The leaders of several northeast Calgary community organizations say that they, along with members of other local groups, are working to combat racism and poverty, while also promoting inclusion.

This is challenging the negative views they feel some Calgarians have towards the city’s most ethnically diverse quadrant. The Calgary Journal has contacted a few of the many community associations that reside and work with northeast residents, asking each to discuss their work. 

Michael Embaie is President of the African Community Association of Calgary. He also teaches at the University of Calgary in the Department of Sociology. Photo courtesy of Michael Embaie

Michael Embaie, President of the African Community Association of Calgary

Embaie teaches at the University of Calgary in the Department of Sociology. He’s lived in Calgary for 44 years and has witnessed a lot of changes with the African population. He explains that the African Community Association of Calgary is an umbrella organization for all the other [22] African community groups in Calgary.

Q: Can you explain what the African Community Association does?

A: In general, the African Community Association would take on issues such as … racism [in relation to] employment opportunities or lack of them, issues of how …we can mentor our young people in terms of succeeding especially in school. We take on bigger issues because you know country specific issues could be taken up by the individual communities for example the Nigerian committee. They would take issues that are relevant to them like the issue of racism…And if they need some help from us we would definitely lend our support.

Q: What has the African Community Association worked on around the topic of racism?

A: The presentation I did was [called]…“Working to Foster Acceptance and Promote an Inclusive Society,” and the Subtitle was: “Gathering Input on Ways the Government can Fight Racism, Foster Acceptance and Promote an Inclusive Society”…So to combat racism we need to change how we do things and how we prioritize things…I suggest that governments and government institutions at all levels embark on experience based, meaningful and practical anti-racism policies and initiatives, by mandating, creating incentives, encouraging and promoting a conducive environment, where dialogue between individuals, neighborhoods, communities, educational institutions, workplaces and media could take place.

Q: What are some challenges you face in communicating your goals to the community?

A: You know people don’t [always] see the value that I see. It’s not so easy sometimes and I think honestly as well people are just … so busy with their lives. So a lot of our people work two jobs you know. We have a lot of people who come to this country with a lot of university degrees but they aren’t recognized …so they do all kinds of menial jobs to survive. So that’s all kinds of things you know that can sometimes impede the progress…but we’ll make an effort and hope that if I were to talk to you about it six months from now we will probably have some stories [about progress] to tell you.

Khalil Karbani is President of the Al-Hedaya Islamic Centre of North East Calgary and the Taradale Community Association. Photo by Natalie Valleau.Khalil Karbani, President of Al-Hedaya Islamic Centre and the Taradale Community Association

Karbani has been  President of the Al-Hedaya Islamic Centre in northeast Calgary for eight years, and President of the Taradale Community Association for the last ten years. Karbani says their organization serves 10 to 15 thousand northeast residents

Q: What does the Al-Hedaya Islamic Centre do?

A: So basically it’s to cater for the community members from the subcontinent Asia, the Middle East, Africa and anyone who is a Muslim, but our organization goes one step further. We will have a gym in there and a recreation center —a small one which will be open to anyone. So you don’t have to be of an Islamic faith. You can just literally go there and have a bit of fun. Overall, the big object is to obviously have some Islamic practices in the West here but also for integration for within all the culture as well.

Q: What’s the value of having the facility?

A: Our objective was to make sure that we don’t have youth hanging around the corners and starting cliques and then attract gangs, because then gangs start doing drugs and things like that…Now from our community perspective that’s also one of our objectives is to look after the youth and to bring them up to a fit society and be a part of that bigger integrated part of Canada.

Q: What challenges has your organization faced?

A: Just because we are a Muslim organization we have had a charitable application for our society now in place for over nine years. We have not got our charitable status. There has been many other nonprofit organizations that have got their charitable status within a matter of a year or so but we are still struggling to get it.  I’ve done everything right and followed all the rules but yet we are still left behind.

“I’ve done everything right and followed all the rules but yet we are still left behind.” – Khalil Karbani

Q: Can you tell me an example of where you witnessed people of different backgrounds coming together to solve a problem?

