When good friends Arya Rao and Kanav Kalucha were sent home early from Columbia University as a result of COVID-19, the computer science students knew they weren’t done putting their education to use quite yet. From their homes in Michigan and California, respectively, Rao and Kalucha noticed that many citizens in their hometowns – particularly the elderly – were already making masks to donate to frontline workers. With technology at their side, the two realized they had the skills to speed up the donation process, and just like that, the Mask Up initiative was born.
Co-founders Arya Rao and Kanav Kanucha
What started as a two-person effort has now amassed over 100 volunteers to make and deliver masks to frontline workers. “There are a lot of organizations that have PPE shortages,” explains Rao, “and while this isn’t a substitute for that, we can reduce the risk for some of the people who are fighting this pandemic.”
Becoming a volunteer is simple. Go to the Mask Up website and enter your location, and how many masks you will be able to make. You will then be matched to the nearest healthcare organization. Additionally, essential services and organizations can request donations through the website as well. Since its inception, Mask Up has been able to provide masks to the New York National Guard, the Public Transit Unit of the North-Eastern United States, and dozens of hospitals and care homes.
Some of the masks that have been made and donated by volunteers.
Initially, it was a struggle to leverage the technological aspect. While younger generations are no strangers to social media, the majority of Mask Up volunteers are the elderly, who are less familiar with the world of technology. Rao quickly realized that while Facebook, Instagram, and a website would reach a younger demographic, the best way to spread the word is through good old-fashioned newspapers, and other local media outlets. “Lots of cold-emailing and cold-calling,” Rao recalls with a chuckle.
The Mask Up initiative will continue for as long as necessary. Until then, Rao explains that their only goal is “to continue to service the needs of the nation.”
“This pandemic is really throwing all of us for a loop right now and I think the first thing we want to do is provide a little good and a little light in the world.”
On Monday, June 1st, 2020, Christian Mbanza was momentarily locked out of his car.
The 27-year-old grade-school teacher of Regina, Saskatchewan used an app to unlock his car. He waited for his phone to work for a moment, and when it didn’t, simply got out his keys. Nothing about the incident should have implied Mbanza was breaking the law when he was simply entering his own car, so why did a video taken by a neighbouring resident, captioned “Just happened on Keller ave watched the whole thing happen lock your doors!!” end up on the Greens on Gardiner Facebook group? Well, Mbanza is Black.
“If I was somebody with a lighter skin complexion, the results would have been different. I don’t think they would have automatically assumed that I was stealing,” Mbanza said in an interview with CBC. He went on to express that “I’m lucky that it just ended up on Facebook,” noting that things could have ended badly if he had lived somewhere else.
This seems to be a common sentiment in Canada. Many are tweeting variations of a 2013 Robin Williams quote in regard to the country: “You are like a really nice apartment over a meth lab.” The implication being that Canada is innocent compared to what goes on in the States. But anyone who believes Canada to be innocent in regards to racism is sadly fooled. Yes, Canada is known as a friendly country. But the truth is we wear syrup-sweet smiles to cover up our genocidal history and violent present.
Indigenous people occupied North America for thousands of years before European settlers arrived, bringing with them venereal disease, alcoholism, and business schemes. This weakened the Indigenous way of life, as they were not accustomed to any of this. It wasn’t long before the Indian Act was put forth in 1876, which was based on the premise that it was the Crown’s responsibility to care for and protect the interests of First Nations (the Indigenous peoples of Canada), when in reality it was largely concerned with the assimilation and “civilization” of First Nations. In 1883, residential schools were put forth as a method to further assimilate Indigenous children. These children were taken from their homes and enrolled in these residential schools, where they were forced to abandon their traditional language, dress, and lifestyle. More than 150,000 First Nations, Métis and Inuit children were placed in these schools and over 6,000 were killed, making the odds of dying in a residential school more likely than the odds of dying in World War II. Many survivors of these schools were subjected to verbal, physical and psychological abuse, which is a major cause of substance abuse and intergenerational trauma; this practice continued until the last residential school closed in 1996.
