Going Above and Beyond for Youth with Skye Bowen

by Chris Tompkins | April 19, 2023

Throughout Skye Bowen’s 20-year career as a teacher and vice-principal, she has had a first-hand account of the social injustices faced by her students. Her husband, Orlando Bowen (who’s also been a guest on Shaping Our World), was also assaulted by two police officers in a racial profiling incident. These unfortunate experiences have helped shape Skye into the activist she is today, as she works to address systemic racism in both the education and justice systems by giving workshops on the topics of anti-racism, anti-oppression and restorative justice. In March 2023, she was profiled in the Brampton Guardian as a Woman of Distinction for her activist efforts.

The gift of advocacy

Skye describes a positive change she has observed among the students at her high school over the course of her career in education as their desire and willingness to speak up when they witness an injustice. She attributes their advocacy, which she calls “a gift,” to what they’ve been exposed to in terms of gun violence and police brutality.

Mental health and disconnect in the classroom

When asked about the negative changes she has witnessed among youth, Skye cites the significant rise in mental health issues. She explains the impact on the classroom as causing “a significant rise of disengagement in school.” If Skye could wave a magic wand and give students what she feels they really need to thrive she would mandate mental health clinicians in every school on a daily basis. She feels that smaller class sizes would also help students find positive connections at school.

“If we really want to be intentional about building meaningful relationships with students, the class sizes need to be smaller,” she says.

A case for connections at school

Skye spent time teaching at a correctional facility and was struck by the young men in her class who had committed high-risk crimes but were, in Skye’s words, “brilliant young men … [who] just didn’t have the opportunities or the exposure to be able to see what was possible.” She further explains that they found their leadership capacity in the wrong places — making connections in neighbourhoods with street violence because they didn’t get that opportunity for connection in school.

“They weren’t affirmed in school,” Skye says. “They weren’t seen as being positive leaders. They were kicked out and pushed out multiple times.”

And the result of continually being pushed out of school is that these young men make connections to negative influences instead, which can lead to crime and arrests, resulting in what is referred to as the school-to-prison pipeline.

The importance of adult advocates in the classroom

In addition to smaller class sizes and access to social workers and counsellors, Skye underlines the importance of teachers who are advocates and who are paying attention to what’s happening, especially for racialized and marginalized students.

“[Adult advocates] can completely change the culture of the school and they can completely change the outcome for the students,” she says.

Her reason for paying attention and advocating is so that no students on her watch will go without help or without at least knowing there is another path to take.

“I know the impact that it can have on young people when we pour out and go above and beyond to help,” she says.

To hear more about how Skye goes above and beyond for her students listen to the complete episode at the top of this post.

Visit our website to discover a variety of other guests that we’ve had on the show. Shaping Our World episodes are also available wherever you get podcasts.


[00:00:12.220] – Speaker 2
Well, hey, everyone. We’re back with the Shaping Our World podcast. And today we have Skye Bowen joining us. And I’m really excited for you to hear this conversation. And there’s so much to learn from Skye. Skye is an educator with over 20 years of teaching experience. She’s passionate leader and an advocate for equity and social justice. Skye and her husband Orlando, who’s been on our show before, dealt with the trauma of Orlando being assaulted by two police officers in a racial profiling incident. Despite this challenge, she continued to mentor students and empower them to persevere despite the racism and discrimination many of her own students faced. She became instrumental in creating community partnerships, athletic programs, and leadership opportunities for students. Through her educational leadership, she’s raised over $20,000 in various fundraising initiatives for her high school. Her role as an educator gave her the opportunity to partner with her husband’s youth leadership charity, One Voice, One Team Youth Leadership Organization. Sky’s recently taught in a youth correctional facility where she saw firsthand the impact of the school to prison pipeline. This further motivated Skye to advocate for youth in order to address the systemic racism in the justice and education system that she observed every day.

