The recent capitol riots, the resurgence of neo-Nazis and white supremacist sentiments are present in our own backyards

By: Ruchika Gothoskar, Contributor

CW: white supremacy

On Jan. 6, 2021, supporters of United States President Donald Trump stormed the United States Capitol, claiming that the latest federal election was stolen from them, rioting loudly and violently against Trump’s imminent defeat. As police officers responded (with little to no urgency) and rioters broke windows and came fully armed, the online maelstrom was just beginning. 

Social media was awash with Canadians glued to their televisions and refreshing their feeds, only to move on from the incident days later, having learned little about the insidious nature of white supremacist organizing. The general sentiment among many Canadians tends to be relief; contentment with the idea that, well, stuff like that just doesn’t happen here

But the stark reality is that this “stuff,” meaning violent racism, white supremacist beliefs and outrageous conspiracy theory-driven drivel not only exists in Canada, but thrives and originates here. 

One well-known white supremacist group that was central to much of the action at the Capitol in Washington was the Proud Boys. Founded by Canadian Gavin McInnes, the Chilliwack Progress writes that the Proud Boys are a right-wing group that is misogynistic and increasingly connected to white supremacist ideals.

Facebook and Instagram banned the Proud Boys in October 2018 for violating their hate policies and Trump famously declined to condemn the Proud Boys during a U.S. presidential debate with Joe Biden in September 2020. Instead, he told the group to “stand back and stand by,” even after malicious hate-fuelled tirades by the group and its supporters. 

But the stark reality is that this “stuff,” meaning violent racism, white supremacist beliefs and outrageous conspiracy theory-driven drivel not only exists in Canada, but thrives and originates here. 

Present amongst the rioters at the capitol were many folks who identified themselves as members of the Proud Boys; a group with roots that are unequivocally Canadian.

Trumpism also isn’t something reserved for those in the US, with pro-Trump sentiment and subsequent racist and white supremacist thought and actions seeping into Canada. Alberta Minister of Forestry and Agriculture Devin Dreeshen proudly attended a Trump rally, sporting the infamous "Make America Great Again" hat and even campaigned for Trump in multiple states back in 2016. 

During the storming of the Capitol, a pro-Trump convoy took up close to three city blocks in Toronto, honking and proclaiming that they were trying to “Stop the Steal,” referencing the apparently stolen election. 

Pro Trump convoy (about 2 city blocks long) headed up Yonge Street in Toronto right now. Interesting times. #StopTheSteaI I presume. pic.twitter.com/jXeVLOCrNY

— D. Jared Brown (@LitigationGuy) January 6, 2021

While such violent groups with such polarizing beliefs may seem distant even still, the truth is that pro-police, anti-government, white supremacist movements are alive and well in Canadian cities.

This summer, the destruction of Sipkne'katik First Nation lobster storage sites on the east coast was proof of continued violence against racialized peoples in Canada, as commercial fishermen incited violence against Indigenous fishermen while the Royal Canadian Mounted Police reportedly did nothing to help.

During the storming of the Capitol, a pro-Trump convoy took up close to three city blocks in Toronto, honking and proclaiming that they were trying to “Stop the Steal,” referencing the apparently stolen election. 

Similarly, RCMP violently raided Wet'suwet'en blockades in British Columbia, the Ontario Provincial Police tore down 1492 Land Back Lane land reclamation camps in Caledonia, and in our very own #HamOnt, 2019 Pride events were interrupted by “hateful protests” led by yellow vest protestors who were fuelled by white nationalist sentiment. 

Our innocent little city of Hamilton has some reckoning to do with the part it plays in white supremacist insurgence. Paul Fromm, a self-described white nationalist, was permitted to run for mayor in Hamilton, even after losing a mayoral race in Mississauga the year earlier, due largely to his pro-white, anti-immigration rhetoric. 

Executive director of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network Evan Balgord cites that the neo-Nazi movement is aligning itself with so-called free-speech events or “men’s rights” events, which are increasingly popular on university and college campuses. This is something we’ve seen attempted at McMaster University, in our own Clubs department, too.

The reality is that Canadians don’t have room to be sanctimonious in the face of violence. Rather than painting our country as the place of harmonious maple syrup dreams and socialized health care, we need to come to terms with the ways white supremacy and racial injustice has become so deeply ingrained in our daily lives.

Rather than ignoring the signs of growing tensions, police brutality and the role that policing plays in encouraging and fostering anti-Black, anti-Indigenous and white supremacist sentiment, Canadians need to start taking an active role in advocating for anti-racism and anti-fascist policies and movements.

It is not enough to just claim that we are better without doing any of the hard work. It is high time that we come face to face with the extremism in our own backyards and address the ways white supremacist organizing has, and will continue to hurt Black, Indigenous and racialized Canadians if not dealt with headfirst in the coming months and years.

Hamilton photographer demonstrates the importance of exploration through photos

On Jan. 1, 2020, lifestyle and boudoir photographer Iryna Kostichin posted her first photo of Hamilton to her then-new Instagram page, 365 Days Of Hamont. The photo of the residential street was the first step in a project intended to showcase all that Hamilton has to offer.

Although Kostichin was born and raised in Hamilton, she didn’t truly start exploring the city until after she graduated from McMaster University in 2017 with a degree in social psychology. She moved out for the first time and was figuring out what she wanted to do with her life. It was in the period of self-discovery after graduation that she began exploring the city.

 

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During this time, she also returned to photography, a passion of hers from childhood that she had put aside as a viable career choice.  

“A few years ago, I was in a really rough spot. I was graduated and I had a degree and I was in a job that I really didn't like . . . and I was like “I really don't want to do this for the rest of my life. I need to find something where I work for myself and I'm responsible for everything, job-wise”. So I ended up getting a social media coordinator job and then that year I was exploring portrait photography," said Kostichin.

Kostichin wanted to put her social media skills towards a project that showcases her hometown’s beauty and combats its bad reputation, leading to 365 Days of Hamont. To gather the photos for the page, she goes on a few weekly adventure walks, taking pictures of places and objects she passes. Her goal is to show various representations of Hamilton, from the buildings to nature to food.

Kostichin wanted to put her social media skills towards a project that showcases her hometown’s beauty and combats its bad reputation, leading to 365 Days of Hamont.

