our Canada comes from Kanata, an Iroquois Aboriginal word that means village, a group of people living together in community. Recommit us as a country to live out those sustaining values of care for our neighbors and of citizenship. May it be that those values keep us working to ensure each of us; every Canadian has the best opportunity to flourish and to be an active participant in our Canada’s future.  


Brenda Slomka

Thursday, 17 November 2011

10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1 .....blast off

There’s this guy coming to speak at Queen’s tonight. Queen’s has a lot of people come and speak, a lot of alumni who they can pull from to show how successful they are and the great students they graduate.

Before I get to what this blog is about, I’ve had the privilege to work with and learn from a number of Queen’s students who might never come back to their campus to speak, but who are changing and influencing their community right where they are. This is an amazing testament to the other alumni around the world, and those of us not Queen’s grads. It’s the idea of these everyday ordinary people using their education and opportunity to change their communities, our world for the better.

So back to the reason for the post. The guy coming to speak at Queen’s tonight is an astronaut. Dr. Drew Feustel. I have night class so can’t go, but would love to. Ever since I can remember, my mom would always get us to watch the different space shuttle lift offs'. I think I get some of my passion for exploration and dreaming big from my Mom.

I remember watching these men, mostly men until we saw Roberta Bondar go to space, get into their suits and walk towards the space shuttle. I remember seeing them wave to the camera and then get into the space shuttle. I remember watching the shuttle break away from those bridges that the astronauts walked on just before. I remember hearing the news team and those in the launch area speak those famous words “we are go….in 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1”…..

There is something about the idea of going to space. There is something about knowing that in eight and a half seconds you can break the orbit of the earth.  John Gillespie Magee wrote the following poem that so eloquently expresses my thoughts when it comes to space.

"High Flight"

 Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
 And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
 Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
 of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things
 You have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung
 High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
 I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
 My eager craft through footless halls of air....

 Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
 I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace.
 Where never lark, or even eagle flew —
 And, while with silent lifting mind I have trod
 The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
 - Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

I wonder when you are up there, what you would think of. I wonder when you look through the small window of the shuttle and see earth below and the moon beside what goes through your mind. The idea of reflection about how small we really are. The questions about how we shall care for the earth, our home. Consideration of what matters, truly.  I wonder what changes while you are up there looking out at the vast mystery we call the universe. I think about exploration and innovation and if it really does tell us something, or if it shows us that we still have so much more to learn.

I sometimes dream of going to space, and then I realize that I again would be reminded of all that I don’t know and would come back (hopefully) with a passion and hunger to be about learning and exploration and innovation all of my days.

I leave this clip because I feel that it best represents all that which is important. I can’t help be consider how quickly perspective and value and importance change, and how changing moments remind us what matters.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

i will remember, i will honor, i will fight......

In the next days, over the radio, on the news, in the newspaper & at a Remembrance Day service (I deeply hope), we will be focused on those men and woman who gave themselves to stand for those who couldn't stand for themselves. We will be reminded of those who are still standing so that others might, to this day, know the great joy of freedom.

I don’t support war. I don’t support the idea that countries with more money and more educated people seem to suggest they are the powerhouse and have the right to take control, storming into places and communities in which they have no jurisdiction.  However, with that being said I also don’t support bullies. I don’t support those people who think they can control and oppress others and I want to fight against bullies.
There is a scene in the movie A Few Good Men. Two soldiers are on trial for the death of another soldier. The soldier who has died was trying to get off/out of the base that he was serving on. The basic summary is that the court is trying to prove that the base had something to do with the death. In the end when the verdict is read out loud, the soldiers, while not found responsible for the soldiers death are still given a sanction or discharge from the army. One of the soldiers says to the other one “I don’t understand-- what did we do wrong? I don’t understand, we didn’t nothing wrong”. The other soldier says back “Yeah we did. We were suppose to fight for those who can’t fight for themselves, we were suppose to fight for Willy”. This quote might also summarize my sentiments properly:

We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must - at that moment - become the center of the universe.”   - Elie Wisel

It’s that idea of standing in the gap. It’s the willingness to stand for someone else and to be willing to pay the price. It’s that picture I see in my mind of soldiers standing in front of those without weapons saying “before you get to them, you have to get by us”.

When I travelled Europe two summers ago, I had the very great privilege of visiting Normandy – more specifically Juno Beach where our history books tell us of the loss of many of our Canadian Soldiers, and where we also are reminded the great bravery and dedication and passion for freedom that our Canada is (should be) about.