Stephanie Pierce graduated from high school in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan in 2018. It wasn’t until she enrolled in her school’s Native Studies course at the age of 16 that she learned of the severity of Canada’s treatment of Indigenous people. She recalls being shocked about the Sixties Scoop, which was a practice in the 1960’s that involved the RCMP “scooping up” Indigenous children from their parents and putting them up for adoption, usually to middle-upper class white families.
“We actually had someone who was a survivor of the Sixties Scoop come in and talk to us,” Pierce recalls. “She said she had no clue the true background of her adoption until the earlier 2000’s, and her adoptive mom didn’t know either.”
The survivor was eventually reunited with her birth mother at the age of 40. Until that day, her birth mother had no idea what had happened to her child.
“When her biological mom gave birth to her in a hospital, people came in – I assume the RCMP – and took her away, and basically said she was too unfit to be a mother.”
Taking Native Studies was a life changing experience for Pierce. Unfortunately, the class is optional and is only offered when enough students show interest, meaning that an important education often comes far too late – or not at all.
Modern Canadian racism might not be particularly evident to someone who hasn’t experienced it, but it exists all the same. As of 2018, the federal government reported that 91 First Nations communities (excluding those in British Columbia and those without access to drinking water at all) were under long term drinking water advisories. Indigenous people make up 4.8% of Canada’s population but were one third of the victims shot by the RCMP between 2007 and 2017. The tragedy of missing and murdered Indigenous women has been declared a national crisis, and yet a proper number cannot be estimated because Canada did not keep a database for missing people until 2010, but since 1980 that number is estimated to be in the thousands.
As evidenced by Mbanza’s experience, racism isn’t exclusively directed at Indigenous people in Canada. The black community makes up 3.4% of Canada’s population and 9% of police fatalities. Black people in Toronto are 20 times more likely to be shot dead by the police than people who are not black.
(Above) A mural in remembrance of George Floyd, by Regina teenager Zoe Stradeski.
As peaceful protests break out across the country and #blacklivesmatter trends across multiple social media platforms, it may appear that people are making meaningful steps towards change. However, this movement is more than a trend. Black lives and other marginalized lives need to continue to be listened to and protected going forward. Calgarian Twitter user @deborahmeb expressed her lived experience in a series of tweets.
“As someone who’s spent over 80% of my life in Calgary, experienced most of the racism I’ve experienced throughout my life in Calgary, I’m not only overwhelmed by the show of support this week, but I’m actually shocked.
Part of this shock is not actually appreciation but rather an indictment…It’s a ‘Where have y’all been this whole time?’ Before this week, FAR too many of you have been far too silent. I realize that before this week, I felt extremely alone in this.
If you are truly ready to change that, my gratitude cannot be fully expressed. If you will commit to care for black lives, fight for black lives, to do the necessary learning to value black lives beyond this current moment, you will be doing a noble thing.” She then goes on to “Implore you to stand up for Indigenous lives with the same vigour.”
Donate to The Bail Project, which provides funds to pay bail for those who have been arrested during the protests. You can split your donation between the 39 bail funds (including the Philadelphia Bail Fund, the LGBTQ Freedom Fund, the Community Justice Exchange National Bail Fund Network and the Mississippi Bail Fund Collective) by clicking here.
I was born on May 8th, 1999. Eight months before Y2K: before the world was supposed to end. Sometimes I think it may as well have.
On September 11th, 2001, I was two years old. I had no real stream of consciousness. I do not remember the act of terror that changed a country, but I’ve never known the world before.
My first concept of war was not of our history, but of our present. Every conversation about war in my elementary school years was linked back to Afghanistan. We are making Christmas cards to send to the troops to Afghanistan. His dad was deployed to Afghanistan. No one ever told me how the conflict began, but it still rages on today.
