Award honours anti-racism work

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In a climate where acts of racism and hate-motivated violence have become shockingly frequent, it’s comforting to know there are people within the community whose work is dedicated to reversing the trend and establishing social justice for all.

Galiano Island’s Deblekha Guin has dedicated the past 25 years to such work as founder and executive director of the Access to Media Education Society. The provincial government honoured her commitment recently with one of two Intercultural Trust Awards at the 2020 Multiculturalism and Anti-Racism Awards.

The awards are hosted annually by the province with advice and support from the B.C. Multicultural Advisory Council. This year’s honours were presented at a live-streamed event on the B.C. government’s Facebook page, with results announced last Wednesday.

“I’m grateful for the recognition,” Guin told the Driftwood. “But as I said in my speech, I long for the day when this sort of work isn’t considered exceptional.”

The Access to Media Education Society exists to provide youth with the tools to make and share their own stories, and to engage each other in critical issues. As their website puts it, the society “has been investing in the imaginations and skill sets of up-and-coming media artists, digital activists and creative change makers for over two decades.”

Guin was inspired to create such programming after she happened to move next door to the Gulf Islands Film and Television School in the mid 1990s — but she wanted to reach people whose stories were not usually told. As a graduate student in the School of Communication at Simon Fraser University, she was interested in questions of equity and how power differentials are perpetuated in culture.

“I saw the GIFTS model and how powerful it was, but the idea was to extend it to people whose stories had been invisible in the mainstream media. It was really about getting the tools of media production into the hands of those whose stories are usually told by others, so marginalized people,” Guin said.

Grant funding secured in 1996 allowed a fledgling group to offer education to different cohorts of youth who were Indigenous, people of colour, street workers, identified as queer, and who were HIV positive. Once the facilitators saw the powerful content those first groups created, a second goal became to get their products into schools as tools to help motivate change.

Guin explained the two places that youth experience discrimination most often and most hurtfully are in the media and at school.

“The idea was to use media to heal the wounding inflicted by media, and going to the scene of the crime,” Guin said.

AMES is now an established non-profit society with a number of skilled staff and “core collaborators,” trained adult and youth facilitators, and an impressive board of directors. In the first 20 years more than 2,000 participants made some 350 videos, and 450 workshops were delivered in schools. Anti-discrimination programming by youth for youth reached 70,000 students and educators.

Programs have historically served youth from the Lower Mainland, although there have been rural tours and outreach projects when funding has allowed. One of the most recent projects called DisPLACEment brought together Indigenous, migrant and refugee youth to create videos about displacement and discrimination.

In the early days, even having access to filmmaking technology was radical. These days most youth are familiar with making and posting videos, but learning how to use technology as a tool for change is still important. Facilitators help participants think deeply and critically about the issues affecting them, as well as helping them to create stories through the medium of film. AMES also devotes time to creating workshops, activities and curriculum, doing facilitator training for youth peers and adults, and providing professional development for teachers.

Current realities mean the society is now thinking about how to deliver more programming via online platforms while still engaging the participants in a meaningful way, although Guin believes nothing beats hands-on learning and personal connections.

The ongoing importance of AMES’ work cannot be doubted. Guin went into the provincial awards event highly aware of recent racist acts, both close to home and further afield. The day after she received the honour she woke up to news about George Floyd, the black man killed by a police officer in Minneapolis whose fate has now sparked protests across the U.S. and Canada.

“At this historical moment when so many inequities have been laid bare, and when so much racial hate is being surfaced, it’s more important than ever for everyone to step up in whatever way we can,” Guin said.

She feels knowledge of blatantly racist acts taking place elsewhere does not mean people here can congratulate themselves or step back from doing deeper work to examine their privilege and internal biases.

“We’re not immune to it here on Salt Spring. It happens all the time,” Guin said. “If we’re going to have everyone here do their part, I think sometimes that might be the most important first steps: to try to carve out a space for that kind of honest work.”

To see a recent AMES video made by youth called Words Matter, visit the society’s Facebook page. The cohort involved will soon be creating workshop outlines and activities to support exploring the concepts covered. More information can be found at https://accesstomedia.org.

3 Comments
  1. George Harris says

    It was our good fortune that Deblekha was the immediate neighbour of the fledgling GIFTS. Her passion to create the “special” programs hosted by GIFTS became a defining factor in the legacy of the school. I have seldom met a harder working passionate defender of human rights. She deserves many more awards!

  2. Elizabeth Lesser says

    Congratulations Deblekha! I was so impressed when I saw you on my visit with your mother.
    How wonderful you are receiving recognition for the wonderful work you are doing for human rights! And how timely! The world is now attuned to this inequality; we cannot ignore people’s basic rights any longer.
    Love, Liz

  3. Ranabir Dutt says

    We both feel very proud for Deblekha’s outstanding work for human rights.

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