BROCKVILLE & KINGSTON, ON – Today, the YMCA of Eastern Ontario recognized the work of two local peacemakers at the 2022 Peace Medal Award presentations that took place at Brockville YMCA.
In keeping with this year’s International Day of Peace theme of “End racism. Build peace,” YMCA Peace Week 2022 focuses on developing an anti-racist lens to understand conflicts taking place around the globe. This year’s theme will continue to inspire our work throughout the year. YMCA Peace Medal Awards honour those at the forefront of these peace-building efforts and encourage Canadians to ask themselves how they can bring change to their communities.
“It’s important that we work together to create peaceful communities where everyone feels that they belong,” says Rob Adams, CEO, YMCA of Eastern Ontario. “By celebrating YMCA Peace Week together, we are taking a stand and creating the future we want for our community, country, and world. Peace is more than the absence of war; it is the environment in which each of us can thrive. This is the work that we’ve recognized with this year’s Peace Medal Awards.”
The medal winner for the Brockville area is Mezaun Hodge, co-founder of Diversity Advisory Coalition of Leeds & Grenville.
Mezaun Hodge is the visionary leader behind Diversity Advisory Coalition of Leeds & Grenville (DAC), which established in 2020. Through DAC, Hodge has been recognized for her exceptional work in creating a safe, engaging and welcoming community for all. As part of DAC’s programming, Hodge co-facilitates book clubs with Girls Incorporated of Upper Canada, which focuses on anti-racism topics.
Hodge is formally trained in front-line trauma work and assists Victim Services of Leeds and Grenville with race-related calls. In her role as an Investigator Advisor with Ontario Public Service Employees Union, she supports members who are facing harassment and discrimination. She is a vocal advocate in her moderator role with Canadians United Against Hate, which offers a platform to fight against hate and racism.
Through her work, training and volunteerism, Hodge is committed to understanding the harmful impact of discrimination and knows how to respond to discriminatory remarks and hurtful situation. Hodge is dedicated to educating others on the importance of disrupting racism and building a more inclusive community, now and for future generations.
“Growing up as a person of colour and from a different religion in the 70s and 80s there weren’t any resources or anywhere to turn to when faced with race-related issues. No one in my family talked about situations they faced,” Hodge said. “I don’t want that for our kids, our youth or anyone for that matter. I want them to feel safe and to be able to come forward and talk about it. No one should be embarrassed about who they are or what religion they practice. Anyone who is a victim of bullying, racism or hate needs early support and intervention which is crucial in dealing with this type of trauma to prevent various long-term effects like anxiety and depression. We should celebrate what makes us different and unique.”
The medal winner for the Kingston area is Heather Haynes, owner of the Heather Haynes Studio and creator of the Wall of Courage.
Heather Haynes’ mission is to raise awareness and funds through storytelling to help support some of the most vulnerable children and women in the Democratic Republic of Congo. She is educating more than 400 children and providing salaries for 23 teachers and auxiliary staff at a school she and her supporters built in addition to providing housing for 30 of the youngest orphans in the community. Her relationship with the community inspired her to create an 80-painting art installation entitled Wall of Courage and form a non-profit called The Art of Courage where people can donate, sponsor a child, volunteer or show support a myriad of ways. Wall of Courage has been instrumental in fundraising efforts.
“The last few years of the pandemic have been very trying on my spirit,” Haynes said. “It’s been particularly hard to raise funds for the projects when I couldn’t show my artwork in person or tour the Wall of Courage. Providing for the children has been my main focus and I have had to think way outside of the box to find solutions. This is how I ended up with producing The Common Thread, a short documentary about my pursuit to find purpose in what I create and my struggle to understand why much of Western society ignores the violence in other parts of the world. I hope the award will send a few people to discover my film as well as my website and the website of The Art of Courage non-profit. We are looking to partner up with people and businesses who would like to round out their human rights global impact. We also a wish to find 10 new child sponsors before Christmas.”
As we navigate through 2022 and the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, YMCA Peace Week illuminates how the work of building peace needs to continue now more than ever. COVID-19 and the urgent calls for action for diversity, equity, and inclusion are challenging us, as individuals, as communities, and as a country, to reconsider where we've been and where we want to go.
“We all have opportunities each day to choose to act for peace. They may be small actions but they make a big difference and can create a ripple effect through our community. By sharing our message of peace, we hope to inspire others to become engaged in peaceful actions,” says Adams.
About Peace Week
Each year, the YMCA of Eastern Ontario and YMCAs across Canada celebrate peace in our communities and reflect on the peace-building work that happens all year both inside and outside the YMCA.
During this annual event, YMCAs celebrate acts of peace by recognizing individuals and groups who, without any special resources, status, wealth or position, have demonstrated a commitment to building peace within their community or communities elsewhere in the world. Peace-building is core to the YMCA’s commitment to strengthening the foundation of healthy communities and part of the YMCA of Eastern Ontario’s year-round programs.
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YMCA Eastern Ontario