I was 10 years old when a magnitude 4.5 earthquake hit Haiti, half a lifetime ago. I understood that it was a disaster and that people died. I understood that the billions of dollars in damage would never be truly paid. But I was a child, and I lived in Canada, so there was nothing I could do but listen to that Waving Flag song and pray that the people who were more powerful than I would help.
When the Earthquake happened, I felt like I understood its severity. I didn’t feel like a child. Then I found a picture of me when I was 10 and realized that being 10 years old is so much younger than it feels.
On the morning of December 14th, 2012, I was sitting at the desk of my eighth-grade classroom. It was in the front right-hand corner of the room, half a foot away from my teacher’s desk. Her face fell the moment she read the news, and I knew it would be bad before she told us. “There has been a school shooting in the States,” she said, and I thought oh no that is terrible. Then she said “It was an elementary school. Kindergarten to grade four” and any semblance I had of a decent world was shattered. My parents remember where they were for 9/11, but I remember where I was when I found out that 20 children and 6 adults were shot to death just weeks before Christmas. I remember their names and their faces. 2012 was the year I stopped praying.
At age 13 it felt as though I had lost my innocence. I was lucky to have made it so far.
But it never ends. I was 15 when I was standing in a hotel lobby, waiting for the rest of my fellow choirmates to leave for supper at the Old Spaghetti Factory when I saw on the lobby’s television that a 50-year-old man named Walter Scott was shot in the back by a police officer. Of course, he was black, and of course, he was unarmed, and I could only stare in disappointment, the same thought ringing through my head: Not again. A year later, age 16, I woke up for school, rolled over to check my phone, and found out that 49 people were killed at a gay nightclub in Orlando and still I thought, Not again.
Seventeen people were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School when I was 18. Eleven people were killed at a Synagogue when I was 19. Twenty-three people were killed at a Walmart in El Paso when I was 20. I remember these tragedies, but I can’t quite keep track of them because they just keep happening, again and again.
Now I am 21 years old, and I only leave the house to buy groceries. I am unemployed. I saw a friend for the last time and didn’t even know it.
It is a silent loss. One I know I cannot take personally because it could be so much worse. It is so much worse.
But I am 21 years old and I am so tired of “worse.” Every day bad news is rammed down my throat. The Earth is dying and so are its humans.
The older generations like to tell us it could be worse.
They think they had it harder.
And maybe they did, but bad news wasn’t accessible the way it is today.
My acoustic guitar is older than I am; a gift passed down from my aunt during the summer I turned fifteen. I spent hours sitting at my desk, teaching myself with Google, manipulating my fingers to stretch just right to get the trickier chords. I was never great at guitar, but that was fine by me; I just liked to sing in my room, strumming along to my favourite songs with chords that might not have been entirely correct.
As high school wore on, my guitar sat untouched for months, and then years. It was only once I was nearly 21 and the pandemic hit that I had reason to give my hobby another try. This time, I would be better. This time, I had help.
Max Kerman, frontman of Canadian rock band Arkells, has taken to flattening the curve in his own way. Every day at 1 pm EDT, he takes to Instagram live with his guitar to teach viewers how to play different Arkells songs, before allowing fans to join him on the livestream to ask questions or make requests.
I first saw Arkells in concert in Calgary, February 2019. My long-distance friend Kira flew in from Vancouver on a whim; we had both heard their most recent album and rather enjoyed it, so we figured, why not? What we didn’t know was that we were about to see the best live performance of our young lives. From that night on, we were hooked. The experience both strengthened our connection as friends, but solidified Arkells as one of Canada’s best musical talents, in my humble opinion. From there, Kira and I went on to see them at One Weekend Only, an intimate win-to-get-in show unlike anything we had ever seen before – or ever would again.
Kira (left) and I from the front row at One Weekend Only. Photo courtesy of Sam Phelps.
