Graham Hughes, executive director at Literacy Alberni Society, affixes red dresses to the front window of the society’s office in the Klitsa building on Tebo Avenue. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)

Graham Hughes, executive director at Literacy Alberni Society, affixes red dresses to the front window of the society’s office in the Klitsa building on Tebo Avenue. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)

Vancouver Island literacy organization starts conversation on anti-racism

Literacy Alberni creates reporting protocol, website for systemic racism

Literacy Alberni Society is bringing a message of anti-racism to its literacy work.

The work comes as the provincial government proclaimed May 23–29 as Anti-Racism Awareness Week in B.C. Literacy Alberni has posted a series of webinars for anyone to join; they also launched a poster campaign letting people know how they can speak up about systemic racism, and announced a regional online racism reporting portal.

The provincial proclamation is intended to give British Columbians a chance to celebrate and learn about the province’s diverse culture, reflect on biases and stand together against racism.

“This week is a chance for all British Columbians to think about how we can be anti-racist, challenge our own biases and build a stronger province on a foundation of diversity and mutual respect,” said attorney general David Eby.

READ: Literacy Alberni tackles racism

The dates for anti-racism awareness week were chosen because of the anniversaries of the Komagata Maru ship full of British Indian people being turned away from Canada 107 years ago, the murder of George Floyd in the United States a year ago and Asian Heritage Month.

Rachna Singh, parliamentary secretary for anti-racism initiatives, hopes the week will help spark “much-needed” conversation and bring people together at a time when so many are divided.

Staff and board members with Literacy Alberni Society (LAS) have already been having these tough conversations, says Lesley Wright, director of projects and programs with LAS.

Some of it began with the LAS Pandemic Postcard Project, when a Grade 9 student wrote a poignant post about the anti-Asian racism she read about when the novel coronavirus pandemic first began.

It may seem odd for a literacy organization to take on an anti-racism project, however, Wright and executive director Graham Hughes say it’s the perfect place to start. Many of the clients they see have immigrated to Canada, and many of them speak English as a second language. All of them have experienced racism in some form.

“Education is our mandate,” says Wright. “We have people who come in as clients whose very safety relies on us doing this kind of work.

“The work needs to be done, it needs to be led and it needs one group of people to bring it to the community,” she said.

“If we didn’t do this now, we would be waiting for someone else to do it. We can’t watch the world doing the work and pretend we did the work ourselves.”

Literacy Alberni has joined Resilience BC, and received some grant funding to set up resources between Oceanside and the Alberni Valley. They have created a website where people can report instances of racism. They are trying to create a place where people can report racist acts or comments they receive daily, in contrast to larger more public events—the 14-year-old student who hears racist comments directed at them in the school hallway, for example.

They are modeling their web-based portal after another one already up and running in Kelowna (kcr.ca) that is linked to the University of B.C. as a research project. Literacy Alberni is designing their own reporting portals for both the Alberni-Clayoquot region and Oceanside. These portals will be available to the wider community, not just to Literacy Alberni clients. The society wants to create a protocol for where people can go for help depending on what they are dealing with.

Literacy Alberni is already building a community response protocol team; their board earlier this year created a human rights and action committee, which has expanded to include staff, volunteers and learners.

Wright said she began asking the tough questions of herself as the Black Lives Matter, Solidarity with Hereditary Wet’suwet’en chiefs and Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) campaigns gained traction in Canada over the past year.

“I’m a teacher; I want to teach people what I’ve learned,” says Wright. “That’s where I’m coming from in all of this.”

Have you experienced a form of racism, or are you wanting to know more about what hate-based and race-based racism are? Report instances of racism online to reportalberni.ca and, if in the Parksville or Qualicum Beach area, to reportoceanside.ca.

(CORRECTION: This article has been corrected to reflect the student who participated in the Pandemic Postcard Project was not Asian-Canadian, but a Caucasian student expressing their opinion on anti-Asian racism.)

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Graham Hughes, executive director at Literacy Alberni Society, affixes red dresses to the front window of the society’s office in the Klitsa building on Tebo Avenue. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)

Graham Hughes, executive director at Literacy Alberni Society, affixes red dresses to the front window of the society’s office in the Klitsa building on Tebo Avenue. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)

Graham Hughes and Lesley Wright are part of the team at Literacy Alberni Society giving a voice to anti-racism efforts in the Alberni Valley and Oceanside regions. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)

Graham Hughes and Lesley Wright are part of the team at Literacy Alberni Society giving a voice to anti-racism efforts in the Alberni Valley and Oceanside regions. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)