Cycling4Diversity team celebrates what it means to be unique with Kelowna students

Students at Bankhead Elementary were given an opportunity to think about and celebrate their differences this week.

Students at Bankhead Elementary were given an opportunity to think about and celebrate their differences this week.

“What does diversity mean?” Ken Herar, the founder of the Cycling4Diversity Foundation asked the hundreds of Kindergarten to Grade 6 who convened in the school gymnasium when he rolled in for a presentation.

One boy’s hand rose in the air, and when the mic was set in front of him, he said “we’re all different.”

Different, yet the same, explained Herar, noting the reason why he was there Wednesday was to get everyone one thinking about how they can build friendships to topple the social barriers that hold communities apart.

First step toward completing that mission was getting a high-fiving series of salutations underway.

“Find someone you’ve never talked to and have a conversation,” he said, asking for older students to high five the younger ones.

After they milled about with their hands in the air and smiles across their faces, Herar said that one, simple act of communication may have made a difference.

A little gesture of friendship can sometimes be hard to find, he said, especially when differences seem so hard to bridge.

The differences that divide were something Herar became acutely aware of one year, when he tried to book tickets for a community Christmas party and was told that “no East Indians” were allowed. It was a blatant act of racism that both unsettled him and alerted him to the fact that a need for something like the  the Cycling4Diversity Foundation and corresponding bike ride were needed.

Since it began in 2011  he and his team have visited close to 100 schools, and are this year slated to make stops at between 50 and 60 more  in 11 cities.

The message doesn’t just pertain to differences of a racial nature, either.

One of this year’s team, Katie Van Nes, pointed out that she just never felt the same as the other kids when she was young. She was bigger, stronger and not a stereotypical girl.

“I didn’t fit in, I wasn’t fashionable,” she told the class.

Those differences weighed her down, until she learned to use them to her advantage.

In high school she started playing rugby, and suddenly her size and power were strengths. In the years that followed she went on to play rugby for both the province as well as a New Zealand team.

Her power, she found, was in her uniqueness.

“Sports can give you the confidence to be yourself,” she told the students.

May 17 to May 23 has been named Cycling4Diversity Week.

Fellow cyclists  Brad Vis and Sukhmeet Singh Sachal, as well as the foundation’s executive director Anne Merie Sjoden shared similar stories on how they used their diversity to their ability their stop in Kelowna.

The public can follow the team’s travels on the foundation’s website, cycling4diversity.ca, or on Facebook under the Cycling4Diversity Foundation.

For more information contact the foundation by email at cycling4diversity@gmail.com.

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