In times of division, I want to share a story about #Unity.
From 2001-2002 at the age of 17, I had the privilege of representing my hometown, the City of Penticton, as “Miss Penticton”. More than just a pageant, this was a youth ambassadorship program where Evie Vourtzoumis, Yalena Bradford and I travelled all over BC, Alberta and parts of Washington state for a year representing and encouraging tourism to our city. It was a life-changing experience in terms of public speaking, creating relationships and sisterhood.
Here we are pictured at our final public event of the year before crowning the new set of ambassadors. It was the official opening ceremony of Penticton Peach Festival, our main yearly event which attracts tens of thousands of tourists from across Canada and south of the border.
What you see here is three girls singing their “Come to Peachfest” song (our re-worded take on “Come on Over” by Christina Aguilera ), but what you don’t see or hear is what was happening while this picture was being taken.
As I was giving the official opening welcome speech on stage and we were about to start singing our song, a woman’s voice suddenly started yelling what I thought was “Stand closer to the mic!” I stopped talking for a moment to re-adjust my position, and in the silence of the crowd the voice continued to yell. Turns out she was yelling “WHAT HAPPENED TO ALL THE WHITE FOLK?” When I finally made eye contact with the who the woman was, she preceded to make two types of hand gestures. One gesture was slicing her neck with her thumb, the other was pointing a gun and shooting. All of this in front of hundreds of people in an outdoor venue.
It was terrifying.
In true performer fashion of “the show must go on” (and let’s be real, shock), I finished giving my speech and we sang our song. In the days (and if I’m totally honest, months if not years) after the event, I couldn’t help but think “what if she actually had a gun?” and “Why was it so easy for her to yell that? Let alone so publicly?” This wasn’t the first time I/we experienced racism overtly or covertly, but until that point, it was the most public display of it.
In reflecting on this event to see the “good” that came out of it, I remember something very powerful that happened. Seated behind us was a row of city councillors, the mayor, and the MP for our riding. While everything happened so quickly, one of these gentlemen (still not sure who it was exactly) took the initiative to stand up and signal to the RCMP to escort this woman out of the park. I’ve come to realize that this act of solidarity is actually the most important thing to have happened in this situation.
As racialized people, we come to a point where we ignore acts of racism because if we paid attention to and addressed each and every micro-aggression (both overt and covert) that came our way, it would literally consume our existence. But just because we don’t address it, doesn’t mean the toll of it isn’t felt.
In re-framing this experience, especially during a time when so many of us are triggered and fighting for racial equality, I remember the vision of the woman being escorted out of the park by those two RCMP officers as a result of that act of solidarity. I choose to focus on that.
It is my intention that by sharing this story that it can serve as an example of unity looks/feels like, and a reminder that allies are out there. When something like this happens, because it effects a part (three young ladies at the time) of the whole (for we were part of everyone else communing in that space), having others step up in anti-racist practices - whether it’s in your community, workplace family, etc - means that not only are you helping perpetuate equality, but you might also be saving a life.
Big love to my ladies Evie & Yalena and to the Miss Pen Committee for an incredible year of learning, opportunities and growth. And to which ever one of those councillors intervened, thank you.
Thank you for taking the time to read.