[00:01:31.200] – Speaker 2
She’s developed training in restorative justice, focused on anti racism, anti oppression, and rooted in Afro-Indigenous culture. She’s a strong advocate for social justice, youth advocacy and community. Skye is currently the vice-principal at a large high school in the Greater Toronto Area and provides workshops for educators in various school boards on anti-racism, anti-oppression and restorative justice. She’s been married for 20 years, and her and Orlando have three teenage boys, Dante, Justice and Marcus. As a parent and an educator for so many years, Skye has a rich, rich history and experience in a very unique context. And I think you’re going to really enjoy and I think learn a lot today in our conversation. So let’s roll the discussion I had with Skye Bowen. Skye, how are you?

[00:02:30.890] – Speaker 1
I’m good. How are you, Chris?

[00:02:32.630] – Speaker 2
I’m doing well. It’s great to have you. And for the people listening who… They’ve heard a bit about your bio. I will let people in on a little secret. I have known Skye for pretty much almost all of her life as really good family friend and we go way back. And I’ve always admired the work that she’s doing. So I’m really excited to have her here and to hear what she has to share with us today. So, Skye, again, thank you for taking the time.

[00:03:01.640] – Speaker 1
Thank you.

[00:03:02.550] – Speaker 2
We always talk about our podcast is called Shaping Our World. We want to dive into the world of youth and how we know that they will shape our world one day, and how do we shape our world to help shape their world. We’re going to go with that train of thought and ask you, what shaped your world when you were growing up, when you’re a kid, when you’re a teenager? What were some of the big influences in your life?

[00:03:24.790] – Speaker 1
Big influences for sure would have been my relationship with God. I think that was foundational to a lot of the things that I did growing up in my life. Church and family and fellowship were important that way. My family, I grew up very close with my brother and my sister and my parents. That was a really important part of my life. Then athletics, I think, is another piece that really got me grounded and focused, even with academics, and gave me something to look forward to and an outlet. So faith, family, and athletics, I think, were the key foundations for me.

[00:03:58.920] – Speaker 2
So athletics, what sports did you play? What were you into?

[00:04:02.540] – Speaker 1
Basketball, soccer, and track and field were the main ones. I love basketball.

[00:04:07.370] – Speaker 2
Oh, nice. What’s shaping your world today? You’re no longer a kid or a teenager. What are important? I’m sure a lot of those things would translate, but what shapes your world today?

[00:04:19.070] – Speaker 1
Today, it’s still my family for sure, but my family has gotten bigger now. I have a wonderful, amazing husband, Orlando Bowen, and three amazing young men. Dante is at the Ohio State University. Justice is at L’Orier University. O ur youngest son, Marcus, is at Clarkson High School in Mississauga, playing a lot of football. Family still, my faith is still important to me. And education and young people is what I’m passionate about now.

[00:04:49.760] – Speaker 2
Well, it’s a great transition. Can you tell us about what you’re doing to shape the world of teenagers, young people today? Tell us about your role.

[00:04:57.260] – Speaker 1
Sure. Right now, I’m currently a vice principal in one of the larger school boards in Ontario at a large high school. That’s my primary career. But I also do a lot of work in partnership with Orlando through One Voice, One Team and the Michael Pimble Clements Foundation, just working to support young people and provide as many opportunities as they can. I also do a lot of work through restorative justice training and work on supporting different schools on what restorative justice and education looks like and how that can help support schools with an anti racist, anti oppressive educational environment.

[00:05:40.200] – Speaker 2
That’s amazing. There’s so much in that, which I’m really excited to dive into. You mentioned One Voice, One Team in Orlando. Those of you who are listening, if you’re like, Oh, what’s that all about? We actually had Orlando on the show in season 1 talking about what he does. So if you’re now curious, listen to this one and then you can go back to season 1 and get a little taste of the work Skye does alongside of her husband, which is incredible. But tonight we want to talk about you and the work that you’re doing, and that may involve some of that. But so you’ve been a teacher, how long? You know, like over 20 years?

[00:06:13.010] – Speaker 1
Yeah, it’s been 21 years. And so I’ve just been an administrator now for just over a year now.