Arkells, named after Arkell Street in their hometown of Hamilton, Ontario, is made up of vocalist Max Kerman, guitarist Mike DeAngelis, bass player Nick Dika, drummer Tim Oxford and keyboardist Anthony Carone. They’ve been on the music scene since 2006, releasing their first album, Jackson Square, in 2008. Like many first albums, Jackson Square packs a punch with classic rock influences in the raw vocals of “Oh, The Boss is Coming!” and songs like “The Ballad of Hugo Chavez” sprinkling in a touch of Motown (And yes, The Ballad of Hugo Chavez is about the Venezuelan President as a political prisoner.) Since then, Arkells have released a total of five albums: 2014’s High Noon won them the Juno Award for both Group of the Year and Rock Album of the Year, and their most recent release, Rally Cry, has taken them on a Canadian Tour that featured their largest performance to date at the Scotiabank Arena in Toronto.
But it isn’t just their well-crafted lyrics and performance energy that make Arkells special. They are known for their fantastic fan interaction. With nearly 100k followers on Instagram and 75k followers on Twitter, it would be easy for fan messages and tweets to be lost to the void of the internet, but they like and respond as often as they can. And, with COVID-19, are taking these interactions one step further with their online music classes.
The first class was on March 14th and followed a simple layout: Kerman taught the chords to And Then Some, which had also been put to paper and posted to Instagram by Carone, and from there he nervously opened the livestream for questions.
“Okay guys, I’m really trusting you here,” he said, evidently nervous.
But the live question segment went fine, and continued to go fine because when Max Kerman asks you to behave on Instagram live, you don’t want to let him down.
I was a lucky viewer who got to ask Max a question. I asked if they let people know when their names end up in songs. He told me that nothing they write is scathing enough that they have ever had to.
The next few days covered some of the big hits like Leather Jacket, People’s Champ, and recent single Years in the Making, and as time went on, fans were treated to deeper cuts such as Making Due, Heart of the City and Hangs the Moon. Another added treat is that Kerman began inviting special guests to join in that he himself would interview. A particular highlight was Tessa Virtue, who inadvertently confirmed her relationship with hockey player Morgan Reilly, and child fashion icon Dylan, who managed to upstage Kerman with his impeccable style and confidence.
Kerman is also using his influence to make social change. Arkells partnered with RBC to raise money for Food Banks Canada. Fans were encouraged to upload a picture or video of their creative endeavours from quarantine with the hashtag #ftcmusicclass, and RBC would donate $100 for each tag, up to $25,000. The money was raised within days. The band has also released a limited edition Arkells x YMCA T-shirt, from which all proceeds will go to the agency’s online programs.
My days don’t have much structure anymore. I’ve been laid off from my job, and my university classes are done for the semester. Just a few months ago, I barely had time to sit down and breathe and now I have all the free time in the world. It has been a peculiar adjustment, to say the least. But it’s comforting to know that every day, without fail, I can pick up my guitar and learn something new from my favourite band.
Remember being 12 years old? Yeah, I try not to either. But what I do remember is being the kid who read all the time. I would tear through book after book – for fun! How long has it been since you’ve read for fun? In the last few years I’ve found it nearly impossible, what with all the reading I already have to do for my university courses, not to mention how busy my part-time job and homework keeps me. Pleasure reading is for breaks only.
Well, we’ve just been hit with the biggest break the world has ever seen. If you’re not a front-line worker you’ve likely got more free time than ever before. Why not pick up a book? Lucky for you, I’m one step ahead. Here is a list of seven books that will make you read with the fervor of a 12-year-old who hasn’t been burdened with unemployment or calculus.
The Long Walk – Richard Bachman (a.k.a Stephen King)
Before the Hunger Games, there was The Long Walk.
The Long Walk takes place in the not-so-distant future. Every year on the first of May, 100 teenage boys enroll in the Long Walk. If you break the rules, you get three warnings. If you exceed your limit, you’re out – for good. The walk goes on until only one boy remains, and he will win everything he could ever want – but at what price?