The project began as a commitment to posting daily in 2020, but over the year, this plan changed as Kostichin found the daily commitment challenging. Now over a year after the project began, Kostichin is a little over halfway through her original 365 days. 

 

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The pandemic also limited how much she was able to explore the city because she doesn’t have a car. It has also been difficult to explore new destinations when lockdowns have closed many places in Hamilton. However, despite these challenges, Kostichin is looking forward to diving back into the project this year.

“So definitely next steps are continuing on this journey and not putting so much pressure on myself to do it every single day . . . I started out thinking I was going to post every day and get all this engagement and get to the end of 365 days, right? But realistically I haven't reached that and exploring Hamilton really isn't only a 365-day project. So I can live a whole lifetime and still not see the whole city, which is exciting I guess. So I'm just excited to continue to carry the torch and help others explore the city,” said Kostichin.

"So I can live a whole lifetime and still not see the whole city, which is exciting I guess. So I'm just excited to continue to carry the torch and help others explore the city."

For students in Hamilton that are looking to explore, Kostichin suggests taking it one neighbourhood at a time. Especially during COVID, she suggests picking a neighbourhood and just walking around it.

As her exploration of the city is tied to her self-exploration, the latter is also very important to Kostichin. Through her boudoir photography business, she is encouraging individuals to explore new parts of themselves. Her own journey from social psychology major to full-time photographer and business owner is proof of the importance of self-discovery.

 

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“I use psychology in my day-to-day life. Even in a social media job, a lot of it is psychology. Then being in a social media job also using photography and really discovering that aspect of myself and bringing it back and now I'm actually going to be like a full-time photographer this year and start my own business. So just because people tell you [that you] can't do it really doesn't mean you can't do it, because here I am with a university degree and I'm making money from something that I taught myself,” said Kostichin

"So just because people tell you [that you] can't do it really doesn't mean you can't do it, because here I am with a university degree and I'm making money from something that I taught myself."

Kostichin’s story shows that with hard work and a little exploration, students might be able to turn their time at McMaster into the life of their dreams.

The ultimate gift guide for the pandemic

I have always taken gift-giving very seriously. Even before I had money to spend on gifts, I was finding ways to celebrate my loved ones. I spend a lot of time thinking about what to get people and nothing makes me happier than seeing the look on someone’s face when a gift I’ve put a lot of time into makes them truly joyful.

This year, there are several people who I would normally buy holiday gifts for that I will not get to see. As we continue to hold birthdays and other celebrations in the pandemic and as we go into a holiday season where you might find yourself distanced from those you normally celebrate with, here are some gifts you can send through email that aren’t e-transfers.

GIFT CARDS

I couldn’t write a list of gifts to give faraway loved ones without including gift cards, even though sometimes they can be boring gifts. However, depending on the gift card, your recipient will really enjoy it. Find a gift card that helps them buy an item that they’re saving up for or get them a gift card to cover their Spotify subscription, groceries, or other bills for a little while.

 

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Also consider finding a gift card that pays for your recipient’s splurges. Do they regularly get facials? See if their favourite spa is on Wayspa. Do they typically spend too much money on concert or sports tickets? Gift them a Ticketmaster or StubHub gift card so they can be the first in line when venues open back up. Are they always ordering takeout? Get them a gift card to their favourite restaurant. Or, pick a gift card to their signature stores or stores that sell products only they would buy.

But it is the most entertaining as a gift-giver to surprise them with an out-of-the-box gift card. Consider options such as gift cards to businesses that sell photobooks and other personalized goods. Is there a store your friend loves, but they can’t afford their products? Give them a gift card that makes it easier for them to get that item they’ve been wanting. Are they looking for a particular product? Find a small business that sells what your friend is looking for and get them a gift card from there.

You can find local small businesses at sites and Instagram pages such as Not-Amazon, Hamilton Supports Local and Blk Owned Hamont. You can also give Etsy gift cards, which allows your recipient to pick the item they want from a small business that’s local to them.

 

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Lastly, never underestimate the power of an I owe you gift certificate. Especially with the cancellations and changes caused by the pandemic, their perfect gift may be something you can’t give them now but want to promise to get them in the future. You could also gift free items — a hug for when COVID-19 is over or a regularly scheduled Zoom call with them.

PRINTABLES

Printables are paper products that your recipient can print out themselves. You can find several gift-worthy printable items for free or you can buy one from a small business. Many printables are also easy to DIY.

 

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Book lovers may enjoy printable bookmarks, such as these ones from Hamilton-based shop The Witch’s Fix or printable reading journals such as these I found on Etsy. For the cook in your life, you can get printable recipe cards like these ones from The Witch’s Fix.

Consider sending crossword and sudoku puzzles to those in your life who like a challenge or a personalized calendar to those who like to keep track of things. You can also grab art lovers a print or poster, which several small businesses also create custom.

SUBSCRIPTIONS AND MEMBERSHIPS

There is truly a subscription box for everyone, from fitness to escape room lovers. For both the cooks and kitchen hazards in your life, consider a short-term meal kit subscription. For the readers in your life, consider book subscription boxes like Raven Reads, which ships Indigenous literature both in Canada and abroad.

Know someone who is always hunting for the best beauty products? Try a subscription box like Curls & Confidence, which sends a quarterly hair regime for curly hair. Hoping to get a loved one to slow down and take some time for themselves? Try a self-care subscription box like Pampered Post.

 

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Many subscription boxes are pricey — or at least add up quickly — but don’t think that there isn’t a subscription-based service in your price range. Treat your loved ones to a short-term subscription (or gift card) to a streaming service that they’d love but don’t have yet, like Disney+ or Crave TV (the new home of Friends).

For the audiobook and podcast listeners you know, consider getting a subscription for services such as Audible. Know a theatre lover? The Stratford Festival is selling Stratfest at Home subscriptions to their digital content, which includes the films of their classic productions. Know someone who loves to make things? Check out Hamilton-based design studio Okay Shoe’s digital portal on Patreon. If they follow creators with Patreon accounts, consider getting them a membership so they can enjoy bonus content.

