Category: Articles

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.

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



To mark 100 years of International Women’s Day, the Ted Rogers School of Hospitality & Tourism Management at Ryerson University held an event to focus on the theme of “Women in Leadership”. . Jeff Perera was one of the speakers, here is his talk.
Hey Guys…

Hey Ladies…
Now, when I said ‘Hey Guys’,  all of you responded with a ‘Hey’, but when I said Hey ‘Ladies’ …only the women responded?

Now I know what you are going to say, but ‘guys’ is a gender-neutral term. I understand that… when I walk into a room and there are 4 women there and I say ‘hey guys’, they will respond. But if I walk into a room and there are 4 men, and I say ‘hey ladies’, what will be response be?

Why can’t a phrase like ‘hey ladies’ be a gender-neutral? Think of how we value the feminine and women in our society?
I am extremely humbled and honoured to have been asked by the amazing organizers to join you all for this Women In Leadership event on the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day.

Today is a day of celebration around the entire world to inspire women and celebrate their achievements. Some of you are probably wondering ‘so…. what is a man doing on a panel on women in leadership?’

I am here to send a call to our men, and to our women,  both here at Ryerson and in society, to speak up and speak out and become allies for a change that affects women as well as men.

Women were not even considered persons in Canada, without rights and privileges until 1920’s, in the scheme of things that wasn’t too long ago…so reflect on how society values women today?

In talking about Women in Leadership There are 2 main things I want to mention. The first thing is that clearly there are not enough Women in roles of Leadership.

In a recent talk Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg said that

Out 190 heads of state worldwide, only 9 are women. 13% of people in parliament across the globe are women. 16% of the top level CEO positions worldwide are women.   The movement for women to enter leadership roles, INCLUDES bursting the stereotypes and fighting the labels. Stereotypes such as the idea that women are not natural born leaders.

When reflecting on this talk, I came across a picture from a campaign rally in New Hampshire for then Presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton.  The picture was of a man standing in the audience with a huge yellow sign that read. ‘Iron My Shirt’.

I think of political pundits, who during that campaign, rather than focusing on issues and platforms, critiqued Clinton on her style of dress, her face and appearance, the sound of her voice and laugh…in mainstream news media. Political commentator Tucker Carlson had said of Clinton, “There’s just something about her that feels castrating, overbearing, and scary…” We had so-called experts, not comedians, asking if we wanted a women with her finger on the nuclear war button…given ‘moodswings’, being ‘over-emotional’ and ‘irrational behaviour’.

Gendered notions of leadership are embedded in the foundations of our thinking. From families to culture to mainstream culture, we find reinforced ideas that woman are too emotional, aren’t strong willed. And think of how we raise men to be assertive, aggressive and ambitious.

We need to drop the gender roles that limit the humanity of men and the gender constructs that create barriers for women. The reflection off of that glass ceiling gives us a real look at the state of our society.

The 2nd thing I’d like to tell you is that despite all of this…

Quickly, just right off the top of your head think of a female role model that isn’t in your family. At first you might say you need a moment to think of one, but this is based, in part, to what I mentioned before. Think of how we de-value the feminine, how we then de-value women and the work women have done.


Part of breaking the shackles and limitations of gender stereotypes, includes how we value the accomplishments and achievements of Women.

What typically comes to mind when we think about leaders is maybe someone who is dominant and ambitious, embodying qualities that closely match the stereotype of men. What have gender-based labels taught us??

I’d like to talk about some of the things women have taught me…

They have taught me how to be human
to connect to my humanity
to the earth and the world we live in
and how to lead the fight for change.
I think of…

A woman who is a nurse, like the amazing Mary Seacole, how we de-value the work of nurses, a role which is seen as feminine and lesser than a doctor…think of how a nurse can work with a coma patient and tell you were they are experiencing pain…

A woman who works 100 hours a week, between her job and her job raising her son to be a man… is a leader.

A woman like Wangari Maathai, the first African woman to ever receive the Nobel Peace Prize for founding the Green Belt movement which focuses on battling deforestation in Kenya…. is a leader.