I’ve read dozens of King books, but this is the one I always recommend to a newcomer. I physically couldn’t put it down. The Long Walk is brilliantly existential, surprisingly emotional, with each page more harrowing than the last. Not the sunniest of reads, but trust me, you’ll be thinking about this one for days.
The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas
Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.
I have never read a book that has made me so angry. There were several moments where the only thing that prevented me from screaming with frustration was the fact that I didn’t want to freak out my roommates. I read the last 150 pages in one sitting because I simply couldn’t put it down. I will never experience Starr’s plight. But thanks to the eloquent work of Angie Thomas, I can at least begin to understand. This is a book I think every person can benefit from reading.
The Testaments – Margaret Atwood
Listen, I did not want a sequel to the Handmaid’s Tale, nor did I think the world needed one. But did I pre-order my copy and pay to see Margaret Atwood do a live reading at my university? You bet your ass I did. No, we did not need this book, but I loved every page of it.
The Testaments picks up roughly 15 years after Offred disappears into the van at the end of The Handmaid’s Tale. There are three perspectives; a young woman who grows up in Gilead, a teenage girl who is free in Canada, and a notorious villain whose motives may not be as heinous as we once thought.
There are two downsides to this book: the first is that Margaret Atwood is a little bit out of touch with being a teenage girl, so some of those chapters didn’t sit quite right. The second is that you’ll probably have to read The Handmaid’s Tale first, and while it is a brilliant book, it is deeply depressing and very slow at times. You could always just google the synopsis – I won’t tell.
The Secret Lives of Sgt. John Wilson: A True Story of Love and Murder – Lois Simmie
I had to read this book in my grade 12 English class, and let me just say, it was WILD. Picture a classroom full of 17-year-old gremlins with various ranges of literacy, all of whom are absolutely engrossed with this novel.
Secret Lives follows the true story of a Scottish man, John Wilson, who disgraced his name and moved to Canada, leaving his wife and children behind. In 1914 he joined the Mounties, and while stationed in Saskatchewan he caught tuberculosis and fell in love with the much younger woman who nursed him through it. But it isn’t long before his wife back in Scotland sets out to find him, and what happens from then on is nothing short of tragic.
It has been over three years since I read this book, and I’ll never forget where I was when the big plot twist happened. If you like true crime or Canadian history, do yourself a favour and pick this one up.
The Female of the Species – Mindy McGinnis
This is a contemporary young adult book that deals with rape culture in a way I have not read in any other book.
After Alex’s sister is murdered and the killer walks free, she takes justice into her own hands. Living with what she’s done is easy but opening up to those around her – new friend Peekay and budding romance Jack – is not. As the trio navigates their senior year, tensions boil as Alex’s darker nature unfolds.
Tragic as it may be, I think you could hand this book to any young woman and she will find a character with whom she deeply relates to. It is an authentic portrayal of young-adulthood and the horrors that come along with it, while finding love in unexpected places.
Educated – Tara Westover
Educated is the true story of Tara Westover, the seventh child of survivalists in the mountains of Idaho. She never received a birth certificate and never attended school, spending her childhood working in the family junkyard. Her father forbade hospitals, so head injuries, burns, and gashes were treated with herbalism. In her teens, she bought the textbooks needed to learn the content for the ACT’s. To her shock, she passed with a mark high enough to enroll in Bringham Young University. At 17 years old, Tara Westover stepped into a classroom for the first time.
This woman is absolutely astounding. I could barely handle trigonometry after a decade of math lessons, I cannot fathom having to teach it to myself. But her journey was so traumatic, and her self-discovery is just as admirable as her brilliant mind.
A Series of Unfortunate Events – Lemony Snicket
Perhaps you read this series when you were actually 12. Well, I can confirm that the series is just as entertaining to read as an adult.
