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The discourse on gentrification is growing: But, of course

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The popularity of discourses on gentrification as it relates to public health and certainly, social justice, have been very enlightening to me. It is very important that the discourses on gentrification are getting so widespread and that it is a huge topic for public policy and public health scholars, and others too.

During my most recent trip to Nigeria, I met up with a child rights and social justice advocate, who works consistently with children growing up in slums, in Lagos. We were discussing the issue of State-sponsored evictions and demolitions of such slum areas. From her perspective, she noted that gentrification leads to a cycle of hurt and broken dreams which then results in crime. That really stood out for me. I mean, gentrification is an action that destabilizes communities, families, in more than one way. It is most often aimed at the poor and in Western nations – at visible minority communities, especially.

In this post, I am taking the advice from the advocate in Nigeria and my concern on this matter, to address what is a destructive global issue. Gentrification happens worldwide. It happened with the Hogan’s Alley of Vancouver, Canada. Historically, it has happened in several parts of the United states. In Nigeria, it happens often in Lagos and even, very recently, with the Eke Ukwu market destruction in Imo State.

Gentrification puts the poor and disadvantaged groups at a far-reach to success, at the centre of the causes of dismal health (pollution, fast foods chains, over-populated housing etc) and in a cycle of lack. Of course, with all such ills often comes, for some, an almost-inevitable susceptibility to crime.

A major step to solving the problem of gentrification is for state actors and their networks (businesses, lobbyists etc), to understand and take very seriously, the implications of what they often deem to be ‘urbanizing’. You can urbanize without leaving disadvantaged groups and the poor behind and cutting away from communities, the ties that held them together in health, success, socialization and other ways. Gentrification cuts such ties apart and it is without a doubt, a human rights violation.

I encourage readers of this post, to also dig deeper on the literature on gentrification as it cuts across the fields of social justice and public health. It has been very worthwhile for me. I will end by saying: SPEAK UP AGAINST GENTRIFICATION!

Please. If we keep speaking up against it, I am sure that we will make, even just a little difference.

Love & Peace,
Chiamaka

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Breaking away from tradition, for social justice

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One of the main effects of social justice is that it creates a revolution. When an act of revolution is a success, systems and people change in response to that revolution. Today, I want to write about how the cause of social justice can intersect with culture and give culture a reform.

Often, the idea is that culture is culture and that no one’s culture nor your own culture should be criticized. It is important to be respectful to everyone’s culture but when aspects of culture or the interpretation of culture are explicitly used to indignify people, there should be a moral responsibility to respond.

As an Igbo woman, I am well aware of the fact that for generations, patriarchy has been entrenched in the culture (this was further complicated by the introduction of Victorian-style Christianity). I desire, however, to rise above that idea that the woman has to be the man’s human subordinate or be the loyal bearer of an irresponsible husband’s misbehaviours. I am vocal about the patriarchy. Culture should not be above criticism but the criticism should be done in a manner that can enhance peaceful dialogue. By the way, I LOVE being Igbo – it is a beautiful culture with different great dialects and traditions.

It is indeed a challenge to break through certain aspects of tradition, for the sake of social justice. Please note”break through” or even break away, as social justice does often mean breaking away from some elements of tradition, although it does not require complete abandonment of a culture in general. Change is hard. Societies are becoming well aware of the need to give women as much opportunities as they give men. Countries in North America are realizing that racial tensions are not good for any society and are finding ways to give more representation to ethnic and racial minorities. These are all adjustments. What you notice with such adjustments is that the institutions making the adjustments, fail, get criticized and try again. It is hard to break away from tradition. Even when a change happens, there is a learning process to go through.

But, social justice is about revolutions. People can catch up. Institutions can catch up. Positive change can be permanent. These can all start with just one or more bold steps addressing the parts of any culture that do more harm than good to humanity. Culture can be modified over and over again and every person should be open to this.

Love,

Chiamaka

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Social justice: more voices, more actors are needed

Everyone has a path. I do not expect everyone I know or everyone that reads this blog to tackle social justice in a head-on approach, the way I sometimes do. Choose what works best for you. However, one thing is undeniable – no matter the path and passions that align to you, you have a voice. Your voice encompasses your power, your identity, your fearlessness, what you choose to stand for. Nobody has power over your voice, more than you do.

Different parts of the world are caught up in a web of suffering and injustice, of different sorts. Our world needs as much people as possible to stand for virtues, for the right things and not for fear and silence, in the midst of injustice. You do not need to identify as an advocate or attend protests to be a person tackling societies issues. The point is that as citizens of the world, we have a mandate to use any kind of opportunity that we are given to promote social justice and in whatever capacity that we can. This week, I had the pleasure of speaking at two events in Lagos. One was the Association of African Business Schools’ (AABS) 2016 Connect conference and the other was the Lagos Ideas Week event.

