Thursday, 27 February 2014

Local Communities to Local Legends: How Brampton, Ontario fostered its world class Basketball community, and how Western Canada can catch up

*Photos by Getty Images and Doug Smith

Canadian history was made on June 27th, 2012. Tristan Thompson, a basketball player out of Brampton, Ontario was selected fourth overall in that years NBA draft.

The 6-10 forward would only get to see his name in the history books, for a years time as fellow Canadian Anthony Bennett, a 6-8 behemoth went number one overall in the very next draft.

Bennett was also raised in Brampton.

The suburban city sits on the south end of the GTA and holds just over 500,000 permanent residents. Many of these residents are first or second generation immigrants, making up a tight knit community.

Bennett and Thompson represent the tip of the iceberg at what is quickly becoming a revolution in the sport of basketball, especially south of the border.

Per there are 104 Canadian playing basketball south of the border in the NCAA, and 15 of them are from Brampton. Not only are they competing with other Canadians and Americans at the highest level, but very well dominating with Tyler Ennis of Syracuse, and Melvin Ejim of Iowa State both being legit player of the year candidates.

So how is a small, tight knit community in the shadows of Toronto producing such a sudden surge in world-class basketball players?

Well, this is really just an athletically focused and together community reaping their rewards.

First off, Brampton has no less than 8 semi professional sports teams, across a handful of fields. The tightened community involvement and influence these sports have on kids growing up is unquestioned.

Secondly, per capita Brampton has a huge number of community centers, YMCA’s, and different organizations, teams and leagues that get the kids out and playing.

That isn’t something you see out West as much. A city like Edmonton has twice the population yet seems unable to provide enough facilities for sports that don’t require the huge financial burden, like hockey or football. Western Canada’s impact on sports like Basketball, and Soccer indicate a lack of aggression in per suing grassroots development, and a lack of government funding to these communities.

In the basketball world, the best comparison I can think of what happened in the Rainier Beach district of Seattle.

A community involved in athletics, and the support and safety net it provided the communities youth led to a few NBA starts in Jamal Crawford of the LA Clippers, and now retired Brandon Roy. These two, like Thompson and Bennett of Brampton, stayed involved in the community and helped curate support and focus for the whole area -- schools, teams, fundraising, community centers, etc – and little by little the area started churning out more talented kids who went on to do big things, and be able to better give back to the community, which they all have done.

Seeing Brampton follow a similar trajectory makes me excited for the future of not only basketball in this country, but sport in general. Not everyone can afford hockey skates, but we can all go out, be active, and find what it is we love to do.

Understanding the role sports play in this has been huge for building up communities like Brampton, and Rainer Beach. I would love to see Edmonton follow suite more aggressively.

Thursday, 30 January 2014

"You Are Not You"

As a born Canadian it is often easy to overlook the freedoms, opportunities, and privileged position we automatically enter this world with. Yet for someone who’s moved here from the third world, getting settled in a first world society can prove to be an uphill battle for even long time residents. 

Mahad Mohamed is a Canadian Citizen. After emigrating from Somalia at the age of six, he’s lived in Canada for 16 years, with the last six years residing mostly in Edmonton.  A summer ago he lost his wallet containing his ID, Residence Card, and Alberta Health Care Card. And now the government of Canada isn’t granting him a new one.

This also wasn’t the first time he’s had to get new ID from the same place. He first lost them in 2008, at the time he was a student at Grant MacEwan and according to him there was minimal hassle involved.

“All I had to do was show them some documents from the school and from student loans, and then pay the 34 dollars”, he said.

A few years later, Mahad found himself working in Jasper at Marmot Basin, and one of the local hotels. On his way back from Jasper to Edmonton he lost his wallet once again, yet the process behind getting new pieces has proven to be way more difficult the second time around.

Mahad remembers, “initially I went to Alberta registries and they were very helpful giving me my statutory of declaration form to be filled out under oath from my lawyer, so I did. I take it back to the Alberta Registries building, and lo and behold, it’s the same lady from 09”. 