Another interesting avenue is discount-related subscriptions and memberships. For the person you know who’s always ordering out, check out Uber Eats’ Eats Pass, which gives subscribers free delivery over $15. Know someone who is obsessed with buying books? Get them an Indigo Plum Plus Card, which gives them an extra 10% off and free shipping. Know an avid shopper? You could purchase or sign them up for an SPC or other discount card for them.

 

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Several discount cards and memberships don’t cost money. Make a new email account for them and sign them up for the reward program at their favourite store or restaurant. Also, check what services are offered through your library and sign them up for free audiobooks or a language learning program.

VIRTUAL EXPERIENCES

Just like subscription boxes, there’s a virtual experience for everyone. These gifts are particularly special because you may be able to do the activity with your loved one. You could do virtual paint nights, plant nights, cooking classes or exercise classes. Many of the places that originally offered these events have moved them online in the wake of the pandemic.

Airbnb is also offering many virtual experiences with hosts around the world, from history and nature tours to concerts and dance classes. Also check out local businesses and creators for virtual events, such as Goodbodyfeel’s virtual yoga classes or Hamilton tarot reader, Clairandean Humphrey’s virtual tarot readings. If you have any skills you’d love to share with others, you could also gift an event led by you.

 

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Another unique virtual experience is Cameo, where everyone from TikTok creators to legendary athletes to cute animals make personalized videos that can be gifted to adoring loved ones. You can also book live chats. While these can be extremely expensive, if you know someone who’d love a message from Santa or was obsessed with a one-off character in an old teen drama, this could make a great and inexpensive gift.

DONATIONS

Donate money to organizations on their behalf. Pick an organization that is involved in a cause they truly care about or donate to an organization that they’ve supported for a while. Also, don’t forget to include individuals as possible avenues, be it a creator whose work they love or a stranger in need that you know they would love to help.

 

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DIGITAL FREEBIES

Gifts don’t have to cost money! As I’ve mentioned with some of the free options above, you can use your skills and creativity to craft free meaningful gifts. Piece together your memories with them in a slideshow or video.

Write them a poem or a story. Share with them your favourite memories of them or things you love about them. Ask their close friends and relatives to write them a letter or an email with their best wishes or a special memory. You could also get their loved ones to send videos with personalized messages.

 

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If they love cat videos or pictures of dogs, send them a compilation that they can scroll through when they’re down. You could do a similar thing with anything that makes them happy, be it inspirational quotes or watching all the best episodes of Insecure.

Make them a playlist of music or podcasts or audiobooks that they can reference throughout 2021. Put together a list of things that happened on that day in history or, especially for the birthdays of the seniors in your life, a list of things that happened the year they were born.

And last but not least, send an e-card (my personal favourite site is Greetings Island). It’s an awesome feeling to know that people are thinking of you and wishing you well. So show your loved ones that they’re on your mind as they celebrate holidays and milestones. You can do that with any of the gifts above or you could simply send an e-card.

The Hamilton-based project Filipinas of HamONT is using interviews and surveys to find and connect the community

There are not enough spaces in Hamilton where BIPOC feel that they belong. BIPOC in the Steel City often feel disconnected from their heritage, their history and their community.

This is a problem that Anabelle Ragsag and Jessica Vinluan are hoping that folks in Hamilton with Filipino heritage will one day no longer have to face. They are helping to tackle the problem with their community-engaged project, Filipinas of HamONT.

Ragsag is an author and educator with a background in politics who immigrated to Canada from the Philippines in 2009. Vinluan is a teacher, the founder of BIPOC youth organization Redefine Twenty and a second-generation Filipina-Canadian who was born and raised in Hamilton.

 

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With their different backgrounds, they have made their project Filipinas of HamONT for all Filipinas in the city of Hamilton, whether they were born and raised in the city, a naturalized citizen, a long-timer, a newcomer or just passing by as is the case for many students.

They have made their project Filipinas of HamONT for all Filipinas in the city of Hamilton, whether they were born and raised in the city, a naturalized citizen, a long-timer, a newcomer or just passing by as is the case for many students.

The pair met in early 2020 at a Reaching for Power workshop, an initiative that teaches BIPOC women and non-binary individuals how to make a positive change in their communities. After the workshop series ended, Ragsag and Vinluan began in June 2020 to think about creating a project for the Filipina community. In fall 2020, they received a microgrant for the project and began sharing it with the larger community in November.

The project initially consisted of a survey designed to map where Filipinas in Hamilton are located. The survey asks for participants’ demographic information including: their highest completed education level; the province in the Philippines that any member of their family is from; if they are working, the industry in which they are employed; and the effect that COVID-19 has had on their livelihood.

 

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The survey results will be shared to show where Filipinas in Hamilton are. As Filipinas began immigrating to Hamilton in the 1960s to build the health sector, Ragsag and Vinluan anticipated that many of the Filipinas that participate in their survey will work in this area. However, they began to find Filipinas outside of this sector when they decided to complement their survey with interviews with Hamilton-based Filipinas.

“[E]specially being born and raised in Hamilton, I didn't really think that I could see Filipinas in different spaces and I think to be able to see that . . . like, “oh, you're not just in the health sector, there's other avenues that maybe I can take if I see myself in them” . . . [The project is] validating that it's not just in the health sector, but like other aspects as well and other spaces that Filipinos are taking up,” said Vinluan.

"[The project is] validating that it's not just in the health sector, but like other aspects as well and other spaces that Filipinos are taking up," said Vinluan.

Ragsag and Vinluan have completed eight of the 10 interviews that they aimed to do. They shared the first interview on Nov. 13, 2020 and will continue to share them until March 2021. The interview series neatly exemplifies the intention behind the project: they want to share stories of leadership, empowerment and living between two cultures.

“I grew up and it was very white-dominated spaces. I think that, as a Filipina, I felt like I didn't belong in a lot of the spaces . . . I felt like I couldn't have these kinds of conversations around dual identity and things that I feel like I had difficulties navigating.  So, when Anabelle brought up the idea of starting Filipinas of HamONT through the YWCA project, I was so excited because I know there's a lot of these kinds of community collectives in Toronto . . . but I also feel like I don't belong because it's Toronto and I'm from Hamilton,” explained Vinluan.

