Fifty Foxgloves placed at two-metre distances greeted the islanders who attended the Well’s sold-out compassion meditation on Snug Cove dock the morning of June 21.
The hour of music, stories, reflections and meditation was held in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. Proceeds from the fundraiser went to community bail funds and Hogan’s Alley Society.
Ellen Hayakawa opened the event with an acknowledgment of the land and ocean where she invited islanders to learn how to pronounce Nexwlélexwm from Khelsílem’s YouTube video. “And to actually use the name when people ask you, where are you from and when they ask you about this island,” she said. “That would be a next step in decolonization.”
Hayakawa said her primary motivator to stand in solidarity with BLM was that her parents and grandparents were among the 22,000 Canadians of Japanese ancestry from whom the government illegally took land and property and put in incarceration camps during the Second World War. As a result she must stand in solidarity with those who are experiencing racism.
“We’re also invited at this time to look at the racism that each of us has inside of us––and I don’t exclude myself from that––and the racism that exists here in our community.
“This is the dawning of a new day, of a new time when we also have to have conversations about our relationship to land, about ownership of land.
“We have to look at our colonial relationship to lands everywhere and think about how we give back to the land and water.
“I invite each person to use their passions, gifts and talents and co-create a community and a world where we recognize all people as Brothers and Sisters,” she later said.
Next, Phil Adkins of Cates Hill Chapel sang a spiritual song, accompanied by Michelle and Matthew Harrison and organizer Chantal Russell of the Well invited people to discuss what compassion means.
Karen Windeler shared her experiences after moving to the island with her husband and two children three years ago. “When I showed up here, I didn’t even see the house––I was like, babe, I trust you, just pick a house,” said Windeler. “I didn’t know what the people would be like on the island.”
“I’m used to being one of the only Black people in the room,” she told the crowd.
“I remember one day, my husband [who is white] and I were at this function and I said to him, ‘Just once, I’d like to see someone at one of these parties that looks like me,’” she said. “So it’s so cute. Every time we went somewhere, anytime my husband saw a Black person, he’d be like, ‘babe, babe, a sister or a brother.’”
“It meant the world to me because he understood…you want to look over and you want to know that someone understands your plight in the world.”
Windeler also drew parallels between racism and COVID. “Racism is also a pandemic,” she said. “You feel unsafe being at a rally. Guess what, there are people like us that feel unsafe lot. Some people feel unsafe every single day of their lives.
“We have to teach our children very different lessons.”
Windeler recounted the experience of offering to check on her neighbour’s house when they were away but then seeing a car in the driveway when she went over. “I’m thinking, ‘[I’m] trespassing and…Black.’
“So I went home and I sent my husband because I felt that it was safer for him to go than it was for me.
“These are the lessons that we teach our children.”
But Windeler said she looks to how much has changed to find hope. “I try to be very positive. I think of all the things that we have achieved,” she said. “There is so much good in the world and I refuse to let it overshadow the bad that I see.”
“Yes, it’s hard. And I was angry. And I was sad. When you see people on TV that look like you that are dying, just for the color of their skin.”
While calling out the biases and discrimination that she sees and engaging in so many difficult conversations is emotionally draining, Windeler said if she doesn’t do it, it doesn’t help.
These days, she calls out her friends. “It’s okay because challenging someone is not labelling someone. Because I know that people have good hearts. And because it’s so systemic, you don’t even know that you have these biases.
“Hate is learned, but you know what the good thing is? That it can be unlearned.”
“And so thank you for being here, I love Bowen Island. My family loves Bowen Island.”
Windeler also added later that calling each other out is a two-way street, “My husband and kids check me, call me out every time I say something biased,” she said. “We all have prejudices and everyone needs to be bold enough and care enough to challenge each other to change.
Charlie Segal and his glee choir sang a heartfelt rendition of “Start of something new” and his brother William Segal and a friend recited resonant quotes from famous Black thinkers, writers and activists including Malcolm X, Trevor Noah, Maya Angelou and Frederick Douglass.
William and Charlie’s mother, Andrea Bastin, talked about her gratefulness when Windeler, as a Black woman, moved to the island as she and her husband had long talked about moving somewhere with more diversity (their sons are Black). “That becomes harder as you grow up––representation matters,” said Bastin.
Bastin invited the crowd to sit with their discomfort––acknowledging her and their racism. “We’ve got maybe 400 years of catching up to do and that’s ok,” she said. “We can catch up. We can talk. We can be challenged.
“So now, it’s my job to unburden my friends of color, my children, so that their weight in this lifetime can be a little bit easy.”
Lusungu Kayani Stearns lead the Tonglen meditation near the conclusion of the event. “This meditation practice allows us to replace negativity with compassion,” she said. “We’re in turn stronger, more resilient, and awake in the midst of heartbreak.
“The tremendous energy felt in this space where Here has the power to heal.
“I invite you to stay awake. Keep your hearts open to the suffering.
“Being awake makes us perceptible to action.”
Watch the entire event on the Well’s Facebook page: @thewellonbowen or below.