All talk and no action. 

That’s the view from some members of our community when the topics of diversity and inclusion at local companies comes up in conversation. This Friday, a new event called Stories of Resilience + Challenge in Woke Men is looking to help change this. 

The event is the work of two local leaders, the Woke Women’s Movement founder Carla Beharry and Juici Yoga Studio owner Selam Debs. The Woke Women’s Movement has hosted five Woke Women events over the last two years. The evenings are a chance to elevate the voices of women of colour and diverse backgrounds. During the course of the evening, women share personal stories of developing strength through their experiences of hardship and challenge.

“The event is a kind of a TED Talk-style event that Carla started and showcased in Barbados, Trinidad and Toronto,” said Debs. 

This Friday’s event marks the first time men will share their stories.

“The more that we collaborated, the more we found that it made sense to do a Woke Men’s event,” said Debs. “Men and boys of colour aren’t represented in inspirational ways. We wanted to create a platform where they could inspire and show representation.” 

Representation is important to Debs, the mother of 14-year-old Jaleel Debs, who will be sharing his story during the event.

“Toxic masculinity is a problem. [Boys and men] end up having fragmented experiences during their lives – they don’t get to be the full range of who they are,” said Debs. “We want to help boys and men show up as themselves and not as a stereotype.” 

For Beharry, the event is a chance to redefine the narrative of what it means to be a boy or a man. She pointed to the #metoo and Black Lives Matter movements as examples that have shown there is still much work to be done. “We’ve done so much work for women, but for things to change, men have to be part of the conversation.”

Their goal is to have men and women of all backgrounds and ages attend, listen and learn.

“In Waterloo, we still have a lot of spaces that are pretty segregated,” said Beharry. “Whether it’s tech spaces, cafes, restaurants – you often see primarily white faces. There are events that are trying to bridge those gaps, but they’re hidden away in church basements.” 

“We really want to help change the landscape around diversity and inclusivity,” said Debs. While many of us have conversations about diversity and inclusion, we often do it without diverse voices at the table or in spaces that aren’t inclusive.

“It’s important for individuals to support events and get out of their own comfort zones,” said Debs. “Seek out spaces and events where you can connect with other groups of people in the community.”

The event takes place at the Registry Theatre in downtown Kitchener this Friday, Feb. 28 from 6 to 10 p.m. and is co-hosted by Debs and Beharry. “It’s really inspiring and fun,” said Debs.

In addition to eight speakers, you’ll get to experience the Waterloo Region Mass Choir performing spirituals and hymns on stage. They’re a unique choir composed of people from different cultures, denominations and generations. There’s also a steel pan music performance, local multicultural vendors and food from The Caribbean Kitchen

“We know that creative ideas come from diverse groups. These ideas make a company or business more valuable and powerful globally,” said Beharry.

“Building cultural IQ is essential. Understanding intersectionality – all of these things help us to start moving out of a homogeneous perspective to a much more diverse one that really reflects our community," said Debs.

“If you’re building a diversity and inclusion plan, come out and be immersed in this environment without attending a workshop,” added Debs. “Move out of the theoretical and take action.”

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After you’ve gotten yourself some knowledge, I see and hear that….the 44 Gaukel Art Party & Open House is this Thursday, Feb. 27 from 6 to 9 p.m. Enjoy and explore the #44Gaukel Creative Workspace while checking out amazing local music and art, plus there’s free snacks and drinks for sale by TWB Co-op Brewery. Celebrate the leap year at Descendants Beer & Beverage with their 80s dance party on Saturday, Feb. 29 starting at 8 p.m. On Sunday, March 1, celebrate Bulgarian Culture Day at the Waterloo Region Museum from 1 to 4 p.m.