This particular agent, Hazel Ross has rejected all of the documents and paperwork they have initially requested from Mr. Mohamed and his lawyer. His education and work information has also proven ineffective.

Mrs. Ross was unavailable for comment, but a media spokesperson did list off the needed documentation for someone to get a new ID after losing one, yet had no knowledge of Mahad Mohamed’s case in particular.

“At first I thought to my self that this should be an easy process, since she remembers me, I never left Alberta, and I still have my student loan forms and everything from back then”, says Mahad.

“The first question they ask me is, ‘hey, were you a part of Occupy Edmonton?’”

Back in 2011 when New York’s Occupy Wall Street became international and spread to cities like Edmonton, Mahad saw his chance to get really involved with the movement. He camped out for the duration of the protest, and eventually became the media spokesperson for the Edmonton sector, appearing on TV and in newspapers quite regularly.

“So after they asked about Occupy, I answered ‘yes’, then they proceeded to ask me for something that states I am a Canadian Citizen. I pulled out student loan papers, and the documents signed by my lawyers, but they immediately refused them”

Regardless of the actual proceedings that did that did take place during that particular meeting, and the others that took place, the fact remains that it is difficult to see some one who is Canadian-born having a similar struggle just to obtain a documents that they are indeed a citizen.

By not issuing Mr. Mohamed the necessary pieces of ID, they are limiting his ability to be a contributing, helpful, and consuming member of society. No more bars getting his business, no more solid ID to show student loan officials when he goes to pay, and no more identification to show police when they request.

Essentially, the government of this supposed multiculturalist nation is forcing Mahad to make his way in life by evading a major aspect of a system he strongly desires to be a positive member of. 

- Nicholas Lindsey Hobson

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

The Corner of 107th and the World: Poverty, Culture, and Business on Edmonton's Avenue of Nations

The Avenue of Nations, a stretch along 107th Ave and the northern boundary of downtown Edmonton is the landing spot for many immigrants and new citizens of the city.

The low-cost housing and location is appealing to many new families trying to get comfortable in a new city, but many of the area’s problems have come to the light in recent years.
“Yeah, it’s mostly just stuff that comes with most poorer areas,” says Will Blakeman, a former resident of the area for two years. “You just see the same people hustling, the same people selling their bodies, and the same people shooting up.”

The Avenue of Nations saw these issues reach an ugly climax in the summer of 2011, as the area played host to a high number of the city’s record breaking body count and crime rate.

“My advice for anyone who is thinking of getting a place in that particular area would be to stick to yourself, save some money for a year or so, and then try and get out”, Blakeman explains.

Recently, there have been minor movements trying to rebuild 107th from the violence and struggles it faces.

Building a Community
The All Nations Center, located on 107th Ave and 106th St, provides support and information to newcomers, as well as a spot in the community to gather and meet others in a similar situation.

“We really are trying to develop a sense of community here, as it has so much potential to be a cultural hub, and collection of so many ethnicities”, says ANC volunteer Jessie Monta’ii.

Helping newcomers with employment and getting acquainted to the new environment, the ALC has a few people coming on a weekly basis and hopes that it will be able to continue to expand their role in the area. But that does prove difficult with the crime and violence being at the levels they have in recent years.

“Its tough for a lot of people to come here and completely change their cultural patterns and daily ways of life”, Monta’ii says. “Beliefs, values, and certain habits don’t necessarily change with the location you’re living in.”
Business and Culture
What the Avenue of Nations also offers Edmonton is a wide array of ethnic and cultural dining. Many African, Asian and Middle Eastern restaurants can be found in the area, but sometimes don’t bring in much business besides other people from that particular nation.

“Most times I come here, I never see new people”, says Monique, a frequent diner at Africa Restaurant, just off 107th St.

