Sometimes the events of the world leave me speechless. Other times, they ignite a deep call to action within me to roll up my sleeves and strengthen my efforts to build a culture of belonging in all that I do. The events of the pandemic and the last few weeks have done both.

Let me explain…

In May, my birth mother died of COVID-19.

She died from COVID-19 where she contracted the virus at her retirement home in Ontario.

My birth mother had me at a time when interracial relationships and single motherhood was unacceptable. In her teens she dated my birth father, a Black Canadian whose family has deep roots in Black liberation movements -- from being leaders in the abolitionist movements to addressing racism today.

This side of the family has a history of many interracial marriages and collaboration with Quakers and other European Canadians, such as partnering on the underground railway, abolishing slavery and much more.

During those teenage years, my birth mother was forbidden to date my father, so she hid her relationship for 4 years. When she became pregnant, she also hid her pregnancy, travelled across the country and gave me up for adoption. During the process, she was bullied by our cultural beliefs about single motherhood and the systems, policies and practices in place at that time.

Little did they know...

Later in life, my birth mother suffered a serious head injury that impacted her long-term and short-term memory. She was in a coma and when she awoke, the doctors said she would be a vegetable for life.

Instead, she became a public speaker advocating for brain-injured people.

She started her speeches saying, "They thought I'd be a vegetable for life; little did they know I'd become a hot potato."

My birth mother, the trickster

I’d like to remember her as a trickster. Lewis Hyde writes:

"Tricksters uncover and disrupt the things cultures are based on... They break rules so we can see them more clearly and shed light on all they exclude."

While she was far from perfect, I'd like to think of my birth mother in the trickster role, exposing all the attitudes, behaviours and systems that need strengthening.

Her story and our story exposes racism, discrimination against single motherhood, stereotypes and bias against people living with head injuries, and the neglect that is so pervasive in elder care.

The Trickster - Speechlessness and a Call to Action

Call to action - Gathering to make new music...

Taking additional inspiration from Lewis Hyde:

"What was once considered noisemakers, tricksters gather to make new music."

Who wants to join me in action and make new music? What extra supports would give you that extra boost to sing?

Let me know what new music you’d like to make and how I can help you by commenting below.
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About the Author

Jessie Sutherland

An international speaker, trainer, and consultant, Jessie Sutherland works with organizations and communities to engage diversity, build belonging and ignite intercultural collaboration. Her approach creates sustainable community change that effectively addresses a wide range of complex social problems.

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