Written by Elizabeth Greenfield
When we think about making change, most of us default to scribbling down resolutions at New Years. It is typically very introspective and personal, although sometimes, the chance to make a difference can be enough to motivate someone to take the steps necessary to achieve what feels impossible. Examples of this are seen throughout history. Many of you can have a conversation with family members and hear stories of great moments in their lives that helped shape our world. Perhaps your uncle walked in the first Pride Parade, linked arm in arm commemorating the Stonewall riots. Perhaps your mother, aunt or grandmother was the first female in the family to get a university degree. Perhaps you sat listening to the stories of your parents, the first time they heard the words of Martin Luther King Jr., as you watch together, the scenes of protestors taking to the streets shouting the names of black men and women killed simply for being. You may wonder to yourself, what can I do? What impact can I make? Some of these great moments came from conflict however, what has grown from them would not be possible without the individuals who stood up in their home or with their friends and challenged the status quo within their own community. The revelations or resolutions we make in moments that challenge us, the movements we connect ourselves to and the ways in which we pass on our newfound knowledge — that’s how we impact change today.
I’ve always considered myself a social activist; I pride myself on recognizing my own shortcomings and strive to learn through my own research and connections with people. I’ve always felt strongly there was more I could do, knowing I could be a better ally. This desire grew stronger when I got pregnant. I would daydream about everything I would pass down to my daughter while realizing there were things I could not pass down to her…I can’t give her my free pass to walk down the street without racial slurs being thrown at me. I cannot promise her the liberty of walking into an interview and being judged solely on knowledge and experience rather than the colour of her skin. While I condemn my white privilege, I can tell you all the ways in which I benefited from it today. How then could I change this future for my daughter? How could I show people what still happens in society, the parts they choose not to see? This was the thing I had to change: I had to speak up. I had to tell you all about my privilege because I could still walk around with it, quietly benefiting from it. I have to help you see your privilege so you can be aware of the power you have to change the lives of others. These moments, pregnant and daydreaming, were the revelations and resolutions that challenged me to be better.
When I started to look at how I could help influence a change in my community, I looked to my strengths and passions. I’ve always loved to write and it has allowed me to use my voice in the most precise manner. There are endless possibilities when choosing a medium to use your voice: art, writing, dance, music or taking a knee during the national anthem at a major sporting event. Writing has always been my medium of choice so I created an Instagram blog called @mommyneedsherspace to voice my thoughts on everything from being a single mom, raising a biracial child, body consciousness and sharing my experiences with abuse. The goal: to give myself a space to create, grow, connect and share my experiences in order to help those who might find themselves in similar situations. I started @theinclusivechild with a friend of mine to help parents navigate the difficulties they may face in knowing how to have conversations with their children around race, sexuality, physical disabilities, and how to model behaviours in the home to support them. My hope is that those who read my blogs will start the conversation at their own dinner tables and find inspiration in the topics shared.
Similarly to modeling behaviours to help children learn, this is the same when making change in your home and community. A huge part of who I am and why I consider myself such a passionate advocate is because of my upbringing. Growing up, my parents were consistent examples of how to be accepting and modelled how to stand up for what is right. I know my daughter will learn great things from myself, her father and our family and that we will prepare her for life’s challenges. I can only hope that the work we do now can also help mitigate some of those challenges.
It took time for me to use my voice in a capacity that reaches past my kitchen table or my friends’ living room. These conversations proved that what starts in the home can reach much farther. So now I speak up. I let things get uncomfortable because while speaking freely you create the most amount of change. Through my voice, I can encourage other parents to speak to their children openly, so a child does not feel shame in recognizing the differences of others, but embraces them. I can share the work of black and indigenous artists, writers, and activists. I can acknowledge the exhaustion of friends who are directly impacted by the expectation that it is their job to educate others on the black experience and how not to appropriate or oppress them.
The world has changed a lot since the activism of our parents and continuing to discuss these changes with the generations within our home is important, although not always easy. Stay consistent in your message, be honest with yourself and with them about how you feel, and acknowledge their right to an opinion, regardless if you agree with it. Refrain from judging them on their opinion or stance as they may have lack of knowledge or information on the subject and finally, empathize. Understand that it may take them time to accept that their view needs to change and allow them the time and space to share their feelings.
Sometimes change seems like an insurmountable challenge; we see the accomplishments of others and feel that we could never make that type of impact. Sometimes change seems so overwhelming that we deify those who accomplish great things. The adulation we dote on some creates this idea that only they could achieve what others could not. We lose sight of our own power and influence and forget that the changes we make are intrinsic to the accomplishments of any idea. When we create change in our household, we may think our impact will be small. In all likelihood, your small change holds the potential for delivering a much bigger impact than you could possibly imagine.
Elizabeth Greenfield is the creator and curator for the Instagram blog @mommyneedsherspace and the co-creator and co-curator for the instagram blog @theinclusivechild. A passionate writer, Elizabeth uses her platform to educate parents on her own lived experiences and to bring attention to important social issues in her community and beyond.