Saturday, December 8, 2018

NL Human Rights Award Winner: Kim White

On December 4th, the Human Rights Commission of Newfoundland and Labrador announced the nominees for the 2018 Human Rights Awards. The annual award recognizes an individual who has made and/or continues to make a meaningful contribution to advancing and furthering human rights in the province.

"Each year, the selection committee faces the ultimate task of reviewing numerous well-deserving applications for this award. It’s never easy to choose and we are grateful to all of the applicants for their exemplary work to further human rights in our province. We are very pleased to be able to recognize people who have made such significant contributions to enrich our communities.
Kim Mackay, Vice-Chair, Newfoundland and Labrador Human Rights Commission

This year's nominees included:
Blair Curtis - an 18-year-old university student and trans rights activist.
Gemma Hickey - a widely known St. John’s-based activist, poet, and soon-to-be author.
Anastasia Qupee - an Innu from Sheshatshiu, Labrador and the first female chief of her First Nation.
Craig Reid - a long-time advocate for inclusion for persons with disabilities.
Joanne Thompson - Executive Director of The Gathering Place.
Dane Woodland - a 27-year-old transgender activist residing in St. John’s,
and this year's Human Rights Award Winner, Kim White!

Kim White was born and raised in the rural community of Twillingate, but currently lives in St. John’s. At age three, she acquired a disability due to a spinal cord tumour. Experiencing life with a disability has definitely fed her desire to help create a “just world” but she also credits her parents’ passing along a strong sense of altruism and compassion. Educated at Memorial University with a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Education, Kim fulfilled a life-long dream to become a teacher. Fate intervened and led Kim on a career journey that was definitely ingrained in justice, but was outside her original vision of being “a traditional classroom teacher”. Kim’s life’s work has been mainly in the non-profit sector focusing on adult education, employment and career services, poverty reduction, and community development. Kim is the former Executive Director of the Coalition of Persons with Disabilities. While with the coalition, Kim’s work focused heavily on education and awareness; leading task forces, developing resources and facilitating info sessions and workshops for projects such as Emergency Preparedness for Persons with Disabilities, Inclusive Electoral Processes and Inclusive Customer Service.

Kim is also passionate about making change through volunteering. Kim's past volunteer work has ranged from being a Sparks and Brownie Leader to holding various positions with literacy organizations/ committees (including the PGI Golf Tournaments for Literacy) to being Chair of the provincial government's Buildings Accessibility Advisory Board. Kim currently sits on the board of The Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award as well as being Chair of Power Productions which is a new non-profit focused on making the performing arts more inclusive and accessible.

Kim has used every available platform - at work and in her personal life – to “teach” people how to shift the way they think about accessibility. Kim’s message is that all existing barriers we face in society have been created and they can be removed and prevented if people choose to remove and prevent them; if people choose to change their attitudes, if they choose to work together and if they truly understand that in doing so, they are choosing to make the world better for themselves and everyone.

On December 6th, the 2018 Newfoundland and Labrador Human Rights Award and Human Rights Champion recipients were announced at a ceremony at Government House. In her powerful acceptance speech, Kim spoke about how she tries to be "an authentic voice for those who cannot be heard." She said, "I recognized a long time ago that I could use my life to share a message with the world. That by doing so, people might see things differently and understand things differently. I thought my life could possibly help change the lives of others. Recognizing this has made my life very purposeful, very fulfilling, and has certainly provided me with lots to do!"

Kim went on to speak about her life's message, saying that while there are many, "One message is that I have an expectation to live a life of my choosing and live to my fullest desired potential.. expectations, such as getting an education, having a family, going to work, living a healthy and active life, and many other things.. that is to say, living with the expectation to choose to do all the things that other people get to choose to do, to live a full and meaningful life. And when those expectations are not met, for me and for others, because of barriers, I will push back and speak up because I know those barriers - those systems and those structures - are person made and they can be person un-made.. and must be person un-made."

"It is important for all of us to be reminded of our humanness and to see compassion in action, to have role models who display their 'will' for others to see.. and to look to others to help us collectively move towards a goal to do things differently, to do things better."

Kim spoke about love in the form of compassion, respect for others, justice and equality, and the fulfillment of our human rights. "And fulfillment of our human rights is not about charity. It is about removing barriers.. so individuals have equitable access to make choices; choices that others who do NOT face barriers get to make. This is a message that is hard for people to grasp sometimes - "equitable access", "equitable opportunity" - to be honest, I still struggle sometimes with how this applies in the real world my ownself but because it might be difficult or push our thinking does not mean it should not or cannot be done."

Kim ended her speech on a very poignant note, saying "My final message is that I am not extra-ordinary.. I am not Gandhi, I am not Mandela, and I am NOT Malala.. I am just Kim, but that is ENOUGH - it is enough to make change. I do not have to be extra-ordinary and none of us have to be. We can all live very ordinary lives and yet make great change if we are aware that ALL our lives are ALL our messages - and if we are aware of what that message is saying! Every day our words and actions tell the world something about us, about what we believe, what we value - what we will stand up for and what we won't accept. And I would ask you to stop and think about what you want your message to be and then go share that message with the world in any ordinary way you can!"

I was honoured to attend a celebration for Kim on Thursday evening at the Paul Reynolds Community Centre. I am so fortunate to call this beautiful woman my friend. I have learned so much from working with her and witnessing how she uses her gifts - both personally and professionally - to help better the lives of people with disabilities. She has so much empathy. I've never met someone who thinks about others' situations more than she does, and she doesn't just think about it. She does something about it. Kim is honest and real, and she is good at asking questions like, "How can I make that person feel loved?"

I love Kim for her heart and her vulnerability and the way she both pushes herself to be her best and yet accepts herself for who she is. I wish I could be more like that.

Congratulations Kim, on this well-deserved award. You are the definition of "compassion in action". You are a role model to me, and to so many others, and you make me want to do things differently, to do things better. Thank you for being my friend and for sharing your positive energy with all of us. Your work and your voice bring hope to so many.

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