Based on the feedback from some of their interviewees, Ragsag and Vinluan are working towards running online events that will enable them to continue the important conversations they began in the interviews. They are considering running a book club where they would read works by Filipino authors and hosting workshops on the history of the Philippines.

“I saw that a lot of second and multiple generations of those with Filipino roots have this thirst to know more about what it is like. What does it mean if I don't speak Filipino, if I don't speak Tagalog, am I still Filipino? Because of my teaching background . . . I thought that's something that I can do. That is something that I can contribute to the community,” said Ragsag.

“I saw that a lot of second and multiple generations of those with Filipino roots have this thirst to know more about what it is like. What does it mean if I don't speak Filipino, if I don't speak Tagalog, am I still Filipino?" said Ragsag.

However, in starting this project, Ragsag and Vinluan do not intend to take away from the work done by established Filipino organizations in Hamilton. They recognize the importance of churches, cultural gatherings, all-Filipino sports tournaments and student organizations such as the Filipino McMaster Student Association. They aim to work alongside these organizations to connect the Filipina community.

Despite the name, Ragsag and Vinluan are not completely closing the project to woman-identifying individuals. The project is intended to evolve with community needs.

“We see that our being here in Canada is rooted to that history of a feminized migration . . . So I think it started from there but at the same time, the project is an evolving one – it's not set in stone — and we are aware that identities are fluid, as well . . . the role of those who don't identify as male or female have been there in history but they [were] erased by colonization. That is one of the topics that we want to discuss: what is it in our history that was erased? Can we uncover them?” said Ragsag.

Ragsag and Vinluan hope that this project will enable them and other Hamilton-based Filipinas to continue learning more about their history and heritage. By having these conversations with their community and connecting with established organizations, the project will help ensure that every Filipina in Hamilton feels they belong.

WHAT IS IT

Gold Bars Dessert is a travelling dessert shop that opened in March 2020. From butter tart bars to brownies, the shop specializes in dessert bars. Gold Bars Dessert offers holiday-themed bars and uses seasonal ingredients.

They offered Easter egg brownies around Easter, peach cobbler bars during Ontario’s peach season in August, pumpkin spice bars in October and are currently selling holiday cranberry bars and candy crunch brownies for the holiday season.

Gold Bars Dessert has also partnered with the Hamilton-based specialty coffee company Detour Coffee to offer their whole beans. Gold Bars sells espresso and medium roast, which were handpicked to pair with their dessert bars.

The dessert business combines owner Germaine Collins’ love of adventure with her love of sweets. The adventure lover has created a business that allows her to travel and connect to people through food.

 

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HOW TO GET IT

While the shop doesn’t have a brick-and-mortar location, they frequent farmers’ markets and host pop-up shops. In the summer and early fall of 2020, Gold Bars Desserts was a weekly vendor at Connon Nurseries Fall Farmers’ Market in Waterdown. They also did a Christmas pop-up at Connon Nurseries on Nov. 28. Check their website and social media to find out where they’ll be next.

When they are not at a market, Gold Bars dessert does local doorstep drop-offs. If you’re located in the Greater Hamilton area, Burlington, Oakville, Mississauga or Toronto, you can order online for next-weekend delivery. The delivery days are announced on their website and on their social media.

 

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THE COST

At markets, you can buy individual bars for $3. For doorstep drop-offs, Gold Bars Desserts sells the boxes of bars on their website. A box of nine bars is $20 to $25 depending on the type. Each bar is about the size of a coaster. The delivery is an additional $5.

 

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WHAT TO GET

You really can’t go wrong with any of these dessert bars. They’re all decadent, filling and beautifully decorated. I would definitely recommend the OG brownie if you’re a chocolate fan because even after a couple of days, the brownie is still moist and rich inside. If you’re not a chocolate fan, I’d recommend the blondies or lemon bars.

If there is a seasonal dessert bar when you’re looking to purchase, definitely try that. I tried the cranberry holiday bars and it gave Starbucks’ cranberry bliss bars a run for its money.

 

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WHY IT'S GREAT

Gold Bars Desserts is perfect for the sweet tooth who adores a large, classic brownie or dessert bar. The variety of flavours and the seasonal creations make it an exciting business to visit month after month.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, it is the perfect way to support a small business and satisfy your sweet tooth without having to leave your house. Having Collins visit my house on a Sunday afternoon to deliver me handmade sweets was the highlight of my weekend. With the pretty packaging and Collins’ handwritten notes, Gold Bars Dessert bars make the perfect gift for your loved ones.

 

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Even on the other side of the globe, students can still play a part in spreading awareness

In 2019, controversy surrounding a now-former McMaster Students Union club known as the Chinese Students and Scholars Association arose. 

The controversy began when activists came to the McMaster University campus to give a speech regarding the Uyghur Muslim camps in Xinjiang, China. McMaster Muslims for Peace and Justice and McMaster Muslim Students’ Association invited Rukiye Turdush, an Uyghur activist, to McMaster in February 2019.

Xinjiang, officially the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, is a region in western China populated by a great number of Uyghur people and other Muslim minorities. Since 2017, reports of disappearances of Uyghur Muslims began and there were suspicions about those people being taken away to internment camps.

China initially denied the existence of these camps, but later referred to them as re-education camps aimed at alleviating poverty and extremism

China initially denied the existence of these camps, but later referred to them as re-education camps aimed at alleviating poverty and extremism.

Turdush's speech sparked fury amongst some Chinese students, particularly because Turdush is considered a separatist. Several Chinese students filmed the presentation. The Washington Post directly translated group chat messages, letters, and conducted interviews with three event attendees. The Washington Post's translation confirms that some Chinese students contacted the Chinese Embassy. However, these students were acting independently and not acting on behalf of the CSSA.

Other screenshots, also translated by the Washington Post, showed that the Chinese Consulate of Toronto instructed those students to see whether university officials attended Turdush’s talk and whether Chinese nationals had organized the talk.

A statement signed by various McMaster Chinese clubs and organizations, including the CSSA, further evidenced that the students had contacted the Chinese Consulate of Toronto.