The series follows Violet, Klaus and Sunny Baudelaire, whose parents die in a mysterious fire, leaving behind an enormous fortune for Violet to inherit when she comes of age. The siblings are sent to live with their villainous distant relative, Count Olaf, and from there, nothing but misery ensues.
Of course, the hijinks and mystery are fun for the kiddos, but there’s so much more to the series than that. The series looks at how adults are often complicit in the abuse of children, whether it’s been too scared to help, too dismissive to believe, or too proud to listen. Another overarching theme of the series is that people are not inherently good or evil, and that morality is a choice that needs to be made every day.
There are also man-eating leeches and a cult. Enough said.
Did we miss any of your favourites? Let us know in the comments!
I know there was a time when it was different, and I cling to these memories with all my might. Wearing wind pants and blue rubber boots and sloshing about in the puddles that overtook the path behind my childhood home. Marveling at the consistency of mud, how there was truly no color so pure as it. Even in my older years, driving with the windows down just enough to offset the endless winter I was accustomed to, but not so far that a passing car would accidentally splash my interior.
The springs of my adulthood have been far less magical. In March 2019, shortly before I turned 20, I was more depressed than I had ever been in my life (which seemed to be a record I broke every year). I don’t remember why, and perhaps it’s because I’ve simply chosen to forget. But I’ll never forget how I felt. Every step felt like a marathon. The inside of my head was blurry, I didn’t eat, and I cried nearly every day. Tasks like getting off of my couch for a cup of tea felt insurmountable, so I finally stopped trying. There were, of course, the terrible thoughts and breakdowns that come with all bouts of mental health problems, but I had never felt so physically ill before.
I got bloodwork done, desperate for an answer. A nurse called me a few days later. By this point, I was completely bedridden and had long since called in sick to work. I answered the phone from my daze, not bothering to sit up.
“Did you know you have mono,” the nurse asked after the exchange of pleasantries. In spite of myself, I laughed, relieved to have a reason for my misery beyond my usual mental health problems.
For the remainder of the school year, I practically lived on my couch. I would interval studying for finals and taking naps. I begged my boyfriend to get tested, but he refused. My antagonizing roommate would not even bring me a glass of water on the days I was too dizzy to walk down the stairs. I had never been so miserable in my life. The only things that had managed to bring me some sort of comfort were cracking a window to breathe in the fresh spring air, which once brought me so much solace, and drinking cups of tea to replace most meals.
One year later, everything is exactly the opposite.
It was a winter of change; I broke up with my boyfriend and my mood improved immensely. I live with three roommates, all of whom I love, in a beautiful house that we rent. My writing is being published more than ever (frequently), and I am finally being paid. I secured a coveted summer internship. I am excelling in my classes.
And then I don’t get sick, but the rest of the world does.
In February, I will admit that I was part of the group of people who wondered if the mass panic around COVID-19 was being blown out of proportion. At this time, Canadian cases were sparse. I wasn’t vocal about my bewilderment, but I did silently resent that I couldn’t use my to-go cups at coffee shops and that my upcoming work event might be canceled.
Within weeks, I didn’t have a job. I canceled my upcoming trip to Europe that I had spent months saving for. My parents weren’t allowed to leave Saskatchewan to come see me in Alberta. I wasn’t allowed to go five blocks over to see my baby cousin.
I now know that the mass panic was not blown out of proportion. I wash my hands whenever I touch something new. I bleach every surface of our house relentlessly and only leave for the essentials. I am one of the millions of Canadians who have applied for Employment Insurance (EI). I am trying to make the best of it, but the world remains so uncertain. This is not how I imagined my twenties.
I know I am fortunate in many ways, but in times of loneliness, I can’t help but mourn not what I lost, but what was just within reach. And as a snowy Alberta winter melts away, I am once more trapped inside my house, with only the smell of tea and a hesitant spring to tether me to reality.