Archive for August, 2011

My mom didn’t like the moustache.“Don’t like it” she’d say, “…he should shave it”.

Upon his arrival across television sets and the national political stage, there were folks who felt Jack Layton needed to shave off that moustache to be taken as a serious candidate. Rather than hear the message, they felt it would be lost with some voters, distracted by trivial characteristics. He had wore that look since his days as a bicycle-riding city counsellor in jeans decades ago in Toronto.

Rather than shave and bend to the politics of appearance
Rather than trim down his believes
Rather than downplay his convictions for larger mainstream appeal
Rather than avoid saying what was unpopular at the time
Rather than compromise


I am a fighter.


He didn’t bend, didn’t settle, He had the vision, the belief in the vision and the fight in him to push through. And the message indeed pushed through. He became a bicycle-riding Official Leader of the Opposition. With a moustache.

With that same vision.
With that endless energy and passion for the nation.
With a passion for life in a political arena full of lifeless, hollow cardboard characters. He never watered down his fiery drive and purpose. I learned so much from that moustache.

The week before cancer took Jack’s life, I optimistically wrote his name down as a possible keynote speaker for our upcoming 2nd annual ‘What Makes a Man’ White Ribbon Conference at Ryerson in February 2012. Our conference explores how narrow concepts of gender affect both men and women in every aspect of life. Jack was also one of the co-founders of the White Ribbon Campaign 20 years ago. He would be a tremendous keynote speaker and could touch on so many intersecting issues, as he had throughout the work of his entire political career. So he was on the wishlist. Optimistic.

In my mind, it wasn’t a question of if he had that much more time with us,  it was more a question of if he’d have the time to attend.

I know…

I saw the press conference in July.

I saw him walk out with his cane, bravely wade through a room flooded in silence. I saw him ‘matter of fact’ to the press that he was simply taking a temporary leave for The fight, and then get back to the Fight.  My eyes welled as I watched. I commented to friends how this horrid sickness rapidly reduced the man on the outside, yet never weakened the resolve of the man inside.

And, like many of us, I expected him to beat it. You could cash that cheque. We couldn’t imagine it any other way.  He always defied appearance and perception.


I am a fighter. And I will beat this.


This was our attitude with the news in July, regardless of political stripe most of the nation said “ok, go rest up Jack, we’ll see ya soon…”

We were unaware of how serious his last fight had become.

Even when we saw his frail appearance.
Even when we saw he really needed that cane more than before.
Even though the sound of his voice seemed like a weakened whisper…


I am a fighter. And I will beat this.


His words still leapt from his mouth with unshakable resolve and intention. They resounded and pounded like fists upon the doors of your heart to get up…to stand up.


I am a fighter. And I will beat this.


So I envisioned him at our conference, envisioned him speaking on being a man who wasn’t afraid to display all sides of his humanity in the public eye. Jack constantly did not allow narrow ideas of masculinity to limit his expression of his self, his emotion and humanity,  and his vision for all Canadians.

Before this press conference, he had just run a miracle mile. He had a run across this country that defied the odds and ignited a people numb to politics, a people starved for inspiration.

Did he know what he was facing? Did he sense that death had regrouped to launch a stronger, final campaign inside?  Did he take that moment, not only to spread inspiration, but to say goodbye.

After my dad’s fatal heart attack in 2003, I went to his home office to discover he had laid out all the documents for the house and other things we’d need. As if he knew he wouldn’t live to see them through. He laid out a map, a blueprint.

So too did Jack lay a blueprint. Many blueprints. Blueprints for Change.

One of those blueprints was an effort 20 years ago, sometimes coordinated in available spaces like his son’s bedroom, to co-found what is now the world’s largest effort to end violence against women and inspire men to embrace the best of what they could truly be. The freedom to Live Your Life, the freedom to Be Who We Are.

Todd Minerson, the Executive Director of the White Ribbon Campaign shared that Jack told him to “have a dream that would last beyond your lifetime”.

Truly the work of ending violence against women, homophobia, transphobia and re-defining manhood is as daunting as it gets, and that all the more reason we need to pursue and persevere with more passion than ever. Jack felt so strongly about what he believed in. He spoke for those who, because of appearance, social structures or place in life, didn’t have a voice. The people one couldn’t imagine seeing as a political leader…people like Jack.


I am a fighter. And I will beat this.


If you have a moustache or a full beard, a turban, skin of colour or a partner of the same sex, a different religion or life experience…Whatever battle you face, whatever dream you struggle and persevere to realize…


You are a fighter. And you will beat this.