Here is the statement that the Chinese Students and Scholars Association at McMaster University issued after a Uighur young woman gave a talk there about the cultural genocide against Uighurs in China. H/t @ShengXue_ca for posting the original statement. My translation follows: pic.twitter.com/XSj5RT9jeL

— B. Allen-Ebrahimian (@BethanyAllenEbr) February 14, 2019

 

In September 2019, a report was submitted to the Student Representative Assembly in favour of revoking the CSSA of their club status due to a violation of Clubs Operating Policy, committing a Class C Offence under 5.1.3.

“Class C Offences are actions which endanger the safety or security of any person or property,” stated the MSU Operating Policy on Clubs Status. Further, 5.1.4 stated that “Class C Offences will always result in a punitive sanction.”

“Class C Offences are actions which endanger the safety or security of any person or property,” stated the MSU Operating Policy on Clubs Status.

The club was de-ratified by the MSU, stripping the club of its official club status.

In a second attempt to host a panel discussion at the university, Turdush and other experts were invited to campus once again on Sept. 27, 2019. Sara Emira is one of the students who attended the second panel. 

Emira shared that during the panel, one of the presenters, Olsi Jazexhi, recounted his experience of being invited by China to visit the camps. Jazexhi had originally believed that Western media coverage of the camps and the cruelty happening inside were untrue. However, Jazexhi was shocked by what he found during his trip to China.

“Reports that China was building internment camps and persecuting the Uyghurs seemed unbelievable . . . I was very eager to go to Xinjiang because I wanted to explore for myself what is going on there. But after visiting, I found that much of what we hear in the West about China is not actually “fake news”,” Jazexhi said in an interview.

"I was very eager to go to Xinjiang because I wanted to explore for myself what is going on there. But after visiting, I found that much of what we hear in the West about China is not actually “fake news”,” Jazexhi said in an interview

In September 2020, reports showed that China built nearly 400 internment camps. China continues to insist that the camps are meant to educate Uyghur people and that it is not a prison. While on a tour of a camp, BBC reporter, John Sudworth, spoke to a staff member.

“Doesn’t a place where people have to come, obey the rules and stay until you allow them to leave, sound more like a prison? Even if it’s a prison in which you can do art?” asked Sudworth. 

“Doesn’t a place where people have to come, obey the rules and stay until you allow them to leave, sound more like a prison? Even if it’s a prison in which you can do art?” said Sudworth. 

In response, the staff member said that he doesn’t know of any prison that would allow people to paint and that the camps are in fact a training centre.

In the same video, Uyghur Muslims can be seen learning Mandarin, studying China’s restrictions on religion and practicing loyalty to the Chinese government, rewriting lines such as “I love the Communist Party of China.”

In October, a House of Commons subcommittee in Canada denounced the mistreatment of Uyghurs living in Xinjiang as an act of genocide. 

In the same video, Uyghur Muslims can be seen learning Mandarin, studying China’s restrictions on religion and practicing loyalty to the Chinese government, rewriting lines such as “I love the Communist Party of China.” In October, a House of Commons subcommittee in Canada denounced the mistreatment of Uyghurs living in Xinjiang as an act of genocide. 

The subcommittee on international human rights said that they have heard from witnesses who survived the camps in China describe their experience as psychologically, physically and sexually abusive. Witnesses said they were subjected to forced assimilation and indoctrination into the Chinese culture. 

In thinking about ways students at McMaster and in Canada, in general, can play a role in the discussion of this situation, Emira noted that it is important to begin with raising awareness and educating people.

“[A]lso a lot of the torture that [the Muslims] are put through are things like drinking alcohol or eating pork and so your average person when you hear that, it's like, “oh, that doesn't sound like torture” and it's kind of like, “okay, well now we have to kind of educate people on why this is bad and what these people's values are”,” said Emira.

“[A]lso a lot of the torture that [the Muslims] are put through are things like drinking alcohol or eating pork and so your average person when you hear that, it's like, “oh, that doesn't sound like torture” and it's kind of like, “okay, well now we have to kind of educate people on why this is bad and what these people's values are”,” said Emira.

Aside from spreading awareness, Emira suggested that in general, people can help shed light on the Uyghur culture and keep their identity alive. 

For example, Emira shared that there are activists such as Subhi Bora who run campaigns to educate others on the Uyghur culture and help preserve Uyghur traditions. 

 

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A post shared by Subhi (@subhi.bora)

“[A]s you can imagine, this is a group that wasn't really known before. News of the camps started to kind of gain traction, so I think it's definitely important to do that and to also acknowledge that there are definitely refugees here as well from these Uyghur camps and a lot of them are running small businesses and things as well. So it would be nice to see people support them financially and have these conversations with them. Get to know them. What have they been through. It really helps to add that personal element to the issue and helps us feel less disconnected from it,” said Emira.

"Get to know them. What have they been through. It really helps to add that personal element to the issue and helps us feel less disconnected from it,” said Emira.

Correction: Dec. 7, 2020

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the McMaster CSSA was de-ratified "due to failure to report ties to external organizations". The CSSA was de-ratified due to Clubs Status Operating Policy 5.1.3 for committing a Class C Offence, action(s) which endanger the safety or security of any person or property. 

 

Fourth-year student Abi Oladesu is beautifying clients through her business Desu Beauty

Abi Oladesu has been doing makeup for most of her life. She started having fun with her mother’s makeup from the age of 10 and decided a few years later to challenge herself to increase her skills. She did someone else’s makeup for the first time when she was about 16.

During her second year at McMaster University, the biochemistry student started thinking about taking makeup more seriously. However, it wasn’t until she was quarantining during the COVID-19 pandemic that she decided to take the leap and start her business, Desu Beauty on Oct. 30, 2020.

There are three components to Oladesu’s business. As she has received many requests for makeup tutorials and enjoys teaching, she decided that she would post makeup tutorials on Instagram and offer beginner and intermediate lessons.

The second part of her business involves posting her own makeup looks in order to improve her skills and show clients what she can do. Lastly, she does makeup for clients’ weddings, photoshoots, proms, graduations and other events.

 

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A post shared by Desu Beauty (@desubeauty)

It is important to Oladesu that when she does clients’ makeup, she isn’t turning them into a different person but highlighting the best parts of them. This goal stems in part from her own experience with makeup. When Oladesu was a preteen and early teenager, she used makeup as a way of hiding her face. Now she uses makeup to accentuate her features and seeks to do the same for her clients.

