By encouraging people to step out of their comfort zone, Ray John Jr. aims to cultivate work environments that celebrate diverse perspectives
THE SYSTEMIC OPPRESSION of any people – due to cultural heritage, skin colour, gender, sexual orientation or other reasons – is something Ray John Jr. is acutely aware of, particularly with his lived experience as an Indigenous man.
In his work with both London district school boards, John Jr. has engaged with children and youth to promote cross-cultural understanding and respect. Now he wants to take those teachings to the larger community.
To that end, he is reaching out to provide cultural awareness and sensitivity training to businesses, service clubs, non-profit and adult education organizations and other audiences.
“The journey towards bettering our world starts with self,” he says. “We need to respect ourselves and others.”
John Jr. is interested in fostering conversations that lead to a better understanding of Indigenous cultures. “I want others to understand that Indigenous communities are not just ‘pow-wow people’. We’re a legitimate society, with a governing body, values and rich history.”
The interactive workshops John Jr. delivers (these days either via Zoom or to groups of 25 or less with social distancing measures in place) are conversational by design, he says. “It can be tough with adults to get them out of their comfort zone. I just want to share some messages and be a guide to the conversations.”
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Mandi Fields, community relations manager with CTV London, first met John Jr. when he was one of seven people to receive an Atlohsa Peace Award in 2018. That was the inaugural year for the awards, which honour local leaders inspiring social change in the spirit of truth and reconciliation. “He’s very approachable,” she says, “and has become a mentor for me.”
With an extensive network of community and corporate connections, Fields volunteered to be a liaison for businesses and organizations interested in bringing John Jr. in to speak. “Systemic racism is alive and well,” she says. “We have to start to break down the years of mistrust, and I feel that by doing a bit of work with Ray, behind the scenes, I can be part of the reconciliation process.”
In a healthy workplace, says John Jr., there is mutual respect and people are not just treated as equals, but authentically viewed that way.
“People may not realize they have internalized biases or preconceived notions, and those are barriers to productive work,” he says.
“Businesses will look very different in the future, and we have to embrace the changes. We have to see that we are all equal, to put our support behind each other, to know that if we fall we are not alone. People in leadership roles will be modeling that behaviour, laying down the footprint for change for the next generation. That’s the only way our world is going to heal.” Kym Wolfe
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