A woman like Black Canadian icon Viola Desmond, who 10 years before Rosa Parks refused to sit in the back of a bus, refused to leave a ‘Whites Only’ section of a theatre in Nova Scotia and went to jail for tax evasion cause she didn’t pay the ONE CENT difference in ticket cost, She sparked the civil rights movement in Canada… Viola is a leader.

A woman like Vandana Shiva who works to protect nature as well as the rights of people to have access to food, water, dignified jobs and livelihoods ….is a leader.

A woman like Jessica Yee, a Two Spirited multi-racial Indigenous feminist reproductive justice freedom fighter who tirelessly cris-crosses this continent called Turtle Island to fight for change … is a leader.

A woman like Ryerson’s Associate Dean Dr.Wendy Cukier who after the December 6th Montreal Massacre continues to tirelessly fight to preserve women’s right to safety and protect gun control laws.

I think of women students here in the Ted Rogers School of Management.  Women who embrace being a leader.

A woman like Tracy Leparulo is a leader who works tirelessly here in TRSM and across Ryerson…Tracy is a leader. Women like Nasreen Kamal, Rochelle Atizado, Asma Rahman and Christie Oreskovich are leaders. A woman like my White Ribbon co-chair Miranda Hassell is a leader. And women like the organizers for this event, Shannan and Giuliana are leaders.

Gender stereotypes portray women as lacking the very qualities that people commonly associate with effective leadership. Both genders need to be aware of the barriers faced by their female colleagues, which will help to level the playing field.  While women need to show solidarity, be helpful and supportive of another…there is a role men can play too.

What can men do to help expose the myth that “Women are not leaders”?

We all need to encourage and inspire organizations to create gender equitable spaces that maximize the potential of all employees. We all win and benefit from equal opportunities and spaces for leadership.  The first step to engaging men in gender initiatives is to help them recognize that inequality STILL exists in the workplace.  Men often underestimate gender as a barrier for women in the workplace and during conversations with some males, I’ve had to stop and illustrate for them how these issues still exist.

It is also better business: Research tells us that more diverse teams give you better decision making and increased success.  Why is it so difficult to engage men in this change? Some men are reluctant to step up and champion gender initiatives through fear of losing their own status or approval amongst their male peers.

It takes individual acts of courage and leadership to defy injustice and inspire change. So what can we do to help men become engaged in this change? I work to inspire men to become White Ribbon Champions. We can help men understand that by being champions for equality and diversity in the workplace they are gaining more than they are losing.

Start dialogue in your spaces, circles and organizations to seal the gender gaps and go from creating awareness to taking action.

Strong females are called derogative terms, while assertiveness and aggression is rewarded amongst men. It is time to say assertiveness is not masculine, but the trait of a successful person.
Women have and can and will continue to achieve and lead.

Confidence, assert, inspire, influence, encourage, assure, provoke, bond, build, embrace, change

A woman can lead a child
A woman can lead a company
A woman can lead a nation
A woman can lead a movement

seize the moment

change the perception

find your voice

find your inner power

To my brothers, let’s become allies for change and embrace a change that affects us all.

To my sisters,

It is time to


the Leader

in You


Sometimes letting things go is an act of far greater power than defending or hanging on” ~Eckhart Tolle

I remember watching cartoons as a kid and seeing that classic image of a makeshift white flag timidly rising up from behind a rock. It was a source of humour, the act of surrender.

I grew up in the Jane and Finch community with young boys from different countries, spaces and places worldwide. Despite numerous differences we usually had two things in common: some sort of disconnect from our father and a love for aggressive TV or Film heroes. No retreat, no surrender, no backing down, not ending up the loser in a conflict or test of strength, that was our bombs-bursting-in-air and tough-as-nails idea of manhood.