“Obviously nobody wants that for themselves, but I don't think there's anything necessarily bad about [being self-conscious] in the sense that we all feel self-conscious once in a while. We're in a society where the beauty standards are very high and they change all the time, but it's important to remember . . . you're the one that at the end of the day determines your worth to other people,” said Oladesu.

"We're in a society where the beauty standards are very high and they change all the time, but it's important to remember . . . you're the one that at the end of the day determines your worth to other people," said Oladesu.

This mission is embedded in the name of Oladesu’s business. While she originally called it Desu Beauty as a reference to the last four letters of her last name, she realized upon reflection that it had a deeper meaning for her.

“I'm a very large fan of anime and so desu . . . basically means “to be” . . . I am [also] Christian [and] in the Bible, it's like “we are beautifully and wonderfully made” . . . So to be that beautifully and wonderfully creative person, you have to love yourself in every aspect, whether that's with wearing your natural face out and being super proud of it or getting the skills to do your makeup really well so that every time you look in the mirror . . . you’re like, “wow, I feel beautiful, I know I'm beautiful.” . . . I want you to be the best version of yourself or at least to look at yourself and be like "wow, I feel like that beautifully and wonderfully made person,"” explained Oladesu.

Since she started, Oladesu has received positive reception and a lot of support from family and friends. Unfortunately, the ongoing pandemic has decreased the number of events for which people would get their makeup done. At the same time, Oladesu credits the pandemic with giving her the time to start her business.

 

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A post shared by Desu Beauty (@desubeauty)

Oladesu also sees online classes as a blessing for her since she started her business. Instead of spending all day on campus and then doing makeup appointments, she can better make her own schedule by doing makeup during the day and watching recorded lectures afterwards. Managing the business alongside her demanding degree and other commitments has also encouraged her to better prioritize her time.

Oladesu looks forward to continuing to grow her following and reach more people through her business. As she will be graduating soon, she is considering how she might integrate her love of makeup into her career.

“I'm definitely a cautious person so . . . right now, I definitely am going to finish my biochemistry degree and I'm going to see if I could get a job with that. But working with makeup has gotten me interested in cosmetics in general so [maybe] I can mix my biochemistry major with cosmetics and then possibly go into formulation or something along those lines,” said Oladesu.

"I definitely am going to finish my biochemistry degree and I'm going to see if I could get a job with that. But working with makeup has gotten me interested in cosmetics in general."

To other students with a skill they are considering turning into a business, Oladesu says to just start. She recalls that she felt the need to have high-quality foundations in every colour before she began her business. However, since she started, all her clients have used colours that she had already had.

“There's nothing wrong with humble beginnings. You don't have to have everything, you don't have to have the best of everything," Oladesu said. "It's better to just start because honestly, I feel like people appreciate watching you grow and watching you improve.”

Universities across Canada advocate for greater financial aid

In 2020-2021, the average tuition for full-time undergraduate programs across Canada is $6,580 per year. 52 per cent of students graduate with student debt and an average student has a total of $28,000 in debt when they graduate. 

52 per cent of students graduate with student debt and an average student has a total of $28,000 in debt when they graduate.

Student debt in Canada has been deemed a crisis by many. In 2018, Canadian students collectively owed over $28 billion in student debt. 

The McMaster Students Union is one of the student unions that have joined in to work on the Debt Free Degree campaign, advocating for more accessible and affordable post-secondary education in Canada. 

This campaign is led by the Undergraduates of Canadian Research-Intensive Universities and the University Students’ Council at Western University. 

Other student unions that are also taking part in the campaign include the University of Toronto Students’ Union, Students’ Society of McGill University, Waterloo Undergraduate Student Association and more

These nine student unions represent students of the U15 group of Canadian research intensive universities. Collectively, the student unions represent over 250,000 students.

The campaign is calling for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion Carla Qualtrough to take action.

Mackenzy Metcalfe, vice president of external affairs at Western’s University Students Council and chair of UCRU, said that this would put grants at a total increase of $1200 per student for the 2020-2021 federal budget.

Policy recommendations from the campaign include doubling of investments in Canada Student Grants from what was provided in 2019. Mackenzy Metcalfe, vice president of external affairs at Western’s University Students Council and chair of UCRU, said that this would put grants at a total increase of $1200 per student for the 2020-2021 federal budget.

This amounts to roughly $1 billion from the government. Metcalfe also noted that this was one of the promises made by the Liberal party during the 2019 election. This increase in grants would apply to all students eligible for financial aid.

“Investments in students are investments in the future. Students are really going to make up the workforce of tomorrow and increasing funding for student financial aid will undoubtedly see exponential return in the next couple of years,” said Metcalfe. 

“Investments in students are investments in the future. Students are really going to make up the workforce of tomorrow and increasing funding for student financial aid will undoubtedly see exponential return in the next couple of years,” said Metcalfe. 

MSU Vice President (Education) Ryan Tse declined an interview but wrote in an email statement that the MSU is excited to work on this campaign.

“The Debt Free Campaign [gives] students the opportunity to share their stories and call on the government to help make postsecondary education more accessible and affordable,” wrote Tse.

In previous years, UCRU had advocated for the transfer of federal tuition tax credits to student grants. Currently, the recommendation for the federal government to transfer tuition tax credit funds to upfront grants is also an MSU policy. 

However, the Debt Free Degree campaign had decided not to specify federal tuition tax credits as a source of funding for student grants, but simply advocate for an increase in grants.

“UCRU still believes that tax credits from tuition should be relocated to upfront grants for students, however, during our past few lobby weeks, UCRU received feedback from the government about the proposal. We heard from multiple sources in government that they were not interested in making this change to the tax credit system. However, we did hear that they were interested in supporting students through student financial aid,” Metcalfe explained. 

Although recommendations from the campaign ultimately do not eliminate student debt, Metcalfe said that having a larger proportion of financial aid as grants rather than loans will help decrease the amount of accumulated debt.

Aside from an increase in student grants, the campaign also recommends a two-year grace period on all federal student loans. Currently, federal student loans have a grace period of six months

In other words, students have six months following their study period with no accumulation of interest on their federal student loans. Aside from finishing their final school term, students are also required to repay loans six months after they leave school, take time off school, or transfer from full-time to part-time studies. After those six months, students are expected to begin payment and interests will accumulate. 