At the AABS conference, I gave a presentation on – Boosting Entrepreneurship in Africa, to a room filed with business school deans from across Africa who came to the conference to enlighten themselves on best practices that could be applied to their business schools. I thought it was a great opportunity for me to speak about issues of some African economies. So, I gave a presentation (with slides) on how business schools can better train their students AND also take the impact beyond their students to the community, by offering free business training to marginalized people or challenging their students to come up with business creation strategies aimed for the people on the society’s margins.

At Lagos Ideas Week, during my talk on Developing Reading Habit and Creative Writing, I was told to recommend a book to the audience. I suggested one that had touched on the 3-year civil war that happened in Nigeria many years ago. I further added that the civil war is not really talked about and we need to learn from it so that we can forge ahead as a country bound by love and not divided by tribalism. If you have been told stories or have read about the Nigerian civil war, you would realize that it was genocide, targeted mainly at the Igbos of Nigeria. Tribalism is still a huge issue in Nigeria which each tribe needs to tackle and put a stop to. Tribalism in Nigeria is not targeted in just one direction.

I got those opportunities, they were not about human rights advocacy but for a world terribly bent by injustice, hate, war and poverty, I thought I should infuse an element of current affairs – sad current affairs, to be specific. I think we often feel that standing for the right thing is automatically equivalent to putting yourself at risk. Each person has their journey in terms of the way they choose to go about justice but you can still live a life without risk by using your opportunities to speak about people on the margins of society.

Again, our world needs as much people as possible to stand for virtues and justice. Will you answer the call? I hope “Yes” 🙂

Love,

Chiamaka

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Compassion and enlightenment

This  past week, I felt a heightened sense of connection to my surroundings and people around me, especially strangers. I experienced a deep feeling of compassion for strangers who I could see were hurting and/or had a disability. I felt so vulnerable to compassion that I was wondering if I need to tame myself in this aspect because I feel that way often. Last week was just another encounter with that vulnerability. However, at a point, I answered myself with what I believe was the perfect answer – “Compassion is good”.

After all, isn’t that what makes people and societies better? It is okay to feel hurt for another. When you feel compassion, you are compelled to act. One of my main goals in life is to love and be loved. If I try to block myself from being vulnerable to compassion, it would be impossible for me to love and if others don’t have compassion for me, they cannot be committed to love me. In a world so marred with hate, violence and injustice – compassion  will be our redeemer. I believe that if we connect deeply with ourselves and allow ourselves to feel compassion, we will be compelled to move in the way of social justice.

Compassion is needed for social justice to happen and more importantly, it is a main facet of what it means to be human. When you open yourself up to compassion and allow yourself to feel for others – whatever that feeling may be, you are allowing enlightenment to set in. When we feel compassion, we seek more understanding of the person or situation that we feel compassion for. I can imagine that it is compassion that moves the numerous people who support an organization like Amnesty International, which is committed and steadfast in lending a hand to those whose human rights have been violated.

So friends, I urge you to open yourselves up to compassion. Allow yourself to feel it and allow it to move you in the direction it may. Personally, I have found that compassion moves me to great things – to enlightenment, to help, to make someone happy, moves me to be grateful for the little things in life. So, I imagine what a world we would have if we all permit compassion to takes its course in our hearts. Compassion enlightens us and compels us to act in ways that can truly change our world for the better.

Love & peace,

Chiamaka

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Priorities and the human purpose

The human experience is something that is in some aspects, different for everyone and this experience is fundamental in shaping the kinds of people that we are (personality-wise, in terms of attitude, ideas, beliefs, socio-economic status etc). So, to understand the unique human experience of each person, communication is needed. It is better to ask questions and learn than rush to pass judgement.

I believe that trying to tap into the human experience of individual persons is something that is very important in dealing with issues of social injustice. In many cases, social justice issues are left unattended to because those who have the power (the elite, politicians etc) to address the issues are making judgements from a ‘throne’ that seemingly blinds their judgement. Privilege of any kind can blind one’s judgement.

For example, there are people who believe that poverty is a choice and so, for someone to be poor, he or she is just lazy. This kind of idea is problematic because it is sometimes woven from the position of privilege and one is blinded to the fact that people fall on bad times and in some cases, there could be systemic barriers to someone’s ability to succeed in a society. Or when people write – “Black Lives Matter” to show their solidarity with African Americans against the constant unjustified killing of Blacks, there are others who surface and say: well, “All Lives Matter”. The latter are totally straying away from the point. It is disrespectful. People do this from a point of privilege, probably never having faced the challenges of being a Black person in America and the fact that you can easily be killed by those who are supposed to protect you, because of the colour of your skin.