Fast forward to 2011, I wear a white ribbon pin everyday and everywhere I go. With dozens of ribbons out there to represent a variety of issues these days, people ask me “why the colour White?” in addition to the usual question “what does a White Ribbon mean?” Many people greet it as heroic, but some people see it as cowardly. For some men, once they initially hear the group’s focus is ending men’s violence against women, they get upset, or feel ‘left out’. “What about violence men face?” they ask. To them I explain how this is part of a greater conversation on how violence has wrapped its hands around the throats and minds of men and we need to find role models of healthy masculinity to encourage men to be themselves. Some men don’t let me get that far in the conversation, or allow themselves to hear it. They feel threatened by it all, as if under attack and an internal hyper-masculinity-survival mode kicks in.


They see the white flag. They see surrender.

Weakness, soft, cowardly…this is not what a man is, and why is it always our fault?

For them, they see the White Ribbon as surrender


The white flag is an internationally recognized as a symbol asking for a truce or ceasefire, and to request negotiation. It is a symbol of surrender, signifying to all that there is an intention and a desire to communicate.

Speaking of communication, one of those things many guys love to do is read in the bathroom (great segue) and I have a few magazines sitting there for that purpose. I was oddly moved to pick up a yoga magazine I have glanced over many many times and meant to replace with a new issue. Sometimes the greatest gift is to see that which you have already seen. My fingers open the magazine right to an article explaining the term ‘surrendered activist’.


A surrendered activist: a person who does their best to help create a better reality while knowing that they are not in charge of outcomes.


I then recalled being at the United Black Students of Ryerson’s fall 2010 edition of their highly-successful ‘Ladies and Gents’ event. Young men and women separate into 2 rooms to discuss their gender and subsequent experiences then everyone gathers afterwards to share. One topic the men covered was coming across a white woman showing discomfort being in a closed space like an elevator. The conversation looked at the balance between creating a safe space for the women, while dealing with possible reactions of stereotypes and assumptions due to race.

One brother spoke on how he would go out of his way to smile and defuse any fears by breaking any stereotype she might have of a man, a black man. Another voice came from a recognized leader in the space. He said how he is tired of having to bear the burden of breaking racist stereotypes “my shoulders aren’t big enough” he said. Instead he said he know focuses on “being the best me I can be”. Both these responses resonated deeply within me, along with the anger of someone assuming things about me that are not me. I can control that which I can control.

Agitate, educate, enlighten, respond, create, guide, inspire or show someone, yes, all these things we can do and be…but then we have to let go.

Many of our sisters will tell you, whether its heterosexual women dealing with the challenges of dating men, or our LGBT2S sisters who strive for relationships with fathers, brothers and other loved ones and friends, that you alone cannot change a man. The individual themselves must first be ready for change, real change.

Author bell hooks speaks of how men are afraid of change, but they are many who are willing. They “must be able to let go of the will to dominate. They must be able to choose life over death. They must be willing to change”. It is not as simple as just saying and doing it, and it requires more bravery than words can express, but it starts with you. We can only do so much, and it starts with just being a role model with your words and actions.  We have a voice and we have a choice, so choose change…and then let go.


Surrender to the fact that you alone cannot change the world and all outcomes of life, just change you.


Surrender to who You really are, to the freedom to be who You want to be and who You were meant to be.


Sweet surrender.

The Choice to find Common Ground

From the White Ribbon Campaign blog page

Do you believe in fate? Is the future determined for us or do we decide what the next chapter will be in our lives? As for me, I choose to think it is a good mix of both, and my experience this past week was an example of that.

I was invited to speak as well as deliver a workshop at this year’s YWCA Common Ground Conference. As a Ryerson Social Work student who did my placement with the White Ribbon Campaign, I facilitated a workshop at the conference last year and was extremely excited take part once again.

As co-chair of the Ryerson White Ribbon Campaign, I was also invited to speak at the United Black Students of Ryerson’s ‘Ladies and Gents’ event the night before the conference. This event saw 50 men and women separate into 2 rooms to discuss their gender and relations with the opposite gender, and then gather afterwards to debrief and share. After this amazing event I connected with the facilitator of the women’s conversation, Kim Crosby who is co-director of The People Project. Her group works closely with Toronto’s LGBT youth community and Kim has had vast experience facilitating conversations on gender issues.

