Four questions for … Divonify’s Colleen Sargeant James

I asked Divonify co-founder and principal consultant Colleen Sargeant James:

What’s the effect of racism, discrimination and stereotyping on newcomer children?

I run a diversity and inclusion consulting company, and while most of my work involves facilitating workshops with adults to create inclusive environments, I often see how years of exposure to racism, discrimination and stereotyping affects individuals in the workforce and the community.

The effects of discrimination on newcomer children can result in low self-esteem and feelings of low self-worth. This is especially prevalent in a community where they are a visible minority. Children will learn from a young age that they are different and that being different is not positive and stops them from achieving their full potential. As a result, they will end up trying to “fit in” and not embrace their true authentic self. I think parents of newcomers also experience this as they will tell their children to try to blend in with the other children. Stereotyping has a major effect on children; not only are they faed with stereotypes in their schools and communities but the media has a profound impat on reinforcing stereotypes especially when we look at race and culture. Racism, discrimination and stereotyping are learned behaviours, and when I speak to participants in my sessions I help them to understand that to think inclusively means unlearning most of what they have been taught.

There’s much discussion on integration of immigrants. What kinds of services or supports do newcomer children need to successfully integrate in Canada?

Supports and services are available; however the issue is reaching out to communities that may feel marginalized or isolated. We do not do a good job of ensuring that everyone in the community knows what resources are available to them. This is not an issue that is limited to newcomers, but I find this a concern for many people in communities where knowledge transfer is lacking. We need more organizations working with the school system to ensure children know what is available and we also need to ensure that parents of these children are aware. Communication is key when it comes to integration. This is essential for both adults and children.

New immigrants need mentors within the community. I am a supporter of ambassador programs that allow community members the opportunity to interact with newcomers and work with them to ensure a smooth, supportive transition into the community. a mentorship program would be an excellent resource to newcomers and could be facilitated through our school system similar to a buddy program. This would enable children at a young age to help foster an inclusive environment where all feel welcome.

If you could influence the federal minister of citizenship, refugees, and immigration to do one thing for newcomer  children, what would it be?

To answer this question, one needs to not look solely at the children,  but the family unit as a whole. Citizenship needs to follow up with the families to ensure that they are successfully transitioning into their new communities. Also, demonstrating support by providing ongoing funding for programs and services as most agencies supporting newcomers are dependent on government funding. When governments cut their funding, it has a negative effect on newcomers, especially children who often benefit the most.

What is one of your favourite children’s books that you would recommend for newcomer children? Why?

One of the books I highly recommend for adults who have young children is “It’s Okay To Be Different” by Todd Parr. This book talks about differences and lets the reader know that differences are a part of life. It also helps to open up a conversation between parents and their children about diversity and inclusion and being your authentic self.

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Colleen Sargeant James is the co-founder and principal consultant at Divonify, which specializes in providing innovative and diversity and inclusion consultation, coaching and training. Colleen is a dedicated member of her community. She has over fifteen years of experience working in public administration, social-profit, and the private sector. Colleen is a recent graduate of Leadership Waterloo Region. She has studied Leadership and Inclusion at Centennial College and obtained her degree from the University of Toronto.

Follow Colleen on Twitter @colnerissa.

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immigrantchildren.ca is asking Canadian experts and advocates in immigration, settlement, refugees, and newcomers about their views on newcomer children (birth to age eight). For more interviews, see here.