Supporting BIPOC youth
A message from Katherine Hay, President & CEO of Kids Help Phone
At Kids Help Phone, we hear from young people across every province and territory in Canada. Every single day. We hear from Black youth every single day. We hear from Indigenous youth every single day. We know intimately how racism is impacting, and always has impacted, Black and Indigenous youth in this country.
And we know that we must all commit ourselves to doing better. We cannot continue to have generations of young people – the generations our society depends on for a vibrant and successful future – have no hope.
I cannot gloss over the very stark reality that some of the most distressed texters reaching out to Kids Help Phone are texters that have experienced racism, second only to those who fear being harmed in their own homes. And of those texters who experience racism, they are also the most likely to discuss suicide.
As the President and CEO of Kids Help Phone, I am reflecting on the fact that I have lived my whole life benefiting from white privilege, and yet I have never even thought about it. In fact, I have thought of myself as a vocal ally with zero tolerance for anti-Black racism, for racism against any group and for discrimination. I thought of myself as a champion. Yet, it never dawned on me that if I were a person of colour, simply filling my gas tank could pose a danger to my safety. Or that a Kids Help Phone staff member, a woman of colour, would be stopped by the police because she was loading boxes into her car for a Kids Help Phone event.
I stand in a position of influence, and I am feeling shame.
We all MUST do better. I MUST do better. Not only in listening and learning, but also in taking definitive steps – actions – that ensure we are true allies. Kids Help Phone, along with me, is fully committed to listening, taking action and playing a significant role to do more and do better in the fight against anti-Black racism and racism in any form in Canada.
Since the murder of George Floyd at the hands of police on May 25, global conversations and actions to address the origins, presence and impacts of systemic anti-Black racism have emerged with greater honesty, focus and determination than ever before. That is a good thing, but it is not enough.
We’ve already lost too many lives to fear, prejudice and hate: George Floyd, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Breonna Taylor, Rodney Levi, Chantel Moore, Regis Korchinski-Paquet. The list goes on. We must ALL put a line in the sand – with action – to prevent any more names from being added.
During one of our recent open dialogues with staff across Kids Help Phone, and in sharing experiences of racism, a powerful statement emerged that has stayed with me: racism is changing all the time. Kids Help Phone is an ever-changing charity to meet the ever-changing needs of youth. We know it is within our capacity and our values to consider all aspects of Kids Help Phone in the reality of ever-changing racism. We have begun looking at all our operations, service protocols, strategies and BIPOC representation across our staff, board and volunteer teams. Most importantly, we have taken a hard, honest look at the ways in which Black youth interact with our services and whether we are currently supporting them in the safest and most effective ways possible.
The answer is it’s not good enough. And, in my opinion, we should always be striving to do better. We should, in particular, always be striving to do better for Black and Indigenous youth and all people of colour. We are not just on a journey; we are on a journey WITH PURPOSE. We will listen and learn. And we will learn and action. And then we will listen, learn and action again, and again. Kids Help Phone will not waver.
We have a role to play in blending our work in social support and service with our work in social change. Together, with the BIPOC communities leading us, we have a role to play in effecting change and advancing social justice.
We are committed to taking decisive action to acknowledge and eliminate any existence or influence of systemic anti-Black racism and racism across our organization and in the ways we interact with Black and Indigenous youth and people of colour reaching out to us for help.
Our journey WITH PURPOSE begins…
- We will be continuing to seek advice, guidance and strategies from experienced advisors and Black-led organizations to help structure and inform our journey, engaging all levels of our organization and working with BIPOC staff and youth to shape our future.
- We are reviewing and revising our protocols for how our counsellors and crisis responders manage active rescue situations and wellness checks, particularly for BIPOC youth who are in crisis. Police may not be a safe solution for them.
- We will be reviewing and changing our recruitment practices when we hire staff at all levels, particularly at the executive level, and in recruiting volunteers, including for the board and for crisis responders, taking steps to ensure we have robust BIPOC representation across all of our stakeholder groups.
- We will continue and expand the open dialogue sessions with staff, focusing on anti-Black racism and seeking their recommendations for the actions we need to take.
- All staff, board members and volunteers will be required to take training and education sessions to deepen their understanding of racism in Canada, becoming a continuous learning accountability for us all.
These steps are a starting point, definitive actions, with a commitment to sustainable change. We will not waver in our fight against anti-Black racism and racism or prejudice against any group. We will not waver in our commitment to serving the needs of Black youth and Indigenous youth to the best of our ability, and to keeping them safe.
For Kids Help Phone, Black Lives Matter is not a moment, it’s THE movement to eradicate anti-Black racism and racism in all its forms for sustainable change. We will not waver.
We stand as allies, and I stand as an ally.
ABOUT KIDS HELP PHONE
Kids Help Phone has always been deeply committed to serving every young person who reaches out to us for help WITHOUT JUDGMENT. Since we were founded in 1989 as Canada’s first 24/7 helpline for young people in need or crisis, we have dedicated ourselves to being there for any need, any concern, at any time of day or night. We have evolved alongside the youth we serve – from adapting our technology to reach kids living in the digital era to adjusting how we respond to their changing concerns in an increasingly complex world. And we have taken steps to deepen our reach into communities of uniquely vulnerable youth, most recently through the launch of Finding Hope, our action plan for supporting First Nations, Inuit and Métis young people. That is not enough. We need to do more.