[00:06:18.190] – Speaker 2
Yeah. So you spent a lot of time working with young people, and we’re going to talk about the different settings you’ve done that. But zooming out, what would you say are some of the key issues that young people are dealing with? And how have you seen those change? And I’d invite you to sometimes we get in these conversations, we always want to focus on the negative, right? So what are some of the positive things you’re seeing in kids? What are some of the challenges and what’s changing as you’ve worked your way through the classroom?

[00:06:47.680] – Speaker 1
Yeah, I think one of the positive things that I’ve seen that has changed a lot is that there’s a lot more advocacy. There’s a lot more students that want to speak up when they see things that aren’t right or when they see injustice. I think because of what they’ve been exposed to recently more than we ever have before in terms of whether it’s gun violence or police brutality, things that they’ve been exposed to, they’re more willing to speak up. I appreciate and respect that and feel that it’s going to be pivotal in the next few years in terms of seeing how our young people are using that gift. Some of the challenges I would see is that there’s a significant rise, I think, in mental health. With those challenges with mental health, there’s a significant rise of disengagement in school. The lack of connection that they’re seeing in their classroom spaces has led to making some poor choices related to that level of disengagement. A lot of that, I think, is encompassed by the issues with mental health and well being.

[00:07:51.870] – Speaker 2
I might put you on the spot here, but if you could pull out your magic wish wand and create anything within the school environment that no budget, no any of that. Because this is a common theme that comes up when we have these conversations is one of the things that has changed, and I think we all can recognize that post pandemic, mental health issues were there before, but it’s almost like that just turned up the heat on it and created some contexts for some of those challenges to definitely, I wouldn’t say emerge, but maybe even be accentuated. In your world, what you see is what do young kids need today? What could we do to come alongside them and really support them in some of these challenges?

[00:08:38.660] – Speaker 1
I would say a few things. One, I would say we need to have mental health clinicians in every school every day, a consistent team. So a social worker, a mental health clinician. I know that schools have guidance counselors, but guidance counselors are not what people think. They are often doing a lot of the administrative work of making sure they’re timetabled into the right classes. They don’t have the capacity to be able to support mental health. And a number of school boards do not see the value in that. They do not have a mental health clinician in the schools on a regular basis. We have one that is in there once a week. That’s not enough for over 1,300 students. Another thing that I think should happen, and I don’t know if it ever would, but we need smaller class sizes. If we really want to be intentional about building meaningful relationships with students, the class sizes need to be smaller. That’s a financial thing that I don’t know if the government is willing to take on, but if we want to see change, that needs to take place.

[00:09:36.200] – Speaker 2
Yeah. You and I were having a little conversation before we started recording today. We see this at camp, too, that we want to provide an experience for everyone, but there’s the kids that are struggling. It often takes time. A way, focus, energy. And if you’re an administrator or a teacher, you’ve got to keep teaching and also try to support and help this student along the way. And there’s just such a tension there. And when the classes are big and even more kids, then your tension is spread out. I can definitely see how that’s something that would be hugely advantageous. Again, we could probably dive into all this in a little depth, but we might get to it in some of these other questions. In your teaching career, you spent some time teaching in a correctional facility. What drove you to your commitment to advocate for breaking down the school to prison pipeline? Can you talk to what that is? Give us a sense of what you did, how you got into it, and what that’s all about.

[00:10:45.710] – Speaker 1
For sure. It’s funny, when I went into that, people would be like, Why would you want to go to that school? There’s no hope for those kids. There’s no hope. Why would you want to be there? For me, I really had an interest of being involved and being committed to students who had been in trouble with the law. The school that I was at was for young men who had committed high risk crimes in communities and were there for a variety of different reasons and different lengths of time. For me, I learned so much from that experience. They’re brilliant young men that were in there, and a lot of them just didn’t have the opportunities, the exposure to be able to see what was possible. What I realized being in that space is that a lot of these young men, they found purpose, they found identity, they found hope, and they found leadership capacity by making poor choices that lend themselves to connecting in neighborhoods and street violence because they didn’t get that in school. They weren’t affirmed in school. They weren’t seen as being positive leaders. They were kicked out and pushed out multiple times.