A: We were struggling to get zoning for a land for a mosque in Saddleridge. There was an issue of parking. The parking issue only comes into effect once or twice a year for us when we have our very big gatherings. We managed to get [ a Memorandum of Understanding] MOU done with the Sikh community who are also building a temple not far from mosque land. They have agreed for us to use their parking when it’s our special days, and we have agreed for them to use our parking for their special days throughout the year. We also have an Interfaith committee now where we are bringing the leaders of every community and meet twice a year

Leslie Evans has been the Executive Director of the Federation of Calgary Communities for almost 11 years. Photo courtesy of Leslie EvansLeslie Evans, Executive Director of the Federation of Calgary Communities

The Federation of Calgary Communities supports 152 community associations across Calgary, 70 not-for-profit organizations and currently has 20,000 volunteers in its network. The federation works towards helping communities be the most effective they can be. It also offers workshops on community board governance and how associations can engage the public.

Q: How do you find the communities that need your help?

A: It is up to them to kind of engage us so they phone and ask for help. For example maybe [how to] engage their community members better. So we send a community development person to help that person out and we will go out and work with them and help them come up with a plan to reach out better to their geographic area. So basically it’s driven by the member and what they need from us. They phone, we figure out how to best serve them and we go do that.

Q: Can you tell me an example?

A: Down in Calgary Marlborough they had a huge issue with the shopping carts from the Wal-Mart and crime. They felt crime was an issue so people didn’t feel necessarily safe walking at night. So we went in and we did what we call building a safe community —it is an engagement project as well…We were able to support the residents with a plan to work with Wal-Mart to actually collect those carts so they just didn’t look like abandoned carts all over the park area there. And so we helped them, we empowered them to go out and you know resolve some of their issues. So we don’t actually do the community building for them. We kind of help them understand the community development so they can go out and you know as a group of concerned citizens go out and actually lead.

Q: What are some challenges you’ve faced with the northeast communities?

A: …the more diverse the community the harder it is for our communities to engage because you’ve got multiple languages. You’ve got cultures that work at a community association and see maybe the government running it so it’s an institution where in their countries maybe that wasn’t a good place to go. You know so I think that the demographic of the northeast can sometimes hinder a group’s ability to engage…But it’s also the strength of the northeast as well.

The Calgary Journal also asked four organizations about their thoughts on Calgary’s attitude towards the northeast quadrant

Q: How is the northeast viewed in the city?

Glenda Marr, Genesis Centre.

A: It is seen from other Calgarians as a lower income area, more crime, that sort of persona. And it depends on the news, but crime is everywhere. I personally see the northeast changing in my opinion…. I really see in the next five to 10 years that we will outgrow some of that negative impressions people have… You may have heard of the northeast pride and it truly is seen everyday here. I don’t live in the area myself so it’s given me a new appreciation for northeast Calgary and I’m very proud to work here

Leslie Evans, Federation of Calgary Communities.

A: This morning [Nov. 15, 2017] in Marlborough Park we ended up with a murder and so they will report that as the northeast community or east Calgary. Kind of like they class it that way whereas if it happens in the northwest they will say [the community]. Like when the five murders happened in Brentwood, it was Brentwood. Wasn’t the northwest Calgary, it was the specific community…If something goes wrong in one of those [northeast] communities they’re all bad. And I think that’s really unfair.

Michael Embaie, African Community Association

A: You know I have seen for years a lot of changes, but you know we have a long way to go especially in this city. Calgary is unfortunately a bit of redneck city and we are becoming more of a metropolitan, but there are certain things that are well entrenched in this city and across this province as well to be honest with you. The views and stereotypes about the northeast has something to do with that culture and with that kind of view.

Khalil Karbani, Al-Hedaya Islamic Centre

A: I lived in the northwest for a number of years before I moved to the northeast and I absolutely love the northeast. It’s the most diverse quadrant we have in the city and I can truthfully say I know all of my neighbors around me which I don’t think other quadrants can say that they know each one of their neighbors…Because we are such a close knit community we can always kind of see the suspicious person, know who’s not in this area and things like that. So we’re quite fortunate in that way that we don’t have many burglaries and not many car thefts. Obviously there is but not to the extent that other communities are experiencing.

nvalleau@cjournal.ca 

Edited by Amy Simpson | asimpson@cjournal.ca