Whether it’s a better life for your kids, protecting the environment, beating cancer, ending violence against women, prejudice because you are different, helping the homeless, battling depression, eradicating poverty, escaping violence, overcoming racism in your town…


You are a fighter. We will beat this.

Optimism is the infection that truly spread through Jack’s body.


I was one of the hundreds of people to leave a message on the sidewalk Jack walked, the grounds of a city hall where he laboured towards change with love and endless passion. One of my favourite chalk messages to Jack at Toronto City Hall says it best:
‘You can rest now Jack, we’ll take it from here’
.…because I am a fighter…and We will finish this.
Optimism is contagious.

**Taken from the White Ribbon Campaign blog, click here to visit**

The entire White Ribbon Campaign (WRC) family is shocked and saddened to hear of the passing of Jack Layton today. He died peacefully with his family by his side. We extend our deepest condolences to Olivia, Mike and Sarah and his entire great, big family.

Jack was one of the co-founders and visionaries of the WRC, back in 1991. He felt men had to have both a role and responsibility in working to end violence against women, that we needed to step up our efforts in promoting gender equality, and be accountable to challenging the most harmful aspects of masculinity.

Along with Michael Kaufman, Ron Sluser and others, Jack launched his indefatigable energy into the WRC. Recently his son Mike shared with me the fact that the very first WRC office was actually in Mike’s bedroom – the bed just got cleaned off when Mike was back home from school!

I have talked to many men who never otherwise would have understood the positive role they could play in working to end violence against women, if it weren’t for Jack. Handing out ribbons in Union Station, making donations, offering up everything from office space to websites, few people could effectively say no to him when it came to the WRC.

From those humble beginnings, WRC is now the world’s largest effort of men and boys working to end violence against women and girls. From Mike’s bedroom to over 60 countries around the world, men have taken up the dream of ending gender based violence. Governments around the world, NGO’s, and the UN have all recognized the importance of this effort.

This is a truly remarkable accomplishment, one that would not have happened without Jack. As one small piece of his legacy, it will continue to have a tremendous impact.

When I took on the role of Executive Director at WRC, I had the chance early on to meet with Jack one-on-one. While he freely shared stories from those early years, it was very clear his intentions were not to discuss the past with me, but the future.

He felt the time was right for great things to happen, for men to begin to move en masse to this idea that we could do better, be more caring and compassionate in our lives. That as men we could stop being afraid of equality, that we could stop being defensive about male privilege, that we could embrace the fact that we all benefit from a world with less violence against women and girls, and ultimately against each other.

I am honoured to call Jack an inspiration, a mentor, and a friend. Another time, feeling overwhelmed by the scope of the work, he told me “Always have a dream that will outlast your lifetime,” and I have thought about our work to end violence against women in that way ever since.

There are too many dreams left after your passing my friend.

But I choose to leave with another favourite quote of yours, “Don’t ever let them tell you it can’t be done.” Rest in peace Jack, we will all miss you dearly.

Todd Minerson
Executive Director
White Ribbon Campaign

Click here to visit the White Ribbon Campaign website

Click here to register by joining Team ‘Ryerson University’

Photo by Char Loro/Lovehard (

There is an old saying: “You can’t really understand another person’s experience until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.”

That’s why we’re asking men & women and self-identified men & women at Ryerson University to join the Ryerson White Ribbon Campaign to Walk A Mile in Her Shoes! On Thursday September 29th, we’re all going to help end violence against women & girls and all gender-based violence, one step at time.

How to join Team Ryerson University at Walk A Mile In Her Shoes
1 – Visit
2 – click ‘Register’
3 – click ‘Join a Team’
4 – Search for team ‘Ryerson University’ 
5 – Join us!

The fundraising and awareness-raising event asks men to reflect on the everyday realities for women and literally walk a mile in her shoes*. This event does not seek to suggest that all women wear high heels or that wearing heels provides a full understanding of what it’s like to be a woman here in Toronto, or worldwide…but it’s a step, and a declaration to take a step… it is a symbolic gesture and a statement that you want to stand up and start making a difference.

WANT TO FUNDRAISE? REGISTER with Team ‘Ryerson University’ ONLINE!

Volunteer at the walk, bring out your student group or course union, put on some heels or wear your regular shoes, create & bring banners and signs to help spread awareness or just come and cheer us on.

*Heels will be available for rent, but feel free to bring flats, flip flops, or wear sneakers, sandals…anything!

JOIN US!!!!!



Register with Team ‘Ryerson University’

For more information:

WANT TO FUNDRAISE? REGISTER  by joining with Team ‘Ryerson University’ ONLINE! 

