For nearly 30 years, the Centre for Race and Culture(CFRAC) has worked to address racism and discrimination in Edmonton and Northern Alberta. Through research, education, workshops and public forums, the Centre works to increase understanding and strengthen community connections. For Elli Dehnavi, executive director of the organization, the work is a labour of love.
“We’re a small team, and we’re driven to do work that supports positive change,” she says. “It’s not about whose job description lists what. We’re here for each other, and we’re here for the community.”
Since joining CFRAC in 2017, Dehnavi has only seen demand for the organization’s services go up. Demand was already increasing when, in the spring of 2020, the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery set off a string of Black Lives Matter protests around the world.
“The interesting part is that we’d started to get a lot of calls and emails well before the protests started. I think it had to do with the [COVID-19] pandemic, we had a lot of people contacting us to say, ‘We can see a different level of conflict, maybe with some layers of prejudice coming to the surface, and we don’t know how to address it,’” she says. “So, even though these events were extraordinarily difficult in many ways for a lot of people, I’m glad that we’re starting to see people actually talking about racism as a systemic problem.”
The services and programs offered by CFRAC are created to meet the needs of the community–whether that’s individuals, families, businesses or other groups. The Centre offers tailored educational programs, workshops, online resources and initiatives that are designed to engage community members, creating space for valuable dialogue and meaningful change.
“When you want to see these shifts in culture, it takes time and effort. Our focus is on social equity, antiracism and antidiscrimination work. The community desire for change in these areas is real — there is so much need for it out there, people are thirsty,” she says. “But it’s important to note that our efforts don’t actually work unless they’re community-based. We need to listen to what people and organizations in Edmonton need, and provide it.”
In recent years, some of CFRAC’s projects have included creating a practical guide for gender inclusivity in the workplace, and a research project funded by the government of Alberta focused specifically on understanding newcomers’ experiences of inclusion.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit and Black Lives Matter protests incited action around the world, Dehnavi and her colleagues once again saw opportunity. They began offering a series of online roundtables–Challenging Discrimination through Community Conversations–designed to spark conversations and positive change in subject areas including institutional and systemic racism, racism and mental health, and the impact of the COVID19 Pandemic on ethoncultural communities. The sessions were hugely successful, with more than 200 attendees viewing each one live, and hundreds more requesting the recordings after the fact.
The conversations continue, and Dehnavi and her team have their hands full. They’ll continue to educate, advocate and fight for the eradication of racism for as long as it takes.