[00:11:52.440] – Speaker 1
A number of the young people had two, three, four suspensions or expulsions from school. When you would ask them what school they were at, they were like, Which one? I’ve been at so many. T hat is what the school to prison pipeline is. When we continue to push students out of school, when we continue to oversuspend, over expel students, then oftentimes what they will do is they will find connections to things that are negative influences, and it lends themselves to ending up being more connected to street crime and could lead to possible arrests and what’s happened. You see firsthand the impact of being pushed out of school, which is that school to prison pipeline.

[00:12:32.180] – Speaker 2
Yeah. Y ou’re highlighting, which we’ve talked about and you know is, in adolescence, the sense of identity and belonging and figuring that out and what contribution I can make in the world. Those are the big questions that young people are trying to resolve. And like you were saying, when they don’t have hope through the places they find themselves because of any number of reasons, you’re highlighting a great point that they’ll go try to find that meaning and belonging in various places because it’s so significant to healthy development is who am I and where do I really fit? I’m going to connect it back to your point with more support in school and different perspectives, we can try to tackle some of that school to prison pipeline. I think that’s really interesting is, I love what you said about, I don’t love it, but I’m affirming that when people don’t see any hope, it’s easy to give up and find another pathway.

[00:13:35.320] – Speaker 1
Unfortunately, I would say in the facility, there’s a disproportionate representative of racialized young people in that space. I saw firsthand, too, that there were young people that had almost the exact same crime committed. And if you were black, you were going to be in there for a much longer period of time than if you were white. I saw it. You saw it happening. And the supports, the access, all of these things were limited to a number of the racialized students that were in there versus white students that were in there. And that was heartbreaking for me because then you realize the impact of that even from the education system. You realize all that data about disproportionate outcomes for black youth and Indigenous youth, you then see the impact of that in youth justice. That was heartbreaking.

[00:14:28.450] – Speaker 2
I want to get to that in a minute and actually talk about how our generation of young people might be able to start to work towards some of those challenges around systemic racism. But you do a lot of work as an educational leader, fundraising for your school, community partnerships, athletics, joining alongside Orlando in One Voice, One Team. Can you talk a little bit about the power of adults who advocate for young people and the correlation between teacher student relationship or caring adults? What does that have to do on students life, especially black students who, like you mentioned, are Indigenous, who are part of that school to prison pipeline or being pushed through the margins or the outside or whatever? Can you tell me a little bit about how you’ve seen the importance of adults who are paying attention to that and really advocating?

[00:15:24.780] – Speaker 1
Yeah, it’s huge. It can completely change the culture of a school, and it can completely change the outcome for young people. I think oftentimes in education, you’ll have teachers who will teach, but they don’t want to do anything above and beyond that. Sometimes it’s directly related to not being directly connected to that community where they’re working. They live in another community, but they work somewhere else. What I’ve seen and why I pour out so much to young people as much as I possibly can is I don’t want any student to ever say to me, I didn’t know there was another way, I didn’t know there was another path, I didn’t know that somebody actually cared about me. So then even if they are going to go ahead and make a different choice that I wouldn’t want for them, they can’t come back and say, Well, Skye didn’t help me, or there wasn’t a teacher here that didn’t help me. And so that’s my motivation with everything that I do is that I never want a student to feel like that because I know the impact that it can have on young people when we pour out and go above and beyond to help.

[00:16:28.420] – Speaker 1
And if we had more teachers and we had more youth workers doing that collectively, then it doesn’t put so much onus on one or two people that could lead to burnout. But instead, it’s a collaborative effort, and they see the impact that it has on entire school culture and community.

[00:16:44.720] – Speaker 2
Yeah, I love that. And just thinking about having an adult, like you said, who can show them there’s another way and believe in them and hopefully give them some hope. Man, we’re going to get into talking about this generation, but how do we do that when seemingly we’re… I’m white, obviously, and as I pay attention to some of this, sometimes, and I probably is way less of an issue for me, but you’re like, That’s a huge mountain to overcome. If we’re believing in kids and telling them there’s another way, but we’re part of a system that maybe, I wouldn’t say maybe, definitely feels like it’s not stacked in the favor of providing them another way. What can we do as adults of our race to continue to help tear down some of those so that there is actually another way for some of these kids?

