Many of us watched with horror when George Floyd died at the hands of a white police officer. Many of us have watched the protests in the US and wondered what this could mean for Canada. Many of us have been uncertain how to act, how to speak about racism, how to name the issue clearly as systemic racism against the Black community – which, here in Toronto has been declared a public health emergency.  But systemic racism is not only a problem of the Black community, it is a societal issue that we all must help solve.

So what does this insidious racism mean to us as UNICEF?  We are, after all, a human rights organization. The children we serve by providing health and education and protection must also have the right to live without fear of the violence of racism, to have an equal opportunity in the world. That means that it is not enough for us to ensure children have the chance to receive these services, but that we must also find ways to ensure that societies – including our own – do not erect barriers of racism which will thwart the efforts of many of those children to become full and participating members of their society.  We must learn to face the issues directly.

This requires action. At UNICEF Canada, we will take steps to be part of the work of building a better society, both through a redoubling of our efforts in the world as well as ensuring we have an anti-racist workplace. The actions will include:

  • Using our U-Report program to learn from hard to reach Black youth and amplify their concerns;
  • Undertaking e-advocacy work with organizations led by or engaging Black youth to support their human rights, through our One Youth program; and
  • Continuing to carry out our work around the world to ensure that all children have the right to education, health, and protection as well as work to reduce racism against marginalized groups.

Within UNICEF Canada we will:

  • Define, launch and support the work of a Diversity and Inclusion Committee and embed in our organization an awareness and commitment to diversity and inclusion by means of ongoing training, ensuring our staff and volunteers have the skills, systems and processes to identify biases and provide solutions to end racism;
  • Continue our ongoing review of our hiring processes to ensure our recruitment and hiring practices eliminate any risk of racial and ethnic bias;
  • Support the work of organizations in our sector which are working to provide more opportunities for young Black professionals.

As a white man in a position of authority, I am one of the many privileged people who gets to listen and learn about racism instead of experiencing it every day. But I am committed to using my position of privilege to defend the rights of every child and use our human rights mandate as a platform to stand up for equity for all. This has been part of UNICEF’s promise since we were founded nearly 75 years ago. While much progress has been made, we still have far to go. But the first step must be taken now.

I will make mistakes on this journey. But I cannot let my own cowardice or fear prevent me from getting started. This will require a work of listening, understanding and acknowledgement which is different and more difficult than I have had to do before.  But our mission, our society, our children and our values demand no less.  The time for change is now.  Well, actually, it was long ago, but now is what we have.

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