Young Black Lives Matter activists share many of the same social justice values as their Civil Rights Era forebears, but often there’s little interaction between the two generations. Sages and Seekers, an organization that bridges the generational divide, is changing that. In this video, we meet Ava and Mark — she a young activist, he a veteran one. They’re both still fighting, and now, they’re connecting, too.

This is the fifth and final video in “Bridging Divides,” a five-part series hosted by Scott Shigeoka, in which we talk to people whose personal experiences show us how real-life divisions can be overcome. See the transcript of this conversation here

Watch the first video: Is This the Unlikeliest Friendship in America?

Watch the second video: A Therapist Teaches Us How to Connect

Watch the third video: Why Millennials Are Moving into Convents With Nuns

Watch the fourth video: What Canada Can Teach America About Racial Reconciliation

This story was produced by CBC q, a We Are Not Divided collaborator

Simone Saunders and Tekikki Walker have never met each other in person. But the two artists found much in common with each other when they connected as part of a long-distance collaboration.

Their project is part of the Long Distance Art series, an initiative that connects different artists online, kind of like a matchmaking service for creators.

“Tekikki’s work was just mesmerizing to me: the Black content, the color palette, the vibrancy of her work,” Saunders, who is based in Calgary, tells q host Tom Power.

simone saunders
Simone Saunders is a Calgary-based artist who creates hand-tufted textiles. Courtesy of Simone Saunders

For Walker, who lives more than 3,200 kilometers (2,000 miles) away in Cleveland, the professional admiration was mutual.

“I love her work pretty much for the same reasons — a lot of the content and the vibrancy,” she says. “She just seemed like a really dope artist. And I was like, I’m so excited. I want to work with her.”

Saunders and Walker were put in touch with each other by Torontonian Nick Green, creator of the Social Distancing Series that spawned the Long Distance Art Series.

The series connects artists from a variety of media and artistic disciplines from around the world as a way to build bridges between artists and art-lovers as the Covid-19 pandemic makes in-person meetings difficult to impossible.

Saunders and Walker’s project, titled This Ain’t No Video Game, We Want Outta This Circus, explores the parallels between the Black experience, especially anti-Black racism, on both sides of the American-Canadian border.

Both artists submitted a series of images in their preferred medium — digital collages from Walker, and textile “rug tufting” from Saunders.

simone saunders
Courtesy Simone Saunders

The project also includes personal essays from both that compare and contrast their experiences with systemic racism and the unique ways that racism has manifested during the pandemic.

Saunders says they drew inspiration from a Washington Post story in April that described two Black men who were followed by police through a Walmart for wearing protective face masks.

They were particularly struck by Kip Diggs, a 53-year-old Nashville marketing consultant who chose to wear cloth masks in bright, pastel colors like Carolina blue and lime green to appear less intimidating to passersby, including police.

“It says a lot for someone like Diggs, a marketing consultant, to think about the ramifications that stems from stereotyping and how one’s appearance or wardrobe could warrant danger in the face of another crisis,” Walker wrote in her essay.

The story highlighted the fact that some societal schisms have been widened by the pandemic, rather than uniting them.

“We started talking about the pandemic itself … especially in terms of marginalized communities and how they were not receiving the equitable care that was deserving of them,” says Saunders.

Tekikki Walker
Courtesy of Tekikki Walker

Canada doesn’t have any plans to collect nationwide race-based data on the pandemic. But some cities, including Toronto and Montreal, have found that reported Covid-19 cases were more frequently found in neighborhoods with diverse racial backgrounds and lower incomes.

“Unfortunately, [Covid-19] has had a greater impact on those in our community who face greater health inequities,” Toronto’s medical officer Eileen de Villa said in July.

Saunders and Walker began working together in the early days of the pandemic. But soon after, the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis — and the ensuing resurgence of the Black Lives Matter protests — put these considerations into even sharper focus.

“Excuse my language — I’m frankly pissed about everything,” says Walker.

She said she uses contemporary and historical imagery in her digital collages to signal the importance of history and historical context in our current dialogues about systemic racism.

“I want to keep talking about those issues … layering with things that may have happened with Black folks in America and in past times,” she says.

In her essay, Saunders acknowledges that the Black experience in Canada isn’t exactly the same as her peers’ in the U.S., such as Walker.