Will Blakeman also noted that for all the City’s effort to breed multiculturalism in our society, many of the people living in these areas tend to stick to themselves or the people they are familiar with.

“I think it comes with being a lower income neighborhood, to be honest”, he says. “But most of the time you see Somali’s with Somali’s for example, and just with the area being so run down, and people being unwilling to trust others, I guess makes it tough to develop any sense of community.”
A new 107th?
Given the area’s proximity to the downtown core, it is possible the City has revitalization plans for the area in the near future. The question arises if whether or not changes will be good for the residents of the Avenue of Nations. Will the people of the area be simply kicked out when the City’s renovations are done?

Blakeman tries to remain hopeful. “I really hope so, because I feel a lot of these people need a much better welcome to our country, but I’ve seen it before in this city, where they just raise cost of living in an area and force whoever can’t afford it out.”
“It doesn’t make any problems go away, just to the next area.”

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Your Role-Model's Eyewear and Your Grade 5 Bully: An (un)Informed Analysis of Hipster-Glasses Stranglehold on Popular Fashion

Do little kids get made fun of for needing glasses anymore? Will a walk through a playground leave your ears ringing with their taunts of "four-eyes", "nerd", and whatever else they're creative enough to come up with?

I don't personally know, but if I remember how much mainstream media played a part of my childhood, I'm going to assume no. Kids do what pop-stars do. And what pop-stars do these days, is take to these window panes n frames as if these glasses are the reason women throw panties at them.

Now I have no issue with anyone who lacks vision clarity, and needs at least a monocle to make the world come through in HD. But these things are being sold like sunglasses now. Without the lenses even. Why? Why have glasses -- actually not even normal glasses, but those really huge ridiculous things that remind anyone over 25 of that kid in A Christmas Story -- all of a sudden become a needed fashion accessory?

My theory is those kids who used to get picked on, those "four-eyed nerds" of the 80's and 90's who did every shitty high school football players homework, have finally taken over.

It starts with bullying. And frankly it was bad in the 90's, and I don't even want to think about the 80's. This was before companies donated entire advertising campaigns to the cause, or little girls we're posting suicide notes on Facebook page about online bullying ruining her life. Back then kids had to take it. And if you didn't you we're just bullied some more.

My mom used to always say, "watch who does things in life,"...she loved a long pause for emphasis, "the kids pointing fingers and excluding others, or the kid who is outcasted".

Now in the 2010's, those kids who did the others homework, who got picked on and excluded, and had to go through childhood with, what used to be the absolutely worst character trait; glasses, are now in positions of power. Not all of them, but you can bet a fair amount record-label owners, media producers and publishers, and generally influential people have had to deal with bullying over their glasses way back in the day.

And this is the result. Glasses being so "in", and "trendy", and just so damn sexy that the kids need them for looks instead of for looking. 64% of the american population needs and wears glasses. I would like to know how many people of the remaining 36%, have a pair just to fit in.

Hipster-glasses, as they are so affectionately referred to these days, are a staple of seemingly every celeb's wardrobe. And kids everywhere are jumping on board.

I feel this is either some huge anti-bullying campaign done by that Illuminati every rich rapper is supposedly associated with. Or this is the people in control of mainstream media, flexing their muscle on their old school bullies -- laughing as he tells him 20 years later: "Only unleaded fuel, please".

Whatever it is, I'm fine with it.

I remain,

-John F. Johansen

Monday, 24 December 2012

Some Insight into InSite (from last year)

