Local Performer Makes It Awkward

Rachael John-West confronts racism with a song.

  • Rachael John-West. Alain Intwali

When media personality Jesse Lipscombe was making a public service announcement about why Edmonton is a great place to live, he found himself the target of racist slurs. The cameras were still rolling and the resulting video was posted online. After the video went viral, Lipscombe and Mayor Don Iveson launched the #MakeItAwkward campaign in early September. The social media hashtag encourages people to confront racism and “make it awkward” for those expressing racism and discrimination.

Local musician Rachael John-West is making it awkward through a music project she became involved with in collaboration with another Edmonton artist, Mayne Champagne. The “#MakeItAwkward Song” along with its YouTube video, has gained media attention from CBC Television and Radio, as well as leading to a performance on City TV’s Dinner Television in September.

The 23-year-old, who works at the Boyle McCauley Health Centre as a Health Advocate and graduated as a social worker in April of 2015, has lived in and around the Boyle Street and McCauley neighbourhoods for her entire life. In fact, her family are all long-time volunteers with Boyle McCauley News. Parents Liz and Geoff John-West became block carriers while Rachael and her sisters were all small children, and continue with their routes to this day. She credits her parents’ work ethic being passed to her as a musician.

“My parents forced me to practice violin every day for years until I grew to love it myself,” she says.

Her involvement with the “#MakeItAwkward Song” came about when local producer Mayne Champagne asked Rachael to be part of the campaign against discrimination. “The campaign resonates with him because being of Jamaican descent, he has experienced racism first-hand here in Canada,” Rachael explains “I agreed without hesitation because standing up against all kinds of discrimination and injustice has always been at the centre of my heart, and what an exciting thing to be able to use music to do it!”

Rachael credits her passion for social causes to living in the inner city area, as well as to her mother. “All my life I have been involved in social justice issues thanks to my mom who had me and my sisters volunteering for different fundraising or social awareness events, participating in marches/walks, learning about very intricate social issues from a young age, and personally opening our home to people of all walks of life. Growing up that way has led me to loving volunteering, doing social work as a career, and doing my own social projects.”

She hopes that other young people will find within themselves the power to make positive changes and work towards “tolerance, acceptance, and celebration of the uniqueness of each other. So to young people, I would give the challenge to first question your own views of others. To overcome any bias, you simply need to get to know the other person so that he or she is no longer just a certain colour or trait but a whole person. And then, secondly, to make it awkward when anything is said or done around you that is discriminatory. It’s not just a joke – these things have a profound impact on the individual or group victims of the discrimination. Make it awkward in a safe and respectful way. Let’s lift each other up!”

To listen to the “#MakeItAwkward Song,” search for it on YouTube or iTunes. Half of the proceeds from iTunes downloads are going to the Centre for Race and Culture.

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