In this blog post, Yasmine Djerbal, educational developer at the Centre for Teaching and Learning, narrates her experience working with Roots&Wings youth and shares her perspective on how community organization can offer a fresh vision of a different type of future
The pandemic has been challenging for everyone, and we know that children have been affected in unique ways. It might take us years to truly unravel and understand the impact isolation and online learning has had on their development, socialization, and more. In my work with Roots & Wings—a community organization that offers space for girls, trans, Two-Spirit, and gender non-conforming youth of colour between the ages of 8 and 14 to learn about social justice—we have seen in small and big ways how strong and tenacious the youth have been in the face of frequent changes, loss of time with friends and family, loss of relationships, and community.
Through a collaborative project with the City of Kingston entitled “Arts all around”, Roots & Wings organized a series of workshops that attempted to unpack the question “where do we go from here?”, and the ways we can imagine a different type of future together; not one that goes back to the way things were in the past, but different. This project has been particularly interesting for us to think about ways the youth have been dealing with their own experiences of the pandemic, and how they themselves envision how we best move through the next few months and years.
With the help of curriculum developers such as Clarissa de Leon (EDUC), Sreya Roy (GNDS), Aishah Cadre (MPA), Essi Amegbeto (DEVS), and Sanaz Biglou (BIO) and other current Queen’s students and alumni, we talked about three main concepts: belonging, responsibility, and collaboration. Starting with our first workshop, we asked the youth where they felt like they belonged, and how we could create more inclusive spaces in which everyone could feel like they belong. Our second workshop centered the Haudenosaunee Seventh Generation Principle, which taught us that the decisions we make today should result in a sustainable world seven generations into the future. This workshop worked to consider individual and collective responsibilities to our present and future relations, to the land, the waters, human and non-human relationships, and the kind of world we want to leave behind. And finally, in our third workshop, we talked about collaboration, and what steps we can take collectively to create those better futures, as we all have a role to play and a responsibility to do better. Our conversations culminated in a collective art-piece (see below), assembled by local artist Kayla MacLean, with drawings the youth created thinking about the future they want to live in.
The conversations and reflections that stemmed from our workshops have been incredibly enriching and inspiring. As a collective, myself and other Roots & Wings members often pause in wonder of our youth, their astute observations, pointed critiques, and beautiful radical imaginaries. As I reflect on the question posed here, “how do I envision the future”, I think about the youth we come in conversation with, and the worlds they have imagined for themselves. I believe that no matter what, we are in good hands! I envision a world in which our youth, at Roots & Wings and beyond, continue to dream liberatory futures, in which we can live responsively and collaboratively with each other, and feel like we all belong to a world without borders, without walls, and in kinship and relationship with each other.
Yasmine Djerbal is an Educational Developer in anti-racism and inclusion at the Centre for Teaching & Learning at Queen’s. She holds an MA in Gender Studies and a PhD in Cultural Studies from Queen’s and remains involved in research and teaching, where her interests lie in Islamophobia studies, critical race studies, immigration, citizenship law, and gender studies. Her work with Roots & Wings wouldn’t have been possible without the support of many people and groups across the community, but in particular, the Jean Royce Fellowship, award made annually to women graduates of Queen’s University for a year of study and research or to pursue an endeavour that contributes to the advancement of knowledge, contributes to society or allows creative expression.