By Al Beeber on September 24, 2021.
Sheldon Kennedy has seen society in the past 25 years go a long way towards addressing bullying and abuse and as he told Lethbridge College president and CEO Paula Burns Monday, society has a long way to go yet.
Kennedy joined Burns in what the college called “a fireside chat” that included a live audience in the E.C. Frederick’s Theatre as well as virtual attendees.
During the discussion in which the two sat across from each other and Burns talked to Kennedy about various issues including workplace respect and bullying, the former NHL hockey player and victim of notorious junior hockey league coach and sex offender Graham James talked in-depth and openly about bullying, abuse and how to address the impact.
“There’s way more going on than sexual abuse,” Kennedy told Burns, adding the focus of dealing with abuse in all its forms needs to be on the impact it has on the victim.
“I want to bring a commonality around these issues.”
Kennedy told Burns and the online audience not all abuse is the same but the impact is felt by all who experience it in one form or another.
He openly talked about how after 14 years of sobriety he still felt suicidal thoughts and had to learn how to deal with those feelings and how important it is to have a ”safe place” to chat about life’s issues, telling Burns he regularly meets with a couple of pals over coffee to do just that.
Kennedy is co-founder along with Wayne McNeil of Respect Group, which began operations in 2004. The two set up the organization to “pursue their common passion: the prevention of bullying, abuse, harassment and discrimination. Respect Group is made of a team of 30 talented individuals whose passion is to create a global culture of respect,” says the Respect Group website.
It employs experts to deliver curriculum in-class and by e-learning to develop “behaviour change solutions for sport, schools and the workplace,” says the website.
The Group offers programs focused on workplace, schools, sports, keeping girls in sports, as well as child safety and protection.
In 1998, when he rollerbladed across Canada to raise awareness about sexual abuse, Kenney said a lot was learned.
He and Burns discussed a visit three years ago when they implemented the Respect in the Workplace program in the college.
“What keeps me motivated in this space is I don’t ever think we’re done. I think that it’s just a continued learning experience and I know for myself, I need to get better and I don’t think there’s an end point,” said Kennedy.
“I learn new things on every visit that I make, especially the visit to Lethbridge College around aquaponics,” he said.
“At the end of the day I believe that this has never been a choice to say this is the work I’m going to do, this is where I’m going to spend my time as I move through life. But people keep bringing me back to this space and want help and ask for help. And I have to work in this space for me personally to get well because we know the impact of these types of events in one’s life is significant and real,” he said.
Burns asked Kenney what his hope for Respect Group was when he started it in 2004.
“We wanted to reach everybody with a consistent message and 2004 we’d been at it since ’98. In ’98, we rollerbladed across the country and we saw some really really early early work in and around this space and at that time, I think the approach and ours was no different as we donated from that skate to the Red Cross and the Hockey Canada Respect speak out program,” he said, calling it “to catch the bad person. And I think we learned a lot and I think what we wanted to do with Respect Group was to put a whole new focus on our approach to these issues, the issues of abuse, bullying, harassment, discrimination and neglect.
“And our focus was what we found through conversations across this country was that in most cases whatever types of forms of abuse there might have been, was that there were bystanders. There were good people that didn’t have the confidence or knowledge of to know what to do.
“So our approach was always from Day One to make good people betterâ€¦let’s give people and individuals the tools to make better decisions, to be able to step in if they witness something not right and to build a confidence. Ultimately our goal was to build a confidence around issues that normally and probably in some way, shape or form today carry a lot of fear,” Kennedy added.
“What I’ve learned over the years is I had to really understand the issues that were in front of me and I had to really understand that impacted me and my life and how they impacted me in my life. And I had to understand them so I could best explain it to people.
“We want to take researcher’s language and create a language around these issues that are understandable, that are clear and that are empowering. And really start with cracking that confidence so we can give individuals the confidence to have the conversation.
“One of the things that I learned early was I had to learn to listen. And I think as a learning institute as Lethbridge College or University of Lethbridge or Medicine Hat College that are with us here today, for me as an individual I thought I had to fix every issue that was in front of me and I think we take that role on when we’re in a position such as yours or your leadership team,” Kennedy said to Burns.
“I had to understand that my role was to help that individual get to the place where they can get help within that organization or outside of that organization, within the community.
“A lot of times the goal ultimately is to try to mitigate the severity of the impact or the situation that might be going on but we are also asking people to come forward. And I think when we ask people to come forward we need to make sure that path is clear.”
Follow @albeebHerald on Twitter