Initiative to raise awareness on community challenges gathers West Island citizens at Pierrefonds Community High School to recognize racial, mental and physical minorities.
Pressing issues affecting minority voices in the West Island community were the main topics of discussion at the West Island United rally hosted by the Youth Stars Foundation on March 26.
The event’s main goal was to ally West Island community members under “unity, inclusivity, diversity and equity amongst all cultures, including racialized and BIPOC communities,” according to their website.
Teenage students spoke about how inclusivity at school helped them to feel more confident in their lives. In an environment that affirms their identity, they can be accepted for their differences and avoid exclusion.
The annual rally was held at Pierrefonds Community High School. Representatives from the local community were invited to speak, or share a poem to the audience.
Among the speakers at the meeting was high school student Kate Zarbatany, who performed a nine-minute monologue on neurodiversity by labeling autism as a misunderstood diagnosis.
“It is unbelievable to think that so many people go through their lives struggling because they are not diagnosed,” said Zarbatany. ‘It’s important to remember that there isn’t just one form of autism. It’s a spectrum. Our world is designed for the neurotypical.”
“This is why I’m asking you to be our allies and try to better understand us,”she added.
The event hosted various West Island organizations providing different services.
Carrefour Jeunesse-Emploi de l’Ouest-de-l’Île, Action Jeunesse de l’Ouest-de-l’île, the West Island LGBTQ2+ Centre and Big Brothers Big Sisters of West Island each had their own booth.
SPVM agents were also present to provide community outreach.
However, Benoit Langevin, councilor of the City of Montreal for the Bois-de-Liesse district in the borough of Pierrefonds-Roxboro, noticed that there was an absence of Indigenous voices at the meeting.
“I think that we have to make bigger efforts for the Indigenous population,” said Langevin.
In the near future, Langevin’s team is seeking to develop a new set of activities with the local library in consultation with the West Island Black Community Association (WIBCA). In February, the library hosted different shows to inform its residents on the roots of their Black community. Langevin plans to continue working closely with the association.
The event gave Pierrefonds Community High School students an opportunity to express themselves and their needs. “We’ve always talked about the importance of community, the importance of inclusion, the importance of belonging,” said Lester B. Pearson School director general, Cindy Linn.
“We’re also realizing that in order to make those things happen, we need to involve everybody in the conversation,”Linn Said.