I think a lot about our Veterans, and how I hope they know how thankful I am, not only for the freedom I have, but for the fact that they took a stand and they said they were willing to be counted. I think about our current soldiers who are going and coming from places all over this vast bouncing ball called earth and I hope they know that I support them for their willingness and bravery to stand and support and speak for those who can’t speak for themselves.  I think about those wanting to serve, those young women and men training and already willing to give and I hope with all my heart that we will see that day when we can lay down our arms and until that day comes I will honor those who fought for justice. I will honor those who continue to fight for justice, who desire to work for peace. Let us not forget that "Unselfish and noble actions are the most radiant pages in the biography of souls" - David Thomas

Friday, 28 October 2011

occupy hope

I used to think that I was someone who had a good understanding of what was going on in my community. I used to think that I was connected to issues and concerns. Maybe on a national level and provincial level I am connected, or think I am based on what is getting reported in popular media. In all my thinking that I'm aware and connected I can admit that I've been wrong.

I find it hard to put into words my thoughts at this moment. I want to say that "this week afforded me the opportunity to see a new", but then I become bothered by the idea that it is an opportunity for me to relearn, the fact that I'm learning from someones painful experience. might I say it this way: this week has provided for me a real reminder of the world that we live in, how much division exists between the rich and the poor, how much opportunity there is to work for something more than myself".

I have been in two systems this week. the educational system and the judicial system. I have seen people working to make these systems better. I have seen people working to satisfy their selfish desires through the system. I have seen people try to understand these systems. I have seen brokenness and pride and stubbornness, really in the most simplified way of putting it, a bunch of broken people just trying to make it through.

I believe that much of this is causing me reflection, causing me to write because I think about what I'm doing with my time and talents. I'm thinking about the next degree I want to do. I'm thinking about all those people that give of themselves for others. this isn't a pity party. it is honest writing about these moments, right now and holding myself to accountability.

I hear comments on the radio program I listen to as I wake up in the early morning. I hear people say about those occupying (insert city name here) how much of a waste of time it is and the fact that nothing can come of their sitting in streets and waving signs. It makes me think of all the times in which there have been moments where people have banded together to change the course of history because they wanted for more.

It's been a while since I've felt sadness that makes my heart hurt the way it has hurt this week. Yet, in these moments of sadness there is a reminder that comes in the form of a teacher who chooses to show up to their classroom even though it will be chaos in motion and seem as though there is no purpose. there is a reminder that comes in the form of a family member who supports and cares, even when the sanctions and penalties are given out. there is a reminder that comes from people saying they won't accept others having less than what they have, and that they will fight for justice, even for those who can't fight for themselves.

and I am reminded that as Elie Weisel said  "Just as despair can come to one only from other human beings, hope, too, can be given to one only by other human beings". i reflect on the gift of time and talent and passion and hope. i refocus again, and with the sadness that I feel, get excited about what I can do here, in my community to occupy hope.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Oh. Canada.

(this is the start of a post that I was writing in June of 2009 when I was travelling Europe). I have walked miles and miles over the last days. I have seen palaces where royalty lives. I have seen cathedrals where many worship. I have seen beautiful farmland where men and woman work the land. I have seen almost pure white sandy beaches where people sell their talents. I have climbed summits. I have heard voices of young children sing as though we were amongst angles. I have watched the sun set in numerous different countries and while each of these experiences was a moment to remember, none of them were close to home, close to what Canada has to offer.

CANADA. it's not hard to see how this country becomes part of the very fabric of our everyday living. some say it is our pioneering spirit. some say it is the diversity we share. some say it is the freedom we know. some say its our love for social change. some say its the passion we have. I say it is all of this and so much more. It is what we can't put a name to. It is the vast prairie sky that beckons us to dream big. It is the reminder of our smallness when we conquer the summit of a mountain on the west coast. It is taste of the work of our farmers when we eat from our land. It is the feel of the ocean on our face when pulling in lobster and fish nets. It is the curiosity that deepens watching the tide come in and out on the east coast. It is the chimes that ring from the clock tower on the hill reminding us of the grandeur of the moments we have lived,  here in CANADA.

