10 Feb Thread Project – A Portrait Series
At the end of 2018, I started the Thread Project – a portrait series designed to reveal our interconnections as people. I’ve asked change-makers what are the threads that tie us together – in the hopes of bringing us back to ourselves.
Dwayne Morgan – Poet.Speaker.Social Entrepreneur
“I think that breath is the greatest thread that connects us. Breathing means that we are alive with possibilities, and we exert energy in seeking out those whose possibilities align with our own. As I’ve evolved and traveled the world,
I’ve come to accept that I no longer need people to agree with me. My possibilities aren’t affected by views of others, but that difference creates a great opportunity to learn and grow, for those willing to allow themselves to be challenged. We don’t all want the same things, we don’t all see things the same way, and that uniqueness, like the breath that gives us life, is the greatest thread that connects us.”
Carla Lopez – Humanitarian Aid Worker, Global Health and Design
“It’s curious that one of our biggest blind spots in humanitarian and development work is that in our urgency to do great good we tend to forget to treat the people we serve as we would our neighbours and friends. What would it look like if instead of pushing exclusive breast feeding messages on women, we recognize that women everywhere struggle to balance the demands of work with breastfeeding? That latching and milk production can be hard whether you’re in a South Sudanese camp or a brownstone in Brooklyn? I think about what my friends and I talk about – things like how having kids and getting older affects our sense of womanhood, or worries abou t how our children are socialising, or how our relationships with our partners are changing….what if we respond to the people we serve assuming we all have similar interests and worries? That’s not so hard, right?”
Jessica Darmanin, Yoga Teacher
“Our desire for freedom, peace, and love.”
Jay Blades, Designer and BBC Host
“Our connections are based on our actions … when we come into contact with another human being – how do we act? Some people’s actions are full of hate, some people’s actions are full of love, some people’s actions are full of deceit, jealousy, you name it … but when you come with the act of compassion and care – now that’s a winner, all day, every day.”
Chris Dupee, Retired Corporal
“Why does one serve? Whether Military, Police, Fire Fighter, Corrections Officer, Aid Worker, Nurse it Paramedic, we all had a deep purpose to fulfill.
We don’t understand this instinct of ours, but it’s as instinctual as it is for a mother to protect her child.
It is our instinct to run into the danger while others run away
It is our instinct to break up fights with no regard to ourselves
It is our instinct to help the little guy, the bullied and misunderstood
It is our instinct to hold the thin line that separates good from evil
Imagine a Bear cub without it’s Mothers instinct to protect him. Humanity needs these instinctual protectors of higher purpose as much as a Bear cub needs it’s Mother
Thank you for all of your service to humanity, no matter the colour you chose.”
Chris served in the RCR Para Company out of Petawawa, Ontario from 2005 to 2015, serving in Afghanistan in 2008
Sherley Young – Educator, Activist & Community Builder
Whether it was opening the first ever abortion clinic in her district in Pennsylvania, to marching in protests, fighting for the rights of girls and women to access education, or leading teams with #habitatforhumanity, Sherley’s tireless spirit fights on. She continues to challenge the politics around her, build community gardens in Philadelphia and connect artists across borders.
I asked her to recall a moment/s that reflected a sense of our innate connections:
“I am an extrovert. I get my energy by interacting with others. I have traveled the world, liking best when I live among others. My favorite way is to camp in a small village square, to wait in line to fill my bucket with water from the village fountain. I find it breaks down the artificial barriers to allow for an exchange of feelings and love that transcend languages I do not know.”
Keith Merith – Retired Police Superintendent of York Regional Police
Following more than 30 years of service, Keith trailed a legacy of excellence in policing, advocacy, community building and youth engagement. As the former President of the Association of Black Law Enforcers (ABLE), Keith’s efforts focused on promoting racial harmony and cultural pride within law enforcement and the community. He was the 2018 recipient of the BBPA Harry Jerome Award, which recognizes excellence in the African Canadian Community, for Community Service; and in 2013 he was awarded the Queens Diamond Jubilee Medal by Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, for his outstanding contribution to our Canadian community.
“Caring is the ability to be empathetic when required. To be honest and true when need be. To be there in times of need or just to be present. To be responsive to our natural instincts to do no harm. To acquiesce to our accepted and innate instincts of giving. It’s about doing the right thing at the right time for the right reason. This to me is our “Thread Connection.”
Piya Chattopadhyay – Journalist, Broadcaster, CBC Host
The next installment of the Thread Project is with Journalist, Broadcaster and proud Saskatchewanian, Piya Chattopadhyay. I’m a lifelong listener and supporter of the CBC and have enjoyed Piya’s work for years – particularly the program, Out in the Open which was awarded the 2019 RTDNA Award for Best Radio Program, Piya said “In a world that often seems divided, I’m so proud of this show which tried to bring about empathy, authenticity and understanding.” The program ran from 2016 until 2020.
It was this sentiment, the Raptors NBA championship and a few resonate tweets that prompted me to contact Piya. In the joyous fever that swept across the country last spring, there was this feeling, however fleeting, that something special was unfolding. There was this potent sense of dare-to-believe optimism; Toronto itself felt kinder, and strangers and friends gathered in viewing parties across the country to watch the games. Piya, a sports fan, tweeted frequently and passionately about the playoffs:
“Dear Canada: We, as a country, coast-coast-coast have never been here before. We are joined in our common purpose and sit on the cusp of victory. This is magical.”
When at one point during the playoffs, Piya tweeted: “Good night Canada, sweet dreams” – it felt like we were getting tucked in and encouraged by a woman whose voice and work extends across the radio waves – across the prairies, the mountains, the tundra and the coastline. Her enthusiasm, her scope and her voice exemplified the #Thread Project.