“There are over 6000 words to describe emotion…” From Jeff’s TEDxRyersonU
talk. Photo by David Hoang

At the 2010 Walk a Mile in Her Shoes event

Carlos was our headliner at the What Makes a Man conference

150 people attended this discussion-focused all day-and-night love fest!

Over 300 people crammed into LIB 72 to see Shihan discuss love, fatherhood and
relationships with the Urban Hip Hop Union and the Ryerson WHite Ribbon Campaign
at ‘Love , Hip Hop and the Spoken Word’. Photo courtesy Char Loro/Lovehard

One of Reilly Dow’s amazing mural charts from the What Makes a Man conference

Ryerson White Ribbon co-chairs Jeff Perera and Miranda Hassell walking a mile in her shoes!

The Behind the Masc poster from our keynote event at the What Makes a Man
conference! Poster by Jacob Friedman at Subsumo.

Jeff Perera, Miranda Hassell and Julia Hanigsberg handing our’ White Ribbon Champion’ awards to Women in ITM, United Black Students at Ryerson, SIFE Ryerson, Urban Hip Hop Union and Ryerson Student Housing Services

As we get ready for the White Ribbon Campaign‘s third annual ‘Walk A Mile In Her Shoes‘ event Thurs Sept 29th 2011: Jeff Perera, co-chair of the Ryerson White Ribbon Campaign reflects on last year’s walk, and why we walk.

Photo by Char Loro/Lovehard (

I don’t know how you do it.

I don’t know how I did it.

Last summer I slightly tore my Achilles heel horsing around in the park. I love life but I don’t love my body, a deep secret that many men share. Oh, I’m not talking about loving the look or shape of my body, that’s a whole other conversation. I’m referring to actual ‘taking care of the vessel that is my body’ conversation.

How many of us can relate to the frustration of trying to convince a father, brother, friend or lover to go see a doctor, or maybe you are that man who refuses to go. I have been on both sides of that situation. We all know men who needed medical attention, whether its for a potential heart attack, to determine if it is cancer in their testicles, a sharp pain or a bad cold, and won’t go.

From childhood, young men are taught and told to ‘walk it off’, get up and show no pain, show no emotion, show them your cold steel. Sad over a break-up? Battling low self-esteem? Need to deal with having been abused or issues with depression? Walk it off.

The costume of manhood leaves many men feeling they don’t have permission to ask for help. Instead they stubbornly refuse any help, not showing weakness, staying stoic, strong.

Whether it is for directions, advice or support, many men don’t ask.

We can handle this…
We got this…
…and many times, we don’t.

A synonym for stoic is ‘resigned’…as in resigned to deny ourselves our own humanity.

Many men are raised to be the wrong kind of strong and don’t seek or ask for help,  If we are not raising men to value their health, and in turn value themselves, how then can we expect men to extend respect to the earth, to fellow sisters and even fellow brothers?

Even someone like me who is consciously trying to role model a healthier concept of masculinity struggles with it. When I got hurt that day in the park, I went to a walk-in clinic the next day, got my tendon wrapped up and was told to start physiotherapy in a few weeks. I bought a cane and did nothing else about it.

I walked it off.

I’m fine
Its no big deal
Got lots to do

Despite my physical neglect, my Achilles ‘healed’ up and I participated in the 2nd annual Walk A Mile In Her Shoes event in Toronto hosted by the White Ribbon Campaign in 2010. The fundraising and awareness-raising event asks men to reflect on the everyday realities for women and literally walk a mile in her shoes. This event does not seek to suggest that all women wear high heels or that wearing heels for a moment provides a full understanding of what it’s like to be a woman, nor equates an understanding of the experience of all women here in Toronto, or worldwide.

…but its a step. A declaration to take a step…

We are in an era where a number of women do wear heels, either causally or to work everyday.
Whether it is the executive in the boardroom or the server about to work a grueling double-shift, I think of women who willingly or begrudgingly wear a pair.

I think of the many varied experiences and realities for women of all cultures, spaces and socio-economic status. There are not many universal forms of expression that exclusively define what it is to be a woman. One thing all women worldwide do have in common is the reality that they face potential discrimination, harassment and violence everyday. Half of women in Canada will face a form of violence, 600 Aboriginal women are missing, and 1 out of every 3 women will face violence worldwide.

It’s a reality women have to face, learn to live with, ‘accept’ or ‘get used to’. Walk A Mile in Her Shoes calls on men, calls on society, to take a moment and reflect. We hope to inspire and provoke people to reflect by wearing an element of gender costume. High heels evokes many of the gender roles and constructs we hope to de-construct. We need to engage folks in discussing the cost of imposed ‘gender’ limitations and the performance of gender including defining elements of costume.

So we wear a pair and walk a mile across the face of patriarchy.

