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A Conversation About An Anti-Racist Approach To Volunteering

Published: Apr 27, 2022 @ 4:03 PM

people holding hands on a hill with the sun behind themYep, there was an important report released in January. Yesterday, with CCVO, we jointly hosted a conversation about the report with panelists invited to share their perspectives. I heard a lot, a lot, of challenge to progress the conversation to action. Intentionally the January report does not include “solutions” as without listening that would be an attempt to recolonize the practices of volunteer engagement vs decolonize those same practices. We know from all our work in anti-racism and here on the VolunteerConnector, everything has to center on volunteers and their voice, not ours.

As a reminder, what we are talking about is belonging in a community of like-minded individuals, belonging in a city, belonging in a province, and belonging in Canada. Typically, volunteering statistics recognize formal volunteering in organizations. This is huge but only represents the actions of just over half the volunteering that individuals do each year. Belonging requires us to recognize the actions of grassroots and neighbourly support for one another . . . we heard from the panel that this can be where the most meaningful societal change can take place. We also heard there is still a lot of exclusionary practices alive and strong.

I heard so many things, but when it occurred to me to write down a few things to contemplate later this is what I captured:

  • White supremacy in our society still needs to be named
  • Trauma, for racialized people, is always present
  • Volunteerism is too often white saviours asking people to reinforce white supremacy
  • Power is still performative
  • Volunteering is the hope of inclusivity, yet is still so extractive
  • One person always needs to call out white supremacy in organizations
  • Volunteering is/can be a radical act of love
  • Belonging is being part of a beloved community

And in case you missed a very basic human insight:

  • Yelling at people is not helping people belong, just stop!

The overwhelming sense I had as I listened to the panelists was – there is zero conversation about anti-racism in volunteering as a system without looking at the intersections of all the systems volunteering seeks to hold up . . . systems of white supremacy that still need to be named.

It’s a tough conversation. But if we truly care for one another, if we truly want belonging for all, then we will need to abolish harmful systems and provide hospice care as we do it.

Thank you to all the speakers who joined us. Thank you for your vulnerability and risking sharing the hard words we all still need to hear. Thank you to:

Our role is to continue to listen to volunteers, continue to remove barriers in volunteering for everyone using the tools we have - VolunteerConnector - and invite more partners to join the movement to decolonize.