In Ontario, financial aid for students is regulated by the Ontario Student Assistance Program. OSAP incorporates both federal and provincial student loans and grants. 

On a provincial level, student loan requirements differ depending on the province. Students in Ontario are not expected to start repaying their provincial student loans until after the first six months, but their loans do accumulate interest during that period of time. 

Across social media, the campaign shares various infographics comparing the average amount of student debt to other various items of the same monetary value such as 112 pairs of AirPods, a Honda Civic, 233 years worth of Netflix subscriptions and 9 million cups of coffee. 

$28,000. That's the amount of debt an average student has when they graduate. You can buy a lot with $28,000. Paying off student debt shouldn't be one of those things. It's time for a change - alongside @UCRU_Can, we're pushing @JustinTrudeau & @CQualtro to take action. (1/2) pic.twitter.com/FbeJu13B5J

— McMaster Students Union (MSU) (@MSU_McMaster) November 6, 2020

Students were encouraged to join the movement by writing a postcard to their local member of parliament. A Google form at www.debtfreedegree.ca was available for students to fill out and UCRU will send the postcard on the student’s behalf. 

Students were also asked to spread the word by sharing posts with the hashtag #DebtFreeDegree on their social media and provide UCRU with feedback by emailing info@ucru.ca

The MSU is working alongside @UCRU_Can and Student Unions across the country to advocate for accessible, affordable post-secondary education in Canada, and a #DebtFreeDegree. Learn more about our fight for Debt Free Degrees at https://t.co/t0I4CFpbCP. (1/3) pic.twitter.com/5o9GvsngPy

— McMaster Students Union (MSU) (@MSU_McMaster) November 3, 2020

The campaign ended on Nov. 16 and Metcalfe stated that over 200 students had shared their feedback. These student concerns will be presented to federal policy makers during UCRU’s annual Federal Lobby Week. This year, the federal lobby week is scheduled from Nov. 23-27.

Commercial fishers spark violence as anger builds toward Mi’kmaw fishers’ fishery

In September, Sipekne'katik First Nation launched a self-regulated fishery in Southern Nova Scotia, distributing licenses and regulating harvest amongst Mi’kmaw persons without the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. 

According to the Supreme Court Marshall ruling in 1999 and the 1760s Peace and Friendship Treaties, Mi’kmaq people are entitled to fish outside of the DFO regulated season. 

However, as Mi’kmaq fishers began to harvest outside of the commercial session, many non-Indigenous people were angered, sparking violence and ultimately, a rehearing of the previous Marshall ruling in November 1999. 

A clarification was issued by the high court, stating that the federal government can still regulate the Mi’kmaq fishers if there are concerns over conservation. The clarification also noted that there should be consultation with the First Nations groups first and the government should be able to justify its concerns. 

Although the Supreme Court ruling stated that they have the right to hunt, fish and gather in pursuit of a moderate livelihood, the ruling did not clearly define what a moderate livelihood entails. Sipekne'katik First Nation Chief Michael Sack said that the definition of their moderate livelihood should be defined by Mi’kmaq persons themselves. 

Canada doesn’t have the right to tell Indigenous people what ‘moderate livelihood’ means, my column #MikmaqRights https://t.co/s5rcJsZmhK

— Tanya Talaga (@TanyaTalaga) October 22, 2020

While non-Indigenous fishers claim to have concerns over conservation, conservation has been and continues to be a priority amongst Mi’kmaq persons. Others have also pointed out that the number of traps non-Indigenous fishers hold are extensively greater than Mi’kmaq fishers.

Now, with the launch of the fishery, non-Indigenous people are once again opposed to the idea of allowing the Mi’kmaq community to fish outside of DFO regulation. 

Anger from non-Indigenous fishers has been high since September when dozens of Mi’kmaq and commercial fishers gathered at a wharf in Saulnierville, Nova Scotia. 

"We're just here to exercise our right. We don't want to fight with anyone and we ask the commercial fishermen to please respect that,” said Sack. 

"We're just here to exercise our right. We don't want to fight with anyone and we ask the commercial fishermen to please respect that,” said Sack. 

Over the next few weeks, hostility from commercial fishers continued to escalate and on Oct. 5, a Mi’kmaw fisher’s vessel was destroyed in a suspicious fire. The vessel was used for commercial fishing and the owner of the vessel was one who received new licenses for the Mi’kmaw fishery. 

In the next week, non-Indigenous commercial fishers and their supporters raided and vandalized Mi'kmaw lobster storing facilities. Several hundred non-Indigenous fishers had gathered together and made their way to a lobster pound in New Edinburgh. A van was later set on fire, lobsters were stolen and the facility was damaged. 

Another raid took place in Yarmouth, a neighbouring county, where Mi’kmaw fisher Jason Marr had to hide within a lobster pound as his vehicle was vandalized by a mob outside. The group called on the fisherman, telling him to give up the lobster that he had harvested. 

“They totally annihilated that building, just tore it all apart. They took all the lobster," Marr told CBC.

“They totally annihilated that building, just tore it all apart. They took all the lobster," Marr said.

Marr also noted that the RCMP did not respond efficiently to the situation and did not try to stop the vandalization. 

On Oct. 16, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau defended the government’s response, saying that they are active in trying to resolve the situation. 

Across social media, there has been a call to action to support Mi’kmaq fishers in standing their ground and spread awareness about the ongoing hostility toward the Mi’kmaq. 

