Ethnicity, Race, Religion–and Other Taboo Topics

This year 2011, is not only the 60th anniversary of March of Dimes in Canada, and the 30th anniversary of my being at the helm of March of Dimes, but also the International Year of People of African Descent, as proclaimed by the United Nations. Have you heard of it?

I had not, until a thoughtful employee sent me the information, gained from another community agency. So, I have been thinking about what that means to me, to my organization and to the society at large. Why was this year designated as such?

The reality is that people of African descent and people of colour in our society, and all over the world, have experienced racism, discrimination, colonialism, bigotry, and slavery, and according to UN data, are still too often represented in poverty statistics, unemployment, under housing, under education etc. This has huge implications for all of us, service providers, citizens, caregivers.

Fortunately, Canada is one of the most multicultural nations and Toronto is the most ethnically and racially diverse cities in the world, and we both benefit from this and attempt to meet the challenges that this reality creates. As a not for profit organization, we must ensure that our employees and volunteers reflect the community, that we can reach out to the broader community with services that are appropriate and culturally sensitive, while meeting all of the requirements and expectations of Canadian society. We face challenges related to language and culture. As a charity serving the disability community, we must demonstrate our commitment to the inclusion of people with disabilities.

March of Dimes takes pride in being an employment equity employer, and has tracked the backgrounds of employees for almost three decades. Our policies, training and code of conduct specifically address issues of bilingualism, multiculturalism, anti-racism and anti-harassment, dating back to the early 1980s. Our employees represent the diverse community whether by gender, race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation and disability. At our head office in Toronto, over 40 languages are spoken. Organization-wide, we undoubtedly have a far greater capacity to reach out to the diversity of communities.

A visit to any of our programs shows all Canadians, those long established in the country and new immigrants, old and young, accessing our services. I look forward to celebrating this International Year in the Canadian spirit of equality and humanity for all people.