Kim is an influential and inspirational sister whose words move hearts and mountains. As we discussed her session with Ryerson students, she gave me a copy of the ‘Black Male Privilege Checklist’ she uses during similar events. I quickly flipped through it as we talked and one sentence jumped out at me like headlights barreling down the highway into my consciousness.

“I have the privilege of believing that a woman cannot raise a son to be a man”.

For some reason this powerful sentence resonated with me, quietly followed me around that evening as I talked to the wonderful young men and women at the event.
In a blink the morning came, and with it I found myself preparing myself to speak at the conference. We had a smaller gathering than last year, but we knew that meant for more intimate sharing and conversation in the break out groups, and it truly was. I shared the space with a group of young men and women speaking on how men can be part of change, how we de-value the feminine and how it leads to the violence that women and men face.

One of the students in my group was a young brother named Rick (named changed) was a soft spoken student of little words, but was enthusiastic to find a space where we could converse about what being a man can be. I came to the section where I discuss ‘fathers and role models’ which is always an extremely sensitive and personal conversation for many people. He quietly shared how his little brother looks up to him.

I spoke of how many of us grow up with our father around but ‘not present’ or without a father at all. Rick shared how he was raised by his mom. At that moment the sentence I read last night exhaled in my mind, and asked to speak, so I let it out. Reflecting on that sentence I read from Kim Crosby’s Black Male Privilege checklist, I asked the group “So, do you think a woman can raise a son to be a man?” Rick thought for a moment, and said with a reserved boldness “Yes…yes, I think a woman can”.

It came time for the group to gather and select someone to report back on what they learned. We had some brilliant and eloquent young people from Arts school in our group, but I turned to Rick and suggested that he speak for our group.

He said “but I don’t…speak English well”
I said “What?!? You speak it better than me!!!”
“But…I don’t know all those big words.”
I told him “Brother, sometimes I think simple words are more effective”

So, as the students all gathered into the main space they asked each group to send a representative to the table up front. Rick silently walked up to the stage to speak for our group. The moderator asked the students to share what they will take back to their school. One by one, they all shared concepts and ideas they learned like how oppressive words go under the radar in everyday conversations. When it was Rick’s turn he paused and looked down…then looked at me, and finally he slowly shared.

“I….I have to be honest…all the things Jeff taught me today…I couldn’t take it back to my school…cause at my school they won’t…they won’t listen…but…some of them will…so…I will take it back to them… and tell them”

I went up to Rick after and gave him the biggest hug. We need to find those brave, strong young people and help them find their voice.

Do you believe we can change the future? Wearing a White Ribbon says that you believe you can. To make a change is a choice, and it is time we started encouraging men to make good, healthy choices. We need to create more safe spaces for men to feel they can explore who they really are without ridicule or needing to prove themselves.

Choose to change the impact you make in the world, and on yourself. Choose to change how you define what being a man is, choose to make good choices, and choose to change the perception of you. While we cannot control how others perceive us (sometimes with prejudice) we need to be conscious of the fact that we are role models and someone is always watching us. So let’s strive to be the best version of ourselves. Defining a healthy masculinity benefits everyone. Every One.

Rick and Kim were destined to cross paths with me by their choices, including his choice to come to the Common Ground conference. Kim decided she would be a part of change. Rick decided he wanted to become a part of change. And I was blessed to meet them because I decided to become a part of change.

We have a voice and we have a choice, so choose change.

Jeff Perera is a Facilitator with the Learning Success Centre at Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada. Jeff is a volunteer workshop facilitator with the White Ribbon Campaign and co-chair of the Ryerson White Ribbon Campaign, a group inspiring men to be the best version of themselves.

An apology for the everyday

Hey Guys,

…now, if I started this note with ‘Hey Ladies’, some of you would have taken it as a joke, a dis, a rub, a taunt, a jab or…an insult. But most of us hear ‘Hey Guys’ as a generic term for people and respond, regardless of our gender identity.

