In the mid-nineties I attended a conference in Calgary called StreetLevel, for people addressing poverty and justice. At the time I was a student working with First Nations Gospel Assembly, a collective led by Joe Elkerton. Joe was one of my first mentors. He used to lead me around the streets of the downtown core of Toronto, introducing me to people I would come to count as friends, and coaxing me out of my comfort zone. I vividly remember being terrified when he asked me, for the first time, to speak to a visiting group about our work (I am sure that his confidence in me helped springboard me into what I now do). Though Joe and our team, which included Dion, was in Calgary too, I felt keenly aware of being very green as I stepped through the doors of that conference hotel.
That StreetLevel experience, along with many subsequent ones, was tangibly good. There was something amazing about being in rooms full of people doing front-line work. I learned so much. I recall feeling both challenged and motivated. Sometimes I felt riled up, but in a way that sparked conversation. At a later StreetLevel in Ottawa in I sat in sad silence with friends as we grieved the many injustices named and explored together. I remember taking the train back to Toronto from that gathering, full of emotion over StreetLevel founder Rick Tobias’ beautiful closing session. It is an honour that I now count Rick, and the rest of the original crew, friends.
It is in the spirit of StreetLevel (and with the blessing of those who have come before), that I am here to ask about what it might look like, when Covid has finally settled, to gather again. The desire is to pull together information from as many people as possible, so that what emerges is both collaborative and diverse. Some sample questions are: What challenges do you face in your work? Do you feel alone? Is burnout rearing its head? Is grief accumulating? What systemic issue(s) must be addressed? Do you want round table discussions or speakers or just hang out time? Or some combination? How about art? Music? Do you like the idea of something small or big? Is the time right for this, or no?
For me, I can’t help but grin at the potential of being a part of a gathering of people again. I long for places to come, to be, to explore, to wrestle, to imagine- together. Being able to share our stories is important. Whether seasoned or green like I was back in Calgary, we have something to learn from one another. And just like front-line work, and life in general, whatever we do promises to be both messy and beautiful. Please hear the invitation to speak into what could be. I want to hold space for you to share whatever you are comfortable with. I hope that we can come up with something together.
If you are game to have a chat, please let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can make a plan. Looking forward to connecting.