Tekikki Walker
Tekikki Walker is an artist and designer in Ohio. Courtesy of Tekikki Walker

She’s thankful for her relative economic privilege and access to health care during the pandemic, and put a spotlight on racism that Indigenous and other communities suffer.

Despite these differences, however, they found their causes had more in common with each other, and could strengthen each others’ voices by speaking as one through this project.

“I think that was the most poignant thing, was that two Black women were able to connect over this line in the sand … across borders and really talk about a Black history and what was meaningful to both of us,” says Saunders.

Despite the remote nature of the work and the difficult, personal subject matter, Saunders and Walker consider their contribution to the Long Distance Art Series a success — and, hopefully, the prelude to more collaborations.

“I really do hope that Tekikki and I can stay connected and to keep that sisterhood, because we really are here for one another, even within these two different countries,” says Saunders.

Digital lead producers: Tahiat Mahboob, Ruby Buiza | Copy editor: Brandie Weikle | Web development: Geoff Isaac | Video producer: Andrew Alba | Radio producer: Vanessa Greco | Executive producers: Ann MacKeigan, Paul Gorbould

As the pace of change in our world accelerates, humanity is confronting unprecedented challenges: the climate crisis, economic inequality, endemic military conflict, the coronavirus pandemic, police brutality and systemic racism. At a deep, primal level, this degree of transformation triggers anxiety both about the future and about who we are. We often wonder, will we even have a future? 

But as we approach uncertain futures, there are many paths we can take. Some incite more fear and polarization, while others encourage cooperation, collaboration and solidarity. One makes the “other” a source of that fear and anxiety. A more hopeful approach sees each other as a source of connection and possibility.

This is the time to discern the difference between them — between actions that can instigate what we call breaking, and those that can lead to what we call bridging. Breaking causes fractures; bridging fosters cohesion. When we break, we propagate a fabricated notion of separateness. When we bridge, we soften our identities. We discover multiple identities.

But bridging is not same-ing. Colorblindness, assimilation and smoothing over difference as though it does not matter bypasses much needed repairs we need to make.

Credit: Neil Moralee / Flickr

Bridging is about increasing acceptance of diverse peoples, values and beliefs while giving us greater access to different parts of ourselves. Building bridges can help expand our social networks, revitalize our communities and establish a more fair and equitable society. It can help us build a large “we” that does not demand assimilation.

So we have a choice. We can either turn on each other, or toward each other.

We can turn our attention to the version of our current reality that says that our common bond is wearing away. Or, we can pivot toward ever-present examples of hope, and find that solidarity is the modality that enables us to thrive.

We find hope in stories of the Jewish and Arab women in Israel driving hundreds of Bedouin women from their remote villages to polling stations to protect their right to vote. We find it in the youth soccer program in Lewiston, Maine, where Somali refugees play side by side with their American teammates to set an example for the rest of their community. We find it in the NFL’s reversal of its position on players taking a knee during the national anthem, and the league’s eventual support for the Black Lives Matter movement.

We also find hope in the fact that BLM is widely embraced by Americans: two-thirds of U.S. adults support the movement, including majorities of white (60%), Hispanic (77%), and Asian (75%) Americans. The growing diversity within the movement is illustrative and informative.

These examples and statistics signal a sea change. Both individuals and institutions are dislodging entrenched belief systems and rebuking pressure to “stick with the party line.” While there’s still much work to be done, these are important representations of bridging in this historic moment as we work to abolish long-standing oppression.

Stories of bridging not only offer a salve in a fractured world, they provide tangible frameworks and replicable strategies. They teach us that oneness is not sameness, and that we can overcome the false illusion of separateness by honoring our differences to weave toward common purpose with many tributaries. We can transcend the notion that difference divides us, and instead see that it makes us stronger.

This moment finds us at an inflection point. We can choose to continue the well-worn path of exclusion, supremacy and othering, fueled by narratives of fear and threats. Or we can elevate stories and practices of mutuality and interdependence. We can interrogate the stories we have and identify what might be the most productive and life-affirming story we can inhabit. We can co-create stories where we care about each other. We don’t yet know how our story will end, but this is a great place to start.

This essay is adapted from On Bridging by john a. powell and Rachel Heydemann.