Today, I had another opportunity to hear a MP speak. I try to hear as many politicians and community leaders speak. I might not agree with all of them, but it helps me to reflect on why I choose to be for and why I choose to be against certain ideas, certain policies. While at times I wasn't completely taken with this MP, I was encouraged to hear him speak to bigger themes and ideas for our Canada. It was between various questions that  I got to thinking about the times that I've watched leadership races for the various parties, usually on the CBC.  I got to thinking about why this stuff interests me. It does help that for a good amount of the time our country is cold, so being inside watching a leadership race doesn't really count as a wasted day when you are told to say inside. Being connected to politics it about something more than myself. It is about all of those people who have conquered something more. It is about the progress that we continue to have opportunity to carve out for future generations. It is about the expectation to be more for those countries who can't be more for themselves right now.

Agnes Macphail once said "Patriotism is not dying for one's country, it is living for one's country, and for humanity. Perhaps that is not as romantic, but it's better" and this is the way my heart beats right now. I want to hear us speak of this country with passion and connection. I want us to be compassionate and focused on growing the community around us where we celebrate each other and work together and dream big dreams. I want it to be the place where exploration and the potential for limitless boundaries exist. I want this for you and for me.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

restoring our systems

There’s a lady on the other side of the radio whose husband’s crime of rape and assault against two women have left her to endure the consequences. The security and trust that was her stability came crashing down around her as she was told that her then husband confessed to two violent crimes against two women. Her name is Shannon. She is from Ontario. She was a teacher, a connected community member and a wife. She was happy, planning to have a family and in a matter of moments her life changed.
Shannon so calmly explains about how her position at school was taken away, how she became a widow, how her family was forced to reconcile perspective and how she was forces out of her community.
It’s her voice that captures my attention more than anything else. She is calm, honest and exhibits compassion as she speaks. She is honest about her story and she speaks to issues that we as a caring compassionate society should be committed to. She shares from her heart how she aches for those women. She shares how she has been a victim of the system. She challenges us to consider the systems we are living in and how we can work change them, to make them effective.
She shares about having dialogue with her then husband in jail and how that played a role in her healing. She shares about how much of a struggle it was for her to go when so many people would say that “for you to visit must mean that you still love him”. I am moved by her ability to respond by saying “of course I loved him and I went to visit was to get closure and to hold him accountability”.
She speaks to rehabilitation. She challenges us to consider those who we are releasing back into community, and asking the question if we have rebuilt trust. We need to really understand what are going on in our prisons.  Shannon goes on to state that some of the people we are putting in jail, are learning to become better criminals.
As I’m listening to this interview, this story being shared, I have just been brought to tears as Shannon shares about moments of reconciliation and forgiveness. More specifically she shares about victim impact statement day in court. She shares about powerful, life changing moments happening in the cold, institutionalized wall of the court system. She expresses how these moments in court were so of the most real, healing, sacred moments. Then, at the end of the day the judge said “you go to jail” and “the rest of you go home” and how for her, that was more harmful than the 2 years of the whole court case.
I should stop writing because I don’t come close to even articulating the powerful message that Shannon is sharing about forgiveness, about hope and about needing to change the systems we live in. I know that I’ve always been different. One of those people that see life as only I can. Today, listening to Shannon share her story refocused me to hear what beats in my heart. It was for me, a reminder that our systems are merely a challenge that we have to change, an opportunity for us to see and call out of ourselves a higher commitment to care and compassion.
I’ll post the interview when it goes up but for now here is some information on Shannon: http://www.shannonmoroney.com/

Friday, 7 October 2011

freedom expressed.

in the form of
piece of paper

to values
to hope
to fears
to change

in the form of
the future

in the form of

to those unable to
or consider
or approach
the future

piece of paper
expressing your,
expressing my,
expressing our

Monday, 3 October 2011


I've always wanted to work for and raise awareness of the challenge of poverty here in our Canada. When I first lived in Kingston, I remember biking downtown to stand at City Hall with The Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul who to this day continue to host a silent vigil at City Hall to remind us this is something we need to be aware of. I remember starting to hear about a number of programs that are run to feed children before they go to school, and to provide food and support after school. I am conscious of the number of people that continue to feel afraid and embarrassed to ask for help because we've created, you and I, we have created space that makes it hard to ask for help. We have set tiers in this society that places value on status and wealth and we have forgotten that we should be investing in human capital, especially the young.

I walk the streets of this city and meet people like Ron and Andre who because of some hard times, a couple bad decisions and the loss of jobs find themselves calling the streets home. I share conversation with them, a good breakfast meal and hear of some of the other places they have called home. I hear them tell me about jobs they have had, where they have gone to school, the families they miss and hope to reconnect with, and the fact that they are ashamed. I hear a lot of families talk about how they are one paycheck away from being homeless or unable to buy food.