[00:17:45.180] – Speaker 1
A few things I would say on that. One, I would say that we all really need to listen, really, really listen. Listen to people’s stories, listen to their lived experiences, listen to try to understand, so listen to learn. That’s the second thing I would say. We have to listen to people’s stories and we’re listening to learn to be better. It’s not that we are coming with our own perceived ideas because when you think of young people who’ve even been incarcerated, people will be like, Well, they deserve that. They’ve been in trouble. Just let them pay by having to be locked up. Those comments are being said, but they’re not understanding the lived experiences and realities and the system that’s been set up to prevent them the same opportunities that other people have. We need to listen and we need to learn, learn to really understand where other people are coming from. Not to say, I understand where you are coming from, but I understand that that is your journey, which is different than mine, which is huge. Then I would just say, in the last one, I like acronyms and all those things is to love.

[00:18:49.630] – Speaker 1
We need to listen, we need to learn, and we need to love. We need to love each other. We need to respect one another even when it’s hard, even when there’s difficult conversations. Know that, Chris, if I’m talking to you and telling you something that I perceive to be offensive to me, I’m telling you out of love, out of appreciation, out of respect for you. It’s not to try to tear down and destroy relationships. But as we’re doing this work, it’s about love and a commitment to wanting to be better for one another.

[00:19:18.620] – Speaker 2
That’s really good. Listen to learn and to love. That’s good. In your work, you find leadership opportunities for high school students. That’s a big part of what you do through One Voice, One Team. I know leadership is a big part of that. You spent a lot of time fostering young leaders. Is there something you’re observing in this generation, going back, how do you see young people rising up in leadership and maybe even specifically around how are young people positioned to really start to tear down some of these things that hold young people back? And even advocacy and specifically even around racism? What are you seeing with young people in leadership and how can they maybe start to turn the tide and teach us adults how to turn back some of these things?

[00:20:12.700] – Speaker 1
I think one of the things I think now, again, with the exposure through social media and a lot of these conversations that are having about systemic racism and what it looks like and trying to create classrooms that are inclusive and what they would say is culturally responsive, students are now aware that this is part of the mandate of many school boards and that it is a requirement. If something is said now that is harmful in nature or that is unjust, there is that willingness to speak up for it. There’s that willingness to say, This isn’t okay, and we need to address this. I’ve seen a lot more. When I was growing up, it was like, Oh, that teacher said something and that’s not okay. But you kept it to yourself or just talk amongst each other that it wasn’t okay. You didn’t really have that voice to say, This isn’t right, and we’re going to speak up about it. I’ve seen more in the last year or two students who have come to me and said, This is what happened. I’m not okay with this. I’m not okay with how my friend is speaking to somebody else like that.

[00:21:18.470] – Speaker 1
I think that’s the power of social media. There’s a lot of things that are negative about it, but the positive thing is that people are feeling that they can take more of a stand and commit to saying, This isn’t right. We want to do better for each other and for our community.

[00:21:35.080] – Speaker 2
That’s really good. You’ve done training in restorative justice with a focus on anti racism. We talked about this, but can you zoom out and tell us, explain to us what restorative justice is and why is it so significant for you in your work with young people and what you do for the betterment of the world, essentially at the end of the day?

[00:21:57.830] – Speaker 1
Restorative justice, it can be complex, but it shouldn’t be. It’s rooted in Indigenous and Afro Indigenous communities. The purpose and idea of restorative justice is that we are interconnected. We are interconnected to one another. We need to know and understand one another’s humanity so that when or if harm happens, there is conversation that happens to address that harm in meaningful ways because we are all part of the same community. It’s rooted in this idea that if something happened in a community that was negative or harmful, it was like, This person has to stay within our community, so we’re not going to remove them and push them out. We’re going to find strategies of support to address why that harm has happened. When we look at that within restorative justice and education, it’s looking at how do we think and understand and create spaces that are just nurturing and honouring one another as human beings, first and foremost. The reason I say it that way is because oftentimes when it’s talked about in education, it’s seen as an alternative to suspension and expulsions, and that’s not what it is. It’s a mindset or a belief in a philosophy that I am just as connected to my students, to my staff as anybody else.