Many words in our language bring with them, a response and a reaction that A/depends on context and B/ reflects our lived experience. Words like ‘Queer’ are either seen as re-claimed words formerly of hate, still used to marginalize, or still provokes a chill whenever some hear it…words like the N-word or Fag are heard in closed conversations whether it be amongst ‘my friends who know I don’t mean it like that’ to a few people who toss the word with a lusty venom.

…but words like ‘bitch’ are so commonplace and ‘normal’ that we hear it on daytime TV and radio. From “…he’s your bitch” to “It’s Britney, bitch…” there are all sorts of everyday interactions with words that degrad women, that we don’t even blink anymore.

The other evening I was enjoying a night out with dear, dear friends and her upstairs neighbours, a bunch of good ol’ Lads who come from a place were the word ‘cunt’ flows like it’s on tap. They sat on Bloor St and tossed the word around at various women they came across…from the waiteress stuck babysitting them all night, to a woman walking just to get a shawarma. NOT MEANING it at all, of course…all in good fun, and don’t take it so seriously folks…

but how did these women feel afterward?

…when we all just stand by and watch, we aren’t just spectators in the ‘good natured sport of the degradation of women’ but team players.

Which side are you on?

It starts with words, but women, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, class, age, way they are abled or their style/appearance are subject to a sliding scale of shit that starts with “just some harmless words, man’.

This note is for Miranda, who shared some examples on Facebook of crossing paths with men on her daily routine, men who feel entitled to interacting with an attractive young woman. Interactions like the one on a bus that end up with her not being interesting in further interaction, that then resulted with the guy grabbing her ass as she got off the bus…as if it were a gesture to say “have a nice day”.

When you aren’t interested, you are called a ‘bitch’.

But, what about when you see something happen and don’t say or do something…what does that make you??

There have been times i’ve stopped a guy in mid-‘flirt’ to ask why are they disrespecting the sister and themselves…other times when I just watched like everyone else…

It’s not about what will happen to me if I say something, it’s what will happen, what do I contribute to, if I don’t say something…

Sorry Miranda, I was the person sitting on that bus who stayed silent, just watched, just stared, quietly got off on seeing it, or felt like there’s no point in fighting it…

We owe you better than that.

The Ryerson White Ribbon Campaign has an event coming up Monday November 30th at 6:30pm. An event that folks who come to be a part, will never forget…

We want to team up with you and your Ryerson student groups, societies and course unions, and we need your support to get students to this event, and here is why.

This work is not about recognition, or divides or rivalries, or status, or an agenda or questioning people, or pointing fingers…

We simply want to inspire change, inspire men to stand up, to change and be part of change, and inspire women to unite, support one another, and also work with us. Men learning and sharing perspectives with Women, Women relating and sharing experiences with Men….then all of us working together to end all forms of men’s violence against women.

Change on an individual level, relationship level with friends and lovers, and then on the Ryerson community level, You are Community Leaders, that is why I am asking you.

You are influential, you are passionate, you care, you are a role model, you make a difference, help us make a difference…together

Do you remember the day you decided you wanted to make a change, for many we hope this will be their moment…or their moment to stand up and take action

On Monday November 30th at 6:30pm in LIB 72 in POD, the Podium Building (350 Victoria Street) The Ryerson White Ribbon Campaign will be teaming up with groups at Ryerson to present a Double Film Night screening of ‘Polytechnique’ and ‘After The Montreal Massacre’

The Ryerson Engineering Student Society has shown their support and are the first to partner with us in promoting the event, we want you to join us as well. All we ask is for you to promote the event to your members and friends, tell people to come out for this free and powerful, life-changing event.

Contact me at if you want your group or team to help us spread the word of the event.

Please follow the link to learn more about the event.

