Sammy Hudes, Calgary Herald, May 24, 2015
A Calgary mother who claimed her white family was the victim of racialized bullying in a mostly black neighbourhood hosted a community barbecue on Saturday with the hope of bringing the area’s children together.
Blair France and her husband moved into Shaganappi Village, a southwest affordable housing complex in November. But the couple says their family, which consists of two girls ages seven and 12, and an eight-month-old son, have been bullied by other children in the neighbourhood. France said there have been instances where scores of children have gathered on her lawn, screaming and throwing rocks at her family’s home.
“They have racially slurred my children,” France said. “They’ve called my children ‘white crackers,’ one boy that I found out called (my daughter) a ‘marshmallow’ and ‘white-skinned people’ and that we’re poor and stuff like that. We’re all in poverty, so we have to all understand that.”
France will be meeting with Calgary Housing this coming week. In the meantime, the family hosted a barbecue on their front lawn Saturday, drawing hundreds of children of all ages who also participated in arts and crafts.
France said she wants to bridge the cultural gap in her neighbourhood.
“It’s a target issue against my family,” she said. “What I’m trying to do is prove to these people that we’re good people and that we’re good citizens towards each other and then I want them all to stop bullying and hitting each other with shoes and stop throwing rocks and stop swearing.”
Calgary Police stood by making sure the event ran smoothly.
“We’re not going to arrest and charge children, that isn’t going to solve the problem,” said Cst. Rayne Boyko. She said police run a recreational program for kids called Power Play in some affordable housing communities, which they are looking to implement for the neighbourhood of Shaganappi Village.
“Everybody has the same goal. Everybody wants to live here peacefully and for their children to be able to go out and have fun and play,” Boyko said. “The problem in a lot of communities is that if there isn’t organized recreation, they get into trouble. It’s like a schoolyard without supervision.”
Beside the France family’s home is a playground with a bent basketball hoop and a broken slide. Few parents were there on Saturday afternoon, which some say is the problem in the first place.
“I never see parents out here with the kids,” said Linda Kearns, a Calgary Housing tenant of 15 years who lives in the area.
She said the children in the area sometimes develop a “gang mentality” when they see other children behaving a certain way.
“I’ve also seen them bully each other. It’s not a black and white thing,” Kearns said. “Everybody bullies each other because there’s no one there to stop it. I get along great with the kids and I’m white, I get along great with most of the parents and I’m white. I don’t think it had anything to do with colour.”
Ian Quayle and his wife live in the complex with their five children and say they are consistently the only parents out supervising and putting a halt to violence among the children.
“I don’t call it a racial thing,” Quayle said. “There’s only, I think, in total four white families living here. I just think the kids are bored, there’s not much to do. Calgary Housing doesn’t fix stuff.”
He said Calgary Housing needs to take a “100 per cent zero tolerance” approach to the problems of the neighbourhood and make parents more aware of their children’s misbehaviour.
Minoush Rafie, the program co-ordinator for Closer to Home Community Services, an organization that runs after-school and summer camp programs for families in the area, said the bullying issues aren’t unique to Shaganappi Village.
“It’s not a matter of fundraising and putting more stuff in the village,” she said. “It can happen in any community, not necessarily because this is low-cost housing. Every community has issues but it’s up to parents to address it and how to get together and be a community.”