Essay submitted by Joy Loewen
CEO, National Screen Institute; Board Member (2019-present), The Winnipeg Foundation
The first time I saw a reflection of myself on screen was when I watched actress Bern Nadette Stanis play Thelma in the 1970s television show, Good Times.
Thelma was Black. Just like me.
She looked like me, acted like me and she too was also the only girl in her family sandwiched between brothers. But she lived in the projects in Chicago and I lived in Steinbach, Man. – not the typical community for a Black girl in the 1970s!
My Caribbean parents came to Canada as newlyweds in the late 1960s. Originally they attended bible school in southern Alberta then moved to Steinbach – a rural, predominantly Mennonite town in southeastern Manitoba.
There were few People of Colour in Steinbach in 1976 so our Black skin meant we looked different from everyone else in the population of 6,000. We were the first all-Black family and, for many years, I was the only Black girl at my school.
Which is why a TV show like Good Times rocked my world. Seeing a version of myself on screen connected me to Black pop culture and gave me a sense of belonging.
Regardless of their form, stories provide a broad platform for myriad voices to be seen and heard. They can remind us of where we come from and inform where we go. To paraphrase author, poet and spoken word artist Sonya Renee Taylor, through stories we can “stitch a new garment” of cultural equality and tolerance and create kinder, more empathic communities.
It’s 45 years since my parents first arrived in Steinbach. And now, in 2021, I proudly call Winnipeg home. I love the diversity reflected by the people who live in this city. But there’s more work to be done before that new garment of equity is stitched.
In my role as a member of The Winnipeg Foundation Board of Directors and CEO at the National Screen Institute – Canada (NSI) – a not-for-profit providing inclusive customized training, mentoring and support to help creators change the world through the power of story – I am driven by a desire to support and promote greater representation in stories so Winnipeggers can see a reflection of themselves regardless of race, culture, gender, sexual orientation or abilities – and know they matter.
Richard Wagamese, in his book Embers, sees story as the essential ingredient that sustains us and our communities.
“In the drape of moonbeams across a canvas of snow, the lilt of birdsong, the crackle of a fire, the smell of smudge and the echo of the heartbeats of those around us, our ancestors speak to us, call to us, summon us to the great abiding truth of stories: that simple stories, well told, are the heartbeat of the people. Past. Present. Future.”
As I look ahead 100 years and reflect on ways to deepen The Foundation’s vision to be a place where community life flourishes for all, I believe we must listen to the precious voices whose stories matter so deeply.
Stories are so much more than words on a page or an oral retelling. They give us a sense of where we belong and build the bridges that allow us to live in harmony as one beating heart.
As podcaster George the Poet says, “Everything you know is a story.” So, let’s nurture them together and work towards a culturally equitable future for our city and the rest of the world.
Joy Loewen is a media industry executive with a passion for nurturing the development, production and promotion of storytellers.
She is currently the CEO at the National Screen Institute, a not-for-profit training and mentoring organization that supports creators who change the world through the power of story. Joy is an active volunteer with leadership roles on several community and non-profit boards and councils including The Winnipeg Foundation, Manitoba’s Order of Manitoba and Queen’s Council advisories. She also serves as a civilian aide to The Honourable Janice C. Filmon, Lieutenant Governor of Manitoba.