[00:23:13.260] – Speaker 1
It’s not looking at this situation of a power battle that I’m the administrator and these are my students and you must listen to me. But understanding the needs of one another in order to support. That if harm happens, the first thing that I say to students, to families when I talk to them is what happened, but what are your needs? How do we need to support you? How do we need to address this? There are always consequences. It’s not saying that there’s never a suspension and expulsion, which is also a myth, but it’s saying that even if that’s happening, how do we bring you back into community even when that wrongdoing has taken place? How do we honor you and figure out, these are the choices you’ve made, why are these choices being made, and how do we prevent that from happening again, knowing that we want you here in community, we want you to be a part of the school. We want you to be a part of all of the other students and staff or whatever community that you’re working in. It’s complex, but it’s not. It’s just that a lot of the times it was used as this alternative, and that became a very rigid way of doing things, and it’s not.

[00:24:17.810] – Speaker 1
It’s really understanding and building authentic and meaningful relationships with one another.

[00:24:22.760] – Speaker 2
Oh, man. Yeah, that’s really good. I’m getting this common theme that a lot of these times, a lot of these things that we’re talking about have to do with slowing down, paying attention. There’s intentionality, there’s deliberate listening and understanding. I think so often in a lot of the things, whether we’re parents or teachers or when we’re working with young people, we just want to deal with the problem and make it go away. We just want to get in, fix it, move on because we have so much in our lives and so many things on. If you’re a teacher, you got a million things to do in a day, or even administrator, we’re talking, you got so many things to do. But actually taking the time to do the things that you’ve suggested as a way to navigate what young people are walking through and who they are and how they’re showing up, I think it’s really meaningful because it also honors the person, too, in the process. It’s not just you did this, tick the box, here’s your two weeks and come back and pretend like nothing happened. Can you give us maybe a bit more flesh to it?

[00:25:33.660] – Speaker 2
How have you seen this really work well?

[00:25:36.390] – Speaker 1
Yeah, for sure. I’ll give an example. Let’s say there’s a fight at school, and we’ll just use two students to make it simple. They get into a physical fight, an altercation. It’s broken up, but they’re brought down to the office. Now, sometimes as administration or a team, you’re upset, you’re angry, you can’t be fighting in the school. How could you be doing this? It’s actually very similar to parenting. When something happens, you’re upset. But once you sit down and you actually talk to the students that are involved and find out what is actually happening and get to the root of what’s taking place, then you can actually navigate what the consequences would be and how. For example, two students are getting into an altercation, I bring them in, I’m calling their families, I’m calling the parents, or caregivers, or whoever it is that is responsible for them and bringing them directly into that conversation. I’m not making decisions without having the family involved in that as well. And oftentimes if I bring in, if there’s two kids who are in an altercation, I bring in one and I bring in their parents. Sometimes there’s a lot of things happening that this is just a projection of what’s taking place.

[00:26:41.130] – Speaker 1
It might be something that’s happening at home. There’s a conflict taking place. The student’s struggling with mental health. There’s a death in the family. There’s a bad divorce. All sorts of things that are lending to the pressure and challenges of what’s manifested in the class or in the hallway from this physical altercation. That leads to, Okay, so what do we need to do? We have to address that consequence, whatever that might be. And sometimes if it is a significant fight, there could be a possible suspension for that, for sure. But it’s also, how do we address that when the student returns? And what does the parent need to feel supported? Do they need something around academic support? Do they need mental health support? Do we need to do a referral for social work because there’s other things going on? And when they come back, do they feel a sense of belonging in the building? I’m not holding it over them and saying, Oh, there you go. A week later, he comes back, Oh, I remember you. You got into that fight, or There’s that kid, the troublemaker. I’m not using that deficit language that’s going to impact them.