Thank you and take care,

Jeff Perera

(Please be advised that the film Polytechnique contains very strong, disturbing images of violence. Viewers Discretion is Strongly Advised)

Thank you for your support during the initial stages of building the Ryerson White Ribbon Campaign. The goal of our campaign is to have men and women work together to inspire men towards becoming part of the solution to violence against women. To do this, we seek to inspire our men to be of respect and honour.

Ryerson University is a leader for the future and its students are the future leaders.

The Ryerson White Ribbon Campaign works towards ensuring Ryerson brings forth men and women that society can be proud of, not just in their academic success, but contribution to society and excellence in character.

This is work that transcends the divides, that reaches across to every space and corner on our campus. From our talented students in the FCAD, to our dedicated Engineering and Science students, to our dynamic Business students and our brilliant Arts and Community Services students, we are a vibrant community. Let us work towards some Unity in our Community…and it should be around an issue that affects each and every one of us.

This movement is for everyone and speaks to everyone on our campus. Regardless of your faith/creed, race or ethnicity, sexual orientation, age or political affiliation.  We want to bring everyone together across our campus to unite around our core goal, making a better world for women and men.

For everyone. Together.

There are many contributing factors towards the current realities for women in society and the imbalances in power and privilege. One factor is the issue of poverty and how it affects women. Access to equal pay and the battle for true equity in the workplace and the boardroom is part of the struggle women face.

The Ryerson White Ribbon acknowledges that there are many efforts addressing the various factors that create inequities for women. While we remain focused on our mission to inspire all men to create change internally and then in turn, their respective communities and social circles, we encourage you to explore all efforts to address change.

Whether that is looking into supporting groups at Ryerson like the Women’s Centre, Women in Engineering, Ryerson Commerce Society’s RCS Cares, or support initiatives like the Coalition for Gun Control, fund raising efforts for the United Way or the Nov 5th Day of Action, we encourage you to explore how you individually wish to create change…

…and we hope you wear a White Ribbon while you do it.

Thank you for reading and we hope to see you all at the brief but powerful Vigil for the 20th Anniversary Dec 6th Memorial on December 4th in the Ryerson Quad at noon followed by the post-Memorial event in Oakham House.

Thank you and take care

Jeff Perera

Taken from The Commerce Times article “Men protecting women’s rights”

October 6, 2009  By Sara Viveiros

Advocating a safer future for women, more than 1,500 people took part in repeating the Ryerson White Ribbon Campaign pledge during September 14 to 20 in booths set up in the Ted Rogers School of Management, the Library building and the ENG building during Pledge Week.

The White Ribbon Campaign is new to Ryerson University this year, beginning mid-summer. The group focuses on informing young men about the violence women face.  The organization also discourages men from falling into stereotypical ideals of harshness; instead they are encouraged to be open to sensitivity and proud to raise awareness that violence against women is wrong.

Creator of the group, Jeff Perera, is a 34-year-old social work student at the university. Jermaine Bagnall, RSU president, is co-chair.

“We’re not trying to point fingers at men. We are trying to inspire them to be part of change, part of the solution,” says Perera. “We encourage men to be honourable, respectful people.”

Anyone can join the White Ribbon Campaign at Ryerson. Meetings scheduled regularly encourage a relaxed and open atmosphere, and are designed to create a safe and comfortable environment where men can express their concern. Women are also welcome to attend meetings and events so that their perspectives may be better understood.

“Meetings feel like going to church,” says Perera. “We’re all just kind of talking.”

The campaign is part of the organization of 20 events leading up to the December 6 Memorial remembering the violent acts on women 20 years ago. At “Behind the Masc.,” held on September 26 in the SCC, issues discussed included men, masculinity and the societal ideals of what it means to be a man.

“Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” was a city-wide affair at Nathan Phillips Square on October 1. The White Ribbon Campaign encouraged men and women of all ages to “strut their stuff” and support an end to violence against women.

“We want to show that it’s OK for men to show support of this issue,” says Perera.

Motivated from personal accounts of violence against women, Perera has strong emotion attached to the White Ribbon Campaign. He is currently working at the university’s Discrimination and Preventive Services Offices as a peer trainer.