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(L-R) Lindsay Steffich representing Tourism Mission, Ishi Sharma, Mike Faux owner of Hippie Mike Industries, GulRukh Zeeshan accepting on behalf of her husband Zeeshan Khan, Jesse Wegenast the Executive Director of Sparrow Community Care Society. Missing a representative from the Chilliwack Film Society

Nearly 400 guests attended the 21st annual Fraser Valley Cultural Diversity Awards on Thursday, March 7th at the Clarion Hotel & Conference Centre in Abbotsford.

Four organizations were recognized in the categories of diversity in marketing, effective human resource strategies, innovative initiative, and inclusive environment. Ishi Sharma was named the Youth Champion of Diversity while Zeeshan Khan received the Champion Diversity award.

Returning emcee Free Lee congratulated the 50+ champions of inclusion who were nominated and noted that “the 2024 nominees truly represent all areas of diversity, from gender equality to race, ethnicity, age, religion, sexual orientation, abilities and social economic background.”

Augusta Gladstone of the Kwakwaka’wakw Nation gave the land acknowledgement and performed her Uncle Frank’s song for survivors. She was also a nominee in the Adult Champion of Diversity category and shared, “when I think of the cultural diversity, I think of cultural safety. We can’t reach that until it is safe for you to be you and me to be me.”

In his welcoming speech, Abbotsford Mayor Ross Siemens noted that Abbotsford is one of the most diverse communities in Canada and said, “the variety of perspectives, experiences and conditions that are found here serve to enrich all of us.”

“There is a lot of the divisiveness and intolerance in our world, but events like this prove that we can use diversity as a uniting force.”

Kelly Khakh spoke on behalf of the Speaker Sponsor Prospera to introduce the keynote speaker Sally Armstrong an award-winning author, journalist and human rights activist who spoke virtually.

Armstrong’s speech focussed on gender and women’s accomplishment on the eve of International Women’s Day. She spoke about writing a story on Kenyan women who forced a change in the way rape cases are treated with the help of Canadian organizations. She reminded attendees that “apathy is evil’ and that the term “innocent bystander is sometimes an oxymoron. People who do not intervene when something is amiss gives tacit permission for injustice to continue.”

In her closing remarks, Manpreet Grewal, the Director of Multicultural and Immigrant Integration Services at Archway Community Services thanked the sponsors, production team and the organizing committee. “Thank you to everyone for making this possible. There’s a chemistry which happens when everybody comes together.”

Since 2003, community members have nominated organizations and leaders that build inclusive and diverse communities in Abbotsford, Mission, Langley, Chilliwack, and now Hope. Archway Community Services presents the event in partnership with the Mission and Chilliwack Community Services as well as the Langley New Directions English Language School.

 “Thank you to everyone for making this possible. There’s a chemistry which happens when everybody comes together.”

Manpreet Grewal

Director of Multicultural and Immigrant Integration Services, Archway Community Services

“There is a lot of the divisiveness and intolerance in our world, but events like this prove that we can use diversity as a uniting force.”

Ross Siemens

Abbotsford Mayor

2024 Fraser Valley Cultural Diversity Awards Recipients

Zeeshan Khan, Champion of Diversity

Zeeshan Khan was recognized for his role in the development and leadership of various community projects including food hampers, meal distributions, and more. He is also the co-founder of Streams Foundation which is a local volunteer-based nonprofit organization.

Khan’s daughter Rida and wife GulRukh Zeeshan accepted the award on his behalf. Rida Khan shared “We’re incredibly proud of him for winning this award as well as just doing the work he does in our community. He’s worked throughout the years to continue to bridge the gaps in our community and bring everyone together.”

GulRukh Zeeshan and Rida Khan (right) accepted the award on Zeeshan Khan’s behalf. Mayor Ross Siemens represented award sponsor the City of Abbotsford.

Ishi Sharma, Youth Champion of Diversity

Ishi is a grade 12 student who has worked to create an inclusive environment through her leadership roles within Student Voice at Yale Secondary and establishment of the “EDI for Youth” awareness campaign.

In her acceptance speech she noted how far she has come personally over the years and thanked her fellow nominees “for inspiring people like me every single day. It’s an honor to be in the same room as you all.”

Ishi Sharma (Left) with the Abbotsford Board of Education Chair Shirley Wilson representing award sponsor Abbotsford School District

Sparrow Community Care Society, Effective Human Resources Strategies

Sparrow Community Care Society runs BC’s first homeless shelter specifically for older adults and was recognized for their diverse staff group which allows them to better connect with their residents.

Executive Director Jesse Wegenast shared that diversity “is a prerequisite to excellence,” and “if you’re not intentionally building a diverse staff, you’re putting a hard ceiling on how excellent the work that you can do is.”

Sparrow Community Care Society with Darrin Brown (Left) representing award sponsor WorkSafeBC

Tourism Mission, Innovative Initiative

Tourism Mission was recognized for creating a more vibrant travel experience with their Enchroma Colorblind Initiative which loans free glasses.

“This award means a lot in our effort to try and make tourism more accessible for everyone to enjoy,” said Lindsay Steffich who accepted the award on behalf of the Tourism Mission team.

Lindsay Steffich of Tourism Mission (Right) with Susan Mide Kiss representing award sponsor UFV

Hippie Mike Industries Inc., Inclusive Environment

Hippie Mike Industries is an indoor skate park in Hope whose mission is to create fully inclusive all ages events where participants are able to learn from one another.

Noting that the town of Hope didn’t have a lot of skateboarders when he started, owner Mike Faux shared that “it wasn’t about the skateboarding, it was about giving another place for people to enjoy together” and how he hopes to make the next generations “have it a little bit easier.”

Mike Faux (Right) with Chilliwack Mayor Kevin Popove who presented the award on behalf of sponsor Envision Financial

Chilliwack Film Society, Diversity in Marketing

The Chilliwack Film Society is a non-profit responsible for running the annual Chilliwack Independent Film Festival and the Abbotsford Film Festival. Their mission is to provide a platform for a diverse range of voices to be heard whilst also helping emerging filmmakers and artists get a start in the industry.

Conclusion

Those who missed the live show can watch it air on Sunday, March 17 at 8:00pm, and Sunday, March 31 at 8:00pm on Shaw Multicultural Channel 4 (and 901) Vancouver.

Nominations for next year’s event can be submitted at DiversityAwards.ca

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