[00:27:42.910] – Speaker 1
But instead, I’m saying, Welcome back. I’m so glad you’re here. What can we do to support you? What do you need? W e wrap around with a team of teachers, educational supports, guidance, whatever they need to ensure that they come back into the building feeling a sense of belonging, feeling like this isn’t the last thing that they’ve done that’s so harmful and we’re going to label them. But instead, we’re doing everything possible to strategize other positive ways of dealing with things when they’re difficult, besides projecting violence onto another student.

[00:28:14.400] – Speaker 2
Yeah. i’m going to spring three questions on you, okay? Okay. You ready? Yeah. All right. Let’s switch gears for a second. A lot of people listening to this are parents. What do you wish you could tell parents about kids that you’re navigating through these things at school? What do you wish you could, for a minute, have the parents just to yourselves and say, Could you do this or work with us here? I love what you’re saying about how you as an administrator, handle these things and talk about restorative justice. What do you want parents to hear from that? What role can they play in partnering with you in the education world to ensure that this stuff is happening well for kids that end up getting in trouble or whatever it looks like?

[00:29:06.750] – Speaker 1
Well, and I would say probably the same three things I said before, listen, learn, and love, because oftentimes students come into me and they will say, I can’t talk to my parents. They don’t understand, or they’ll say things like, If I tell them, they’re just going to yell at me and take my phone away and send me to my room and they’re not going to talk to me. There’s a lot of students who are hurting and they will come to me as a safe space of feeling like, Here’s somebody that’s going to listen to me and listen to the struggles that I have. I think there’s that fear. Oftentimes as a parent, we want to protect, we want to do the right thing. When decisions are made that aren’t the best decisions, we’re upset and we want to issue those consequences. Yes, there needs to be consequences. But if we don’t listen, if we don’t learn from what is taking place and why it might be happening, there’s going to be another shutdown. You think about COVID. Covid allowed everybody to slow down in terms of doing stuff outside in the community and their jobs and working, but it also started to isolate people into their rooms.

[00:30:14.020] – Speaker 1
It impacted that relationship piece as well in a different way because people gravitated to social media and staying isolated. I would encourage parents to find a committed amount of uninterrupted time with your children, whether it’s at sitting down and having a meal together with no phones, whether it’s sitting down in your living room just talking or playing a board game, but uninterrupted time from the distractions of everything else that is going on so that they can feel a sense of I am here, I am present, my family is listening intently because they need that. O ftentimes they’re feeling a disconnect there.

[00:30:58.490] – Speaker 2
That’s really good. A couple more questions.

[00:31:04.060] – Speaker 1
There’s going.

[00:31:04.750] – Speaker 2
To be obviously people who are listening that are white listening to this. So as a parent, as a white parent like me, for instance, what role can I play in helping systemic racism? Because it’s easy to just say to listen to this and go, well, that’s not really my problem. I don’t want to do that. So what would your advice be to someone like me?

[00:31:30.180] – Speaker 1
Yeah, I would say take the time to read and reflect because our world is changing and our young people now are going to be more exposed to diversity and different experiences than we have, including my children. And then as white parents, I think it’s really important to really read and understand what is happening in this world and how we can be better because the only way that we can address issues of systemic racism and discrimination is if we have white parents, white community members, family members speaking up and advocating and educating each other on these topics that are so real and relevant. A couple of books I would always recommend, Ibram Khetan, his book, How to Be an Anti Racist, brilliant book. It actually has a book for young people as well. This book is anti racist, actually has writing and journal reflecting that you can do in it. If you’re an educator, the one book that has always been so impactful to me is We Want to Do More Than Surviv by Patina Love. I read that and there’s a couple chapters I actually got emotional. I cried because it was real and it’s reality. I think it’s an important read for anybody.

