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The Alicia Wallace Column: When Opportunity Knocks Make Sure You’Re Ready To Act

Opportunities are everywhere. We tell each other to go out and seize them all the time, but many of them already have names and addresses. We see it in job ads that are so specific that we know the company already found someone, and the ad placement is a matter of course. Guidelines and restrictions for employment, programme admission and contests lock certain groups of people out. They demand diplomas and certificates, professional references, social media links, portfolios, police records and passport photos in addition to other requirements like owning a vehicle or the ability to pay for the experience they are offering. Opportunities are not as accessible as we like to think, and they are not open to just anyone. The requirements alone serve as a filter.

In most spaces, access to one opportunity can lead to many more. There is a domino effect. I have seen this in my own work and in observing the others in similar fields. You can leverage one job or contract to get another. Scholarships, attendance at conferences, presentations and publications are all steps toward gaining more. What is often thought of as a meritocracy is a form of nepotism. Access is less dependent on the value of contributions than personal connections, however tenuous, and perceptions of existing access. Conference organisers saw you at a workshop last year, so they invite you to attend their upcoming event. In fact, since you were there, they assume it is important for you to be in these spaces, so they extend an offer to fund your participation. This may be great for you, but not necessarily for the people you work with or represent — government, company, NGO, community. The same people occupy many spaces and have no obligation to share information or resources within their networks when the event is over. It is not much different from government ministers travelling to meetings and review sessions where they receive information, make statements and sign agreements, often without ever reporting back to citizens.

We learn to celebrate our accomplishments very early in life. These include good grades, graduations, scholarships, job offers and the opportunities that come our way, often to the exclusion of other people. We are convinced it is because our work is undeniably outstanding and our personalities are glowing. How could we not be awash with opportunities? While we may, indeed, be deserving, it is important to think about why our access is different from others.

I have been to a number of conferences, workshops, trainings and networking events and met scores of people with similar areas of focus. Being connected on social media and the frequency with which people share their accomplishments and engagements enables me to see the opportunities they have and use. Event photos show the same faces over and over again. The degrees of separation melt away as people I met in completely different environments and for different reasons cross paths. It becomes clear that some of these people accept any invitation extended to them, likely because it makes them look important, further validates their work (or the work they claim to do), and inevitably leads to more of the same — opportunities extended on the basis of where they have already been rather than what they have done. It is, quite often, the hoarding of opportunities and refusal to share with others.

It is tempting to seize every opportunity, especially when it feels like we are in constant competition for positions, money, power and access to resources. For some of us, there are other stakes and we have made commitments to our communities. It is important to assess opportunities and our suitability. Am I the best person to represent the community being championed in this space? Is this opportunity aligned with my current work and goals? Is there someone else on my team who could benefit from this opportunity? Is there a person or organisation that should be in this space? Honestly answering these questions can help us to be true to ourselves and one another. Sometimes there’s someone better who can participate. If you can never think of anyone to recommend, it’s time to work on expanding your network with a focus on quality rather than quantity.

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De'Andranique Minus

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Kenniyha Rolle

Let’s do what we can to help Kenniyha and De’Andranique

We have a health crisis. Health insurance is not accessible for many people and illness does not spare people earning low incomes. Far too many people are not able to afford annual visits, much less unexpected doctor visits and the myriad of tests often required for proper diagnosis. Undergoing testing is even more terrifying when you not only have to find the money to pay for it, but have to think about what you will do when you find out what is wrong. Getting locked out of health insurance is even worse than not having it at the start. How does a person without health insurance deal with the diagnosis of a life-threatening illness?

There are cookouts every weekend to raise money for medical expenses. Cancer, auto-immune diseases, transplants and emergency surgeries come up far too ofte, and we are not prepared. Patients frequently depend on family members and friends to plan events to help with the high cost of health care. It has become the norm, but this is no way to function. We, as a country, need a better system.

Last week, two children were in the news, asking for assistance with medical costs. Sixteen-year-old De’Andranique Minus was diagnosed with ovarian cancer which has now spread to her liver and spleen. She is in need of surgery and a GoFundMe campaign at gofundme.com/dede-medical-funding has raised $5000 toward the $200,000 needed. Nine-year-old Kenniyha Rolle was in the Intensive Care Unit last week, expected to have a procedure to remove a brain tumour. Her family is requesting donations (Scotiabank account number 4006567) to help transport Kenniyha to the U.S. for further treatment.

Let’s do what we can to help De’Andranique and Kenniyha to overcome these health challenges, and push for a system that does not force us to do this every time. Patients and their families should be able to focus on their health and wellness rather than consumed with mounting medical bills and initiatives to get them paid.

When small is beautiful

Did you participate in World Earth Day this year? I spent very little time indoors on Monday, so I didn’t make any significant changes to my consumption. We don’t talk enough about environmental issues outside of complaints about dump fires, or acknowledge climate change and the threat it poses against our island nation. This could be our undoing.

One of the best indicators of our concern for the environment is the condition of our beaches on and immediately after big beaching days. We are tremendously proud of our beaches and there is nowhere we’d rather be on a fair weather holiday, but they are often left in a sad state. It has to be noted that many of them do not have (enough) garbage bins and they need to be checked more often, especially on holidays, but we can do better too. Take your own garbage bags, especially if you are with a group and taking things that create waste.

World Earth Day comes once per year, but we’re here every day. The plastic ban is set to be in place next year. What have you done to prepare? Get reusable grocery bags, invest in bamboo straws and think about ways to store food. We like to say we’re here for a good time, not a long time, but we can make sure the planet survives this generation. Turn off the television when no one is watching, take your own reusable water bottle and be a conscious consumer. Small changes can have big impact.

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