 

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BLACK INDIGENOUS SOLIDARITY OVER HERE! Our Mi’kmaq friends need our help. Today settler commercial fishers burnt down a Mi’kmaq fishery while the RCMP stood by and did nothing. The government is refusing to address the fact that this is domestic terrorism & hate crimes being committed. They refuse to enforce the treaty rights that say the Mi’kmaq have inherent rights to fish on their land. The Canadian government is completely complacent and responsible in their allowance of violence to continue. They uphold the racism, violence & genocide Canada was founded on. It’s time to be actively anti-racist. We need to stand up for the Mi’kmaq as allies & in solidarity to colonial violence that oppresses our Black kin in the same breath. Please start here with this post, on actions you can take RIGHT NOW. We are keeping our story & twitter updated with actions you can take and indigenous voices you can uplift. Fuck white supremacy Be sure to continue paying attention to #1492landbacklane & The @wetsuweten_checkpoint And offering mutual aid & financial support! Thank you @girlupcanada for these amazing graphics! Please follow these accounts for updates: @wetsuweten_checkpoint @junnygirldecolonized @onecraftymikmaq @brookewillisss @jennifer.l.denny @justicegruben Be sure to tag more accounts & more actions in the comments below! #landback #shutdowncanada #moderatelivelihood #1492landbacklane #mmiw #indigenoussovereignty

A post shared by #NOTANOTHERBLACKLIFE ✊ ✊ ✊ (@notanotherblacklife) on


Activists are encouraging people to contact the DFO, asking them to stand by the Mi’kmaq, as well as reach out to various politicians such as the Prime Minister, Minister of Indigenous Affairs and Minister of Justice. 

“The Canadian government is completely complacent and responsible in their allowance of violence to continue. They uphold the racism, violence & genocide Canada was founded on. It’s time to be actively anti-racist. We need to stand up for the Mi’kmaq as allies & in solidarity to colonial violence that oppresses our Black kin in the same breath," wrote an activism-focused Instagram account, notanotherblacklife

"... It’s time to be actively anti-racist. We need to stand up for the Mi’kmaq as allies & in solidarity to colonial violence that oppresses our Black kin in the same breath,"

McMaster students bring light to truly thoughtful conversation with Potential Excellence podcast

True, meaningful conversation is a gift. It involves profound, open and encouraging discussion, a sense of feeling heard and an opportunity to learn and grow. Through their podcast, Potential Excellence, second-year McMaster University students Brian Osei-Boateng and Tevin Wellington exemplify this wonderful kind of conversation to support and encourage.

Initially having met in high school, Osei-Boateng and Wellington are the co-creators of Potential Excellence. Described by both as more of a message than just a brand or a podcast, Potential Excellence began initially as a project for the pair’s Grade 11 leadership class where they were asked to invent a brand to address a real cause. They did well on the project and then months later, when they were getting ready to head off to university, the idea came back up again. 

“We came to the conclusion that if we could do this good on a fake brand about a real cause as a team for just a school project, imagine if we made this a real thing?” said Osei-Boateng.

We’ve shown our potential to a few, we’ve shown that we can be excellent to some, but to many we have a lot of things to prove #JourneysNeverOver

— Potential Excellence (@PotentialExcel) September 30, 2019

They went back and forth with ideas, drawing on their initial project. They considered their own strengths and past experiences to determine what message and topics they wanted to include. 

Gradually it all came together and Potential Excellence began to take form. They officially launched just over a year ago, publishing their podcast in September 2019. Within the last year, they have continued to grow, expanding to more platforms and gaining more followers. 

Each podcast episode is centred around a conversation between Osei-Boateng, Wellington and an occasional guest. They have covered a wide variety of topics in their podcast, ranging from dating advice to diversity. When choosing topics they rely on a variety of sources, including input from their followers and also world events.

“It sucks to have an easy topic [because] something tragic is going on in the world, like a certain movement or a certain issue in the political environment or the social environment. We hate to talk about it, but [in] our roles as influencers, we have to bring awareness to various conflicts and issues. So those are the easiest times to think of a topic when there's a big thing happening,” said Osei-Boateng.

While the topic for each episode is selected and roughly outlined ahead of time, the conservation itself is not scripted, flowing organically and feeling as if the audience was just listening to an everyday conversation between the two.

At its core Potential Excellence is about highlighting people’s potential. It’s about making people more aware of not only what they could do, but who they could be and encouraging them to pursue their potential. 

 

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Stream U.Y.P.E (#16) on all platforms! ⬇️ (A direct link is in our bio) In this podcast episode, @tevinwellington & @obriansays discuss the importance of having an opinion, the best time to share your opinion, & the positive & negatives that come with it! Please sit back, and enjoy another #UYPE episode! 🙂 #OnAMission

A post shared by Potential Excellence (@potentialexcellence) on

Described by both himself and Wellington as a motivational speaker, Osei-Boateng brings enthusiasm and an encouraging spirit to the podcast, emphasizing the importance of openness and growth in all aspects of life when it comes to developing one’s potential.

“I hope someone can become more aware of how they're feeling about their lives, instead of going through the motions and just pushing all the hate and negativity down. I hope someone could become a lot more open-minded about certain topics that are going on and take the time to just really take in what's going on and . . . what they could do to help while also building the best version of themselves in that process,” explained Osei-Boateng.

Described by both himself and Osei-Boateng as being knowledgeable about a wide range of topics and interested in the art of conversation, Wellington is often the facilitator of the conversation, asking the questions to encourage reflection and further thought.

“I want someone to walk away with the ability to understand that I have my opinion, I have my way of seeing things, but that does not automatically mean that my way of seeing things is correct. That does not automatically discount other views and whenever you're in a conversation, whenever you're talking about something you should always be willing to accept that there is a possibility . . . that you could be wrong. You should always be willing to accept that and you should never sacrifice a good conversation, the opportunity to learn, for the sake of being correct,” explained Wellington.

Though they may seem to be approaching the podcast from different angles, their strengths complement each other well and have helped them to create something that is authentic and thoughtful as well as informative and uplifting.

 

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Sometimes, people face the struggles of adjusting to the next chapter of their lives, because there was a major lack of proper preparation & a weak foundation. Please take time every day to grow as a human, to not only prepare for your future, but to excel in it

A post shared by Potential Excellence (@potentialexcellence) on


It’s important for the pair that they are not only helping people to recognize their potential but also that their audience comes away with what they were looking for. They recognize that different people at different points in their life will be looking for different things and they hope they’re able to provide whatever is, especially during these difficult times.

“Depending on the mindset you're in, if you're feeling more melancholic at a point in time, you obviously lean more to the motivational side of the podcast as opposed to the actual social aspect and opinionated sides of the podcast,” said Wellington.

Potential Excellence is a wonderful example of not only what good conversation looks like, but also the power that kind conversation has and the ways in which it can be used to encourage and inform people.

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