As we anticipate the upcoming election I am struck with the fact that there are so many important issues relating to poverty that we are not talking about. Moreover, these are issues that we have rarely heard our candidates talk about. In doing some research for my city, I found a briefing paper published on Feb 1, 2011 from the Kingston Community Roundtable on Poverty Reduction

In the section on Job Security and Economic Recovery there are some really eye-opening facts that we need to be aware of. We know that part-time employment is on the rise, and in fact growing more quickly that full time work. This information we find in the latest Labour Survey results from Statistics Canada. We also know that "An unemployment rate that rose from 6.5% to 8.1% from early 2010, coupled with an alarming, and ongoing, trend toward part time and temporary work, dictates that the 2011 budget should focus on job creation. We need to be able to provide secure full time employment for Ontarians"

Ontario already has a highly competitive corporate tax system. We do not need to reduce Corporate Income Tax. We will already collect less from corporate profits due to the recession. Government investment and spending on physical infrastructure, an educated workforce and quality programs such as health care have a stronger economic impact than tax cuts. Also, our corporate tax rates are already competitive. The 2010 Competitive Alternatives study by KPMG showed that Canada has lower overall corporate taxes than any of our key competitors except Mexico.

We also know that the income gap between the top and bottom 10% of Ontario has been steadily widening over the past three decades. The top 10% now enjoys incomes 75 times higher than the bottom 10%. The current provincial income tax system, with a maximum rate at less than $75,000 in annual income, aggravates rather than alleviates the growing inequity. Introducing levels of taxation for annual incomes of $100,000, $150,000 and $250,000 respectively would generate new tax revenue in the order of a billion dollars a year. This would mean an honest shift towards reducing the ever widening income gap. summary: take from the rich and share with the poor.

My hope is in my writing to draw attention and not condemnation. My hope is to challenge us to ask ourselves what we are working for in our society. My hope is that maybe asking questions that make you defensive, might give pause for some reflection on this issue. My hope is that this becomes a conversation about how each of us has a responsibility as citizens to care for those around us. My hope as well is that if you feel this conversation is stupid and nothing that you should give your time to, that somehow it will be something that you reflect and consider as you go about your days, even as you walk by some of those lovely, talented people who just need us to fight for them.

there is no conclusion to this post. I wish there could be, but for now, I hope that it may raise awareness and cause us to consider what matters to us as we get ready to vote this week.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

78 days of kingston

These words are part of a story. A story of coming home, of leaving home. A story of continuing. A story of starting over again. A story of engagement in community. A story of passion. A story of relationships and those core values that keep up working in relationship. A story of purpose. A story of dreams and ambition. A story hopefully full of risk and joy and passion and abandonment.

I have no idea for how long I’ll call Kingston home this time, but until it is no longer home, it will be the place where I leave my mark, where I learn from others, where I let go of those inhabitations that I hold onto, the pride that I live with. It will be the city that I get to re-explore.

I always remember leaving waterloo after five years, the first city that I called home that wasn't home. I remember going back to the city to visit friends and campus. I remember the difference. I remember relearning a place that was so familiar to me. I remember thinking about how quickly things change, but how at the same time some things stay the same.  Similarly, I remember leaving Kingston because my heart beat for change and for a new adventure. I am now reflecting on coming back again to a place that was home to me for three years.

I am reflecting on how in the last 78 days I have bought my first place in a matter of 20 days. Started a new job with new responsibilities. Re-connected with friends and community. Welcomed new community. Have paid more money for everything because of provincial taxes and in essence left the west coast of this breathtaking country, a place that allowed me to live in some of the most beautiful scenery of the world with people who have forever changed me.

In this time as well I’ve joined a curling league, started my application to volunteer with local marginalized youth, signed up for a night class, set a goal to complete a triathlon (I just need to learn how to run), volunteered with a local campaign, attended the Kingston writers fest where out of my desire to get a ticket met some people with whom I will volunteer, attended community events where I’ve made connections that will last a lifetime. I’ve picked up my camera and have tried to capture life amongst the limestone in the last 78 days.

So the posts that will come here after will be honest, hopefully thought-provoking, funny, deep, passionate and real life. You are welcome to come along with me, to continue along in this beautiful, unknown, rich story right here, right now amongst the limestone