Place yourself in the shoes of a chronic addict for the duration of this essay. The old, ripped and tattered shoes of someone viewed  by the rest of society as nothing more than a stray dog; avoided, ignored, and out of touch with any form of their life pre-addiction. To many residents of the downtown eastside of Vancouver, BC, this is their current situation. Life on death-row, with nothing more than the narcotic contents of a syringe to provide any relief from life’s right hook. Yet, those contents are simultaneously clenching life’s left fist.
Heroin addiction is so much more than just a need for that perfect high. Needle sharing and the spread of HIV go hand in hand, and society’s rejection of addicts as suitable human beings can prevent many people from offering help to an addict on the long road to recovery. Insite, a safe injection site in Vancouver’s downtown eastside was created to provide clean needles to addicts in an effort to reduce the spread of HIV, to help addicts develop healthy relationships and access health care and treatment for their addictions. Insite is not only a place where safe injections can be performed, but the relationships the patients build with the nurses at the site may well open doors to their recovery. Having some vague sense of relational consistency in a lifestyle riddled with homelessness, lack of nourishment, emotional trauma and crime can only be a positive when it comes to getting one’s life back on track.
Not surprisingly, this program has a large number of opponents. For them, getting over the fact that there is an organization that is, in their mind, enabling the usage of an illegal and addictive substance is the biggest hurdle. Why is there funding for a program that seemingly promotes drug abuse? Should we not be focused on stopping this activity? This seems like a valid question and one that, in a perfect world, should have an answer. Yet as history illustrates, there will always be a drug market.
Supporters of the Insite program believe that drug addiction is a symptom of earlier trauma.  For example, Gabor Mate, a doctor who has worked for many years with addicts in Vancouver’s Downtown east side, believes users are seeking a means to bear pain that many of us can never comprehend (pain from childhood abuse, neglect or intergenerational trauma) (Mate, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, 3). Understanding that addiction may not be a choice but rather a source of relief, is a step that the general public (and politicians) do not consider. We need to begin looking at these people as people, not as problems.    
According to Insite’s web page, Vancouver is home to approximately 12,000 injection drug users. This is not an activity that will simply cease to exist. A focus on stopping drug use is a hopeless cause for the simple fact that so many people choose to use them. Insite’s focus on providing a safe place for the users to use clean needles provides security against some very devastating aspects of drug addiction. It keeps the activity of injecting off the streets and out of the hands of the untrained. From 2004 to 2010 there have been 1418 overdoses within Insite, and every single one has been treated by the on staff nurses (“Insite-Supervised Injection Site”). Sure, as an opponent would point out, they may live to inject another day. But by not re-using that syringe, by not improperly performing an injection for a “friend”, the dangerous addiction that cripples them is just a little bit safer. And what more can we ask from a situation that is so dangerous in the first place?
I’d like to compare the initiative taking place in Vancouver to that which is happening in Toronto. A proposal to have a safe injection site in Ontario’s capital has been rejected, thus birthing COUNTERfit, an organization that gives clean syringes to drug dealers in the hope that they will deliver it to their customers (“The Grey Zone”). May I ask you, with the understanding that stopping drug use altogether is an impossible task, which method would you prefer? Actually placing more power and control in the hands of street dealers and gangs (COUNTERfit pays these criminals with hopes that they deliver the proper safety equipment to users). Or having an actual site for users to go to, where trained professionals ensure safe syringes are used and proper injection happens, and takes the activity of injecting off the street.
Research into Insite has revealed a number of benefits. First and foremost the sharing of syringes had been reduced as well as public injection has been on the decline. More importantly, more individuals are accessing detoxification services and addiction treatment is on the rise. Public support is also very strong for Insite. The Final Report of the Expert Advisory Committee for Tony Clement has stated that “letters of support and surveys show that health professionals, local police, the local community and the general public have positive or neutral views of INSITE services and the majority wish to see the site continue (“Vancouver's INSITE service and other Supervised injection sites: What has been learned from research?”)
The fact that Insite provides not only a safe needle exchange program, but health, detox, and addiction treatment allows this to make the drug community, one that will always be in present in society, a much safer one. Insite also provides the first step in the lengthy ladder to recovery. The positives brought forth by Insite vastly outweigh the negatives, and by not introducing similar programs to other cities, our government is just allowing the current issues with the injection-drug culture to magnify and continue.

To all you beautiful humans, I remain
-John F. Johansen