These are just a few examples of how a lack of willingness to communicate and understand the other person’s perspective, affects the way people see social justice issues. It is important that when you see people struggling or suffering in your society, you try to learn about their circumstance and perhaps in that way, you may derive a solution. The truth is that no one problem is limited to one person or one society. In trying to solve a problem that you saw in one household, you are probably setting the pace for that problem to be solved in many households in that society.

Communication is key.

Peace & Love,

Chiamaka

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Random acts can be revolutionary

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Photo: Fela Anikulapo-Kuti

Random acts of kindness are probably something everyone can relate to. At one time or on several occasions, a stranger gave you a helping hand and this brought you huge surprise yet great joy. It is true that on some occasions you may welcome the random gesture but on other occasions, you may shun it because it seems kind of ‘awkward’.

These ‘awkward’ people if we shed a light on them can be admired for something that is truly special – their boldness, their ability to step of their comfort zone to approach you to offer help or to say a kind word to you. It is in the same way, through random acts that people come out randomly, unexpectedly to spark positive social change. Whether or not they are seen or judged as being deviant is the least of their worries. It is so fascinating and admirable how a small group of people can create a new social structure of peace and fairness in a society that is marred by dictatorship, fear and injustice. Fela Anikulapo-Kuti is definitely someone among many examples that rings a bell. His fearless and consistent struggle for social justice in Nigeria at times when Nigerians were gripped with fear to speak up against unjust governance was deviant, different and random. And that is why till today, nearly 19 years after his death, Fela is still loved and appreciated in Nigeria and around the world.

One day in Ottawa, I was walking to the grocery store and I saw a little group of teenagers speaking to some people who I presume were homeless and offering them snacks. That was a random act  that touched me. It was a random act that for me, emphasized how a society can be united in love if we stopped the stigma and leaned a little bit more to help the less privileged.

Last week Monday, January 18 was Martin Luther King, Jr Day. MLK was another person who stepped out of the box whatever it could have been at that time – probably a box of fear, pain and suffering. He did not comply with any man-made rule on how African-Americans should be treated. MLK did not abide by the norm, he struggled and defended the inherent right of every human being (INCLUDING African-Americans) to freedom.

Random acts can be powerful, they can be revolutionary. Don’t be quick to shun them because it’s random, seemingly awkward, out of the box acts that have led certain people to make huge positive impacts in their society.

Love & peace,

Chiamaka

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No place for fundamentalism in social justice advocacy

You live and learn. No one learns everything they need to know about life in a day. It is human nature to live, make mistakes, be ignorant and then learn, do better, still make mistakes and then, learn again. This is why the approach of imparting social justice knowledge through fundamentalism is not very helpful and often toxic and repelling.

It is important to recognize the fact that to come to knowledge, there is a process, there is no instancy. So, the approach of shaming everyone who does not necessarily agree with an ideology or a movement, in an effort to bring about social change does more harm than good. Of course, activists do not need to accommodate every idea or everyone and this is the powerful thing about activism. You defend people and societies assertively, in spite of insult, criticism and sometimes, possible harm. However, activists must be careful to make room to listen to those voices that want to know, that believe that there is good in what you are advocating for but need more enlightenment. This is so because some people do not just disagree with ideas because they are naive but because they do not have enough information, because they grew up within ideologies that are different from what should now be the norm.

The good news is that there are people willingly to learn why certain ideologies are putting societies backward. So, they need an open space where they can express their ‘ignorance’ politely and freely and then be more enlightened.

Do you ever read the works of certain social justice advocates and feel somewhat belittled, categorized unfairly as not willing to contribute to change? Well, no one should be made to feel that way. Social justice advocates have to be able to present themselves, their mandate, in a way that encourages people to come up and question them and even give constructive criticism. A simple example of fundamentalism is when an activist seems to respond to hate with hate, whether or not that was the intention. Also, think reverse racism – as a more narrow example.

It is very easy to be distracted by anger from all the bad news circulating form society to society, that activists begin to seem too angry and unapproachable. Speaking from my own experience, I have written and spoken out of anger at times, in ways that though my argument may have been right, I just may have scared off a few people with my facial expression or the tone of my voice – whether orally or in writing. Luckily, I have people who can tell me – I think you were right but that approach was unnecessarily too harsh.

Fundamentalism does not make people immediately drop their differing ideologies to follow yours, rather it takes them aback. The approach seems scary and certainly, they do not want to turn into people with temperaments, people who give no room to newcomers, the adapters. As my sister, Ebele, once told me and I am paraphrasing – A lot of troubles in the world are caused by fundamentalism.

So, it is problematic to approach social/world transformation through fundamentalism. It is like feeding fire with more fuel.

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