“I don’t know you, but I respect you,” Michael Kelly Gabriel said, motioning to a teen sitting near him.
He stepped closer to the boy, wearing a black New York Yankees hat pushed below his brow.
“I also like your hat.”
Joined by his dad Kevin Kelly, the son of Kwantlen First Nation Chief Marilyn Gabriel drummed and sang to open a community discussion forum focused on human dignity at the Walnut Grove Secondary School (WGSS) cafeteria Thursday afternoon.
But before that, Gabriel gave an impassioned talk about respect, something that was passed down to him from Kwantlen First Nation Elders.
“We live by four simple rules: listening, respect — which is treating people the way you want to be treated — kindness, and the simplest thing: love,” Gabriel said. “All of us want to be loved throughout our lives.”
Gabriel urged the students in attendance to respect their teachers, who he says are “like family.”
“They spend as much time with us as our family,” he said. “Teachers want the best life possible for each and every one of us.”
The Nov. 23 event, organized by the Langley Human Dignity Coalition, promoted the coalition’s mission to promote, protect, and advance the principles of human dignity, equality, and inclusion in the community.
Attendees included students and staff representing seven Langley secondary schools, including Walnut Grove, Brookswood, D.W. Poppy, Langley, R.E. Mountain, Langley Fundamental, and Langley Fine Arts School.
Also taking part in the forum were coalition chair Julie Clayton, WGSS principal Balan Moorthy, Langley Teachers Association (LTA) president Wendy Cook, Langley Township councillor Petrina Arnason, and Langley City councillor Rudy Storteboom, among others.
Clayton said the concept “dignity matters” is a key initiative of the coalition.
“We want to push that message out to every part of the community,” she said.
Moorthy spoke about how he rose above the racism that he and his family, originally from Sri Lanka, had to endure once they immigrated to Canada.
“We are here because everyone in this room has a story,” said Moorthy.
Moorthy, who along with being WGSS principal is the coalition’s co-chair, said he had his “first taste of discrimination” while attending predominantly-white elementary schools.
It was a time when he was the target of name-calling and racial slurs.
This continued as he progressed as a high school, and then university student, and teacher.
“I must say that Canada and Abbotsford is a much different place today than it was when we first moved to the community,” he said. “Forty per cent of the community is now of South Asian descent in Abbotsford.
Among the coalition’s visions are that youth are safe from bullying and discrimination, people with disabilities are given an opportunity to contribute fully to their community, and that individuals, families, and cultural groups are respected.
The objective of events like the one at WGSS is to increase partner groups and get the word out about respect, inclusion, and equality out to children and youth.