My 13-year tenure at YW is making me nostalgic. I have been reflecting on my experience and, with an appropriate amount of existential, millennial angst, trying to assign meaning to all of it. Permanence was never a security I had growing up. I left my country of birth at 4 months old and moved to a different country every 3-6 years until I permanently settled in Canada 13 years ago. Lately, my work and interests have forced me to look at structures of power, safety and privilege. Internal training such as Brain Story and Mindfulicity, that are designed to provide an understanding of how early childhood experiences inform the way we perceive and participate in the world, have also led me to think about which of my childhood experiences inform my work.

In April of 1994, my family was stationed in Namibia. My dad was fulfilling a contract for United Nations Educational, Scientific & Cultural Organization (UNESCO). His work focused on key ethical issues of journalistic work, such as truth-telling, evidence and journalistic autonomy, fact-checking and the use of information sources. He has always been an advocate for freedom of the press, especially in African countries with dominant systems of power. This work led him to one of his most influential assignments – the transfer of power from a White government to a Black government in South Africa after Apartheid. More specifically, during the first election held under universal suffrage in which citizens of all races were allowed to take part. The election marked the culmination of the four-year process that ended Apartheid and led to Nelson Mandela’s presidential inauguration. My dad was assigned to ensure that the press reported details adhering to UNESCO’s Model Curricula for Journalism Education, which he helped develop.

My dad traveled frequently and rarely took my brother and me on assignment. So, when he announced that we’d be traveling with him, I was thrilled! He warned that it might not be safe to go outside as racial tension was widespread. We’d likely spend a lot of time in our secured hotel room. I was 11 at the time and naïve to the impact this experience would have on me. That’s a privilege.

Both my parents grew up in Zimbabwe under very heavy colonial influence and power. Sharing a border with South Africa also meant enduring influences and subcultures of Apartheid. I’ve since learned how to articulate the impact of that experience: I was watching my dad play a part in dismantling an oppressive system of power that had direct negative impacts on his own life, in real time. That’s power.

Fast-forward to November 4, 2008. I found myself standing in Grant Park, downtown Chicago, where I lived at the time. A large crowd gathered, eagerly awaiting the results of the presidential election. America was about to announce its first Black president. The energy of election night was the same intrepid excitement I remember from 1994. There were a lot of other familiarities between those experiences but that’s for another blog post.

The power of both experiences propelled me to always consider how systems are made up of individual moving parts. My dad is one of those parts and my story is only one of many who were in attendance on May 10th, 1994. I like to imagine that all who were there went about their lives differently after that day, that the impacts on all of those individuals led to the power of the masses. It wasn’t just a dismantling; it was an abject protest and refusal of the status quo.

I recognize my privilege in writing this and in experiencing what I did. But extraordinary experience isn’t a prerequisite for extraordinary impact. It takes extraordinary action.

We must consistently challenge our understanding of power, privilege and safety. Equity lies at the intersection of all three – from the boardroom to the front lines.

It is an aspiration that must be guided by intentional, measured steps, while remembering that issues of inequity have evolved over time and so must our response to them.

How do you navigate the spaces you’re in?

Are you cognizant of who holds the power and where the privilege lies?

Have you assessed what safety protocols need to be in place to move equity work forward? Remember: With extraordinary action, comes extraordinary impact.

About Zandile Moyo:
Zandile Moyo is YW Calgary’s Supervisor for our Language Instruction for New Comers programs that helps new immigrants in Calgary learn the language as they settle into their new home.