[00:32:48.240] – Speaker 1
Lastly, the last book that I found in this one is heavier. But if you live in a diverse community, especially with black and brown community members, and this again is for anybody, but it’s called Cast by Isabel Wilkinson. It compares how the caste system and the impacts of slavery are very similar. It’s a fascinating, very impactful book. Those are ways to get started and be intentional. Think about your neighborhood, your community, your doctors, your lawyers, where you eat, where you go to church, who’s represented there. If all of those communities are homogeneous, what is that going to do for your children? How are you informing them of the diverse experiences that exist within our world? How are you going to expose them to some more things around diversity? It’s not just sending them on a missions trip and saying, I’m going to Africa, which is a continent, not a country, but looking at very intentional ways that are meaningful everyday experiences that will allow them to see the unique lived realities of other people that may not look like you. R eal y reflect on all of those things, all of those layers of connections that you have.

[00:34:07.510] – Speaker 1
If they aren’t diverse, what can you do to build diversity into that? Reading is the first thing, but then maybe being intentional about how you can be actively involved in other communities or nonprofit organizations to see what’s possible and to learn.

[00:34:25.460] – Speaker 2
Just on that note, can you think of other resources or opportunities? Obviously, people can check out what you do with One Voice, One Team. They can find that online. What other resources would you point our listeners to today, parents, youth workers or whatever, to explore more on restorative justice, anti racism? You’ve mentioned a few great books to read, but are there other places to go, other things, resources to just continue to learn and maybe not listen directly to kids, but to listen broadly to what’s going on in the world around us?

[00:35:01.400] – Speaker 1
Specifically with Restorative Justice, there’s lots of great books, some small but fast reads that are excellent. Little Book of Restorative Justice and Education and Little Book of Race and Restorative Justice are two really great books if you want more on specifically around restorative justice. There’s a number of resources, too, online that help around that piece of learning that are great. One Voice, One Team is a youth leadership organization, like you mentioned, that does work for youth empowerment. There’s opportunities to volunteer, get involved with organizations like that, including the Michael Pimble Clements Foundation as well that’s directly involved and One Voice, One Team works with. Those are some ways to at least start to get involved. And there’s so many things that you could follow through Instagram and social media and Twitter accounts. I have a Twitter account, mine’s @healthy miss B, but oftentimes I share little pieces of information. Some are personal, but some are things around restorative justice and equity work. And as you follow a number of those social justice accounts, it will lead you to a trail of other great information as well. So those are some things that I would consider looking at for resources, for sure.

[00:36:16.290] – Speaker 1
Then talk to a trusted friend, talk to somebody that you know that is directly connected with these types of learning opportunities to see what else is possible.

[00:36:26.840] – Speaker 2
That’s great. As we wrap up, S got, I just want to ask, do you have any final thoughts, words of encouragement for parents who right now are working through some pretty challenging, whether it’s mental health or kids getting in trouble at school? Any words of wisdom or encouragement for parents who are right in the thick of it right now?

[00:36:48.940] – Speaker 1
Yeah, stay the course. I know that sometimes it’s difficult when you’re going through some of these challenges and it can be frustrating. Be patience, reach out to other people that you might need help with that particular support, and give yourself and your child or children grace. Give both of you grace because the journey can be difficult. O ftentimes, we don’t give ourselves enough grace when we’re going through these difficult circumstances. But know that you’re not alone. Know that there are always people to reach out to. I give all respect to parents and I just wish everybody the best. Skye, thank.

[00:37:30.690] – Speaker 2
You so much. So many insightful things. I jotted down that listen to learn and love my notes beside me. I’m going to be thinking about that a lot for not just my own daughter, but for young people that I encounter all over the place. Thank you for the work that you do and your commitment and passion for young people and advocating for them. I just really appreciate you being with us and sharing that tonight. Thanks for.

[00:37:57.220] – Speaker 1
Having me, Chris.

About the Author

Chris Tompkins is the CEO of Muskoka Woods. He holds a degree in Kinesiology from the University of Guelph, a teacher’s college degree from the University of Toronto and a Master’s degree in Youth Development from Clemson University. His experience leading in local community, school, church and camp settings has spanned over 20 years. His current role and expertise generates a demand for him to speak with teens and consult with youth leaders. Chris hosts the Muskoka Woods podcast, Shaping Our World where he speaks with youth development experts. He is an avid sports fan who enjoys an afternoon with a big cup of coffee and a good book. Chris resides in Stouffville, Ontario with his wife and daughter.
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