Executive Director Rachel Calder co-organized a 20th year community memorial for the murder of Reena Virk, on November 14th.  Here is her speech she presented to the gathering:

Taped to my office wall, there are an assortment of short notes.  They include words of inspiration, guidance and specific dates I chose to help shape my work.  One of these is a small, yellow post-it note with the date Nov 14th 1997 – and it has been there for about two years.

I remember Reena – she reminds me to be intentional in the work I do for the prevention of racism, youth bullying, violence and all forms of intolerance.  youth violence, racism and bullying are still issues in our community.  Youth continue to experience these forms of oppression, despite all the work that has been done.  It is a conversation that we need to continue, and will always need to continue.

Marking the 20th year anniversary of Reena’s murder is important not only to honour her life and legacy but also to recognize our grief as a community and have this opportunity to continue to process it.

I wondered, who am I to organize a community memorial for Reena?  I didn’t know her family, or have any direct connection to her death.  When individuals or groups face discrimination, they are often faced with the responsibility of having to advocate and call for justice from within their communities, that already face marginalization.  As a Caucasian woman, I believe that showing up, and engaging in this process and work allows me to step into the role of an ally.

I initially though about an event within our school community to mark this date but I also wondered about the meaning that could be made by offering our larger community the opportunity to gather, to grieve and to engage in conversations that contribute to a society that espouses belonging, inclusion and nonviolence.  Let’s raise the bar together.

When Reena was killed, it wasn’t just her family and friends who lost her.  We all lost her.  We also lost our perceived reality of the extent that youth violence could reach.  Her murder made a significant tear in the fabric of our community.  This bring us together today, as witnesses and community shapers, to acknowledge what we lost and how we want to guide our community for today’s children and youth, and into the future.  This is how culture is created and experienced.

People, myself included, drive over this bridge and by this land and while doing so remember Reena at each passing.  The trauma of Reena’s death is still felt here, and resonates in this place, and maybe always will.  Being present today with open hearts, we make an imprint upon the land, and add a layer of healing.  When we pass by from now on, we will be able to recall our coming together today as witnesses in the power and connectedness of community as a resource.  This place-making can change the narrative in how we remember Reena, and how we think of this place.

Reena’s legacy is not her death.  Reena’s story has inspired art, theatre, poetry, school projects, research articles, a research centre, youth drop-in centres, youth programs, policy changes, and this community memorial 20 years later.  What a legacy.   And what comes next? How can we all contribute to her legacy?

As individuals, how we commit to non-violence will be unique.  But our individual actions and choices ripple out and contribute to the norms of our society.

Additionally, thousands of students have had the honour listening to Suman and Manjit Virk speak about bullying, violence prevention, speaking up – not being a bystander, and being kind and inclusive.  And here they are again, today, sharing through heartbreak with the goal of positively impacting the lives of youth.

I am honoured and humbled to have co-organizing this event with friends from Learning Through Loss.  This would not have happened without their partnership and collaboration.

And in closing, For the children and youth who are here today, we are here for you.  This event is about all of us coming together and doing our best to enhance the society we share – by taking individual and collective responsibility for your safety and well-being.  You are valued, you are important and you all have a gift that we need in this world.

I am so grateful that we are all here and in this together today, thank you.