We walk a circle. The circular mile starts from the busiest intersection in Canada, past the financial heart of the country and across Ryerson University, to cause folks to stop, look, point, ask…and reflect.

We cannot force others to change their perception of things, but we can provoke them to reflect in a way that grabs their attention. These issues are urgent and we need to shake men (and women) into personal reflection, awareness and action: internally, their inner circles and then within their larger everyday circles.

I want to role model to other men to be an ally: be an example in my everyday behaviour and inspire other men. The fear for some men to participate and put on a pair is real. It takes courage to be an ally, it takes a ‘real man’ to forsake that unearned privilege which we carry for a moment, and face jokes, comments, maybe ridicule and even face the de-valuation women face for doing things labelled ‘feminine’.

So I put on those 3 inch heels, ignoring a potential risk of further injuring my leg. Ironically here is the macho bravado at play again. Here is that disconnect, that fantasy of the ‘cloak of immortality’ many men wear. In time of need, we believe we can ‘will’ ourselves as men to be impervious to pain and danger, and sometimes that disconnect extends to the everyday. it’s a face off with our own health and reality, it is a disconnect from ourselves, to reality, to our humanity and to learning to truly love ourselves.  Many men love, but we are not taught to truly Love or express Love, or allow ourselves to experience and give Love. A raw, real kind of Love, not a possessive, but a nurturing Love. A Love for ourselves, for women, and for men.

That day many friends joined us at the walk representing as allies from different communities at Ryerson University ranging from the Ryerson Muslim Students AssociationWomen in ITMWomen’s CentrePositive SpaceUnited Black Students at Ryerson, RyePride to members of the Ryerson Commerce SocietyRyerson Engineering Student Society and Ryerson Students’ Union.

As we cross to walk south on the west-side of Yonge st, a Spanish brother crossed the other way staring at the spectacle in shock and disgust. The young brother is shaking his head as he looks at me with ‘yo, what are you doing?’ written all over his face. The Masculine headshake of disapproval. He looked at me especially, seeing that I was a racialized male.

The pressure on many racialized men is double, due to the imbalance of power and privilege, to act tough, be seen as tough. For some, it seems to be the only way, or at least the only way they know. I think of young brothers who squirm at the idea of being seen in public wearing costume associated with the feminine…some laugh it off and quickly assert their masculinity to preserve that fragile paper-mache armour of manhood. So much work to do with men of all racialized communities, any culture or community. Men feel a feverish pressure to maintain the image and perception they are Men, certainly not soft and weak,  and definitely not remotely ‘gay’.

I don’t just walk for the everyday reality my heterosexual sisters face, and the pressures patriarchy places on heterosexual men. I also for all the suffering that LGBT2S folks endure because of the searing shackles of binary concepts of gender that reach into every corner of the globe. They dig deep into the lives of our Gay. Lesbian, Trans and Two-Spirit people and communities. The narrow notions of how women and men ‘should walk, talk and act like’ force those who don’t fit in to face resentment, rejection, anger and even aggression.


Halfway through the walk I joined, stride for stride, my good friend Shanna, A beautiful, dear soul who ‘traded in’ her heels, weekends & make up for raising her beautiful baby boy. She brought little Sebastien to the Walk & wore a pair of yellow stiletto heels as she pushed their stroller. We walked past so-called blue collar and executive women, mothers and daughters, younger and older.  I acknowledged their laughter, calls of “now you know what it’s like!’ and supportive nods. When I walked past a woman wearing heels, I’d exclaim “I don’t know how you do it”

The heels suffocated and engulfed my swollen feet. We were among the very last of many hundreds to cross the finish line along with a group of 5 huge cops in tall stilettos who stumbled and staggered to the end. Even Shanna was feeling the pain too. It’s not something you truly get ‘used to’, being subject to pain, facing discomfort, swallowing suffering. You can ignore it, brace for the pain or say you are ‘numb’ to it, but it always hurts.

I still don’t know how you do it.

I don’t know how we all do it.

So I say to men: ‘Walk It Off’. Let’s re-examine and re-define, truly embrace real strength, courage, respect and honour. Walk towards healing for all of us, women and men. We must walk toward change, one step at a time. It is time to walk it off.
As I look forward to the 3rd Walk A Mile In Her Shoes event, happening in downtown Toronto, Canada: my toes dread this moment every year, but the rest of me looks forward to it with purpose.The problems are widespread, embedded and deeply ingrained. There are a lot of steps to take. So, until the violence stops, we will do it every year, as we work towards change.

…cause we can’t just wait for change to happen.

(This also appears in Jeff’s blog ‘The Scale: the pursuit of balance in life