So after exchanging a few emails and a few hits and starts, we set a date and I headed down to the CBC studio on Front Street in Toronto. It was a grey, rainy day – but our conversation, the laughter, and her willingness to participate, filled my cup. So often, our conversation tied back to same threads: listening, empathy, compassion. As we wrapped up our shoot, and prepared to say farewell, Piya asked me what is next for the project. I envision a portrait series that reveals the threads we all share, as Canadians and as members of the global community, an exhibition at the Canadian Human Rights Museum, a coffee table book, I’m open to it all. But more than anything, I reiterated that I feel compelled to do this. To make art that fosters connection, healing and joy. To offer an antidote of compassion to the darkness we feel around us. To engage with empathy and kindness – and with each portrait, each click of the shutter, weave a thread of connection and love.
June Findlay, Writer, Social Media Manager and Consultant
The project was on pause when the world closed down in March – and yet, as the months counted on, I couldn’t shake the feeling that IF we LET it, this pandemic has so much to teach us. The virus spread to most countries in the world within weeks, and immediately, hauntingly, demonstrated how connected we are.
The internet has kept us connected, though physically apart, and it was during that time I found June’s work online.
I’m happy to introduce June Findlay – Writer, Social Media Manager and Consultant from Toronto.
In 2013, June’s graduate thesis researched the methods, tactics and transparency of the under-scrutiny WE charity – and her latest article in Flare Magazine, connects her early research to with the ongoing scandal and investigation of the problematic organization.
From June, on the thread that connects us:
“In my (digital) world, curiosity, understanding and continued learning are the threads that connect us all. Twitter has provided me a lot of opportunities – to express myself, to find meaningful work, to find interesting people online who turn into friends “IRL”, but most of all, it’s provided me a way to learn more about the world around me and that of others who I would otherwise never know.
There are people who are always going to want to agree with you and listen to whatever you say. There are always people who are set to oppose anything you say (and unfortunately, the algorithms and money favour this behaviour). But most of all, most people are looking to be heard, to be understood, and to connect – and ultimately, that’s what keeps me on social media despite *motions to everything*.”
You can read more about June’s work here
Birgit Umaigba RN, BScN, MEd, CCRN
Birgit has been on the frontlines of COVID-19 working as a critical care nurse, educator and advocate. Throughout the pandemic, Birgit has used her social media platform to share her experience working in ICU during the pandemic. Birgit has seen patients and families whose lives have been torn apart by COVID-19. Birgit continues to care for those people until their final moments. We owe infinite gratitude to Birgit and all health care professionals. The pandemic has revealed how interconnected we are and how prone we are to division. The objective of the Thread Project is to remind us of our interconnection and that the way through, is together.
“Many challenges which surface in our world expose deep levels of human interconnectedness. The COVID-19 pandemic is no exception – it has revealed how interconnected we are as human beings, to the point that the safety of one, is dependent on the safety of others. For this very reason, there’s an urgent need to reduce health inequities and improve the social conditions which affect people’s health. From addressing homelessness, racism, to improving working conditions and so on. If there is something I’ve learnt from the COVID-19 pandemic, it is the importance of using our voices, however small, to uplift those made vulnerable by systems of oppression in our society. In the end, whatever affects one, affects us all.”
Amanda J. Bartley – Human Behaviour Researcher/Management Consultant
In this deeply polarizing time, I’m drawn to the activists, the educators, the truth-speakers who connect the dots of injustice, pain and belonging in the world. I first connected with Amanda through her writing and advocacy on social media – from addressing the cost of living crisis and challenges with transit systems, to the intersection of white supremacy, disaster capitalism and systemic racism. I appreciate Amanda’s lens on the world – and asked her to share what she feels are the threads that connect us all:
“The threads that hold us together are the joys and pains we experience on our journeys through this life. These moments transcend time and space to connect generations and cultures and geographies at the junctures of our greatest joys and deepest sorrows.”
Jennifer Podemski – Anishinaabe/Ashkenazi Actor, Writer, Director, Producer and Founder of the SHINE Network Inc.
The next installment of the Thread Project features Jennifer Podemski, an Anishinaabe/Ashkenazi actor, writer, director, producer and founder of @ShineNetwork. Jennifer’s work spans more than 30 years in film and television including “Dance Me Outside”, “The Rez”, “Reservation Dogs” and most recently “Little Bird”.
In 2023, Jennifer was honoured by the Canadian Academy for her outstanding contributions to the industry and society as a whole. In her speech, Jennifer said “being an Indigenous storyteller … is a radical political act of resistance, of reclamation and rematriation.”
I think about my role as an artist, as a settler, as an ally – how I’m drawn to stories that evoke social justice and interconnection – and that my camera can be a tool for social change. So when I listened to her impactful speech and first heard about “Little Bird” I took a leap and reached out.
When I finally had the chance to meet Jennifer, I carried my lens with the weight and knowledge and privilege of what this moment represented.
As I moved around the space, shifting, dancing and chasing the right light, I asked Jennifer what she thinks are the threads that connect us all.
“Our ability to collaborate is that thread that keeps us connected, keeps us co-creating.”
After the shoot, I found an interview that Jennifer did in 2019 where she talked about “that crazy little dream you have about changing the world through stories” And I think about the ripple effect of her work, sitting with hundreds of people on the opening night of “Little Bird” in Toronto. The unlearning, the unearthing, the haunting, the healing. And the collaborative and collective power of these women, crossing cultures and generations and geography to tell stories that disrupt and change the narrative of our history.