Meaningful change

Cicely Blain is an artist at heart yet she wears many hats including consultant, facilitator, writer − not least of which is as a social activist, who played a major role in 2016 Vancouver’s ‘Black Lives Matter.’

The British consultant launches a series of talks engaging Vancouverites on social change − focusing on equality, diversity and accessibility, mixing social justice and business. The project focuses on social issues in the workplace as much as daily life.

Blain wants to take on problems faced by the LGBT community just as much as racism.

“My aim is to fight discrimination,” she says.

Visible minorities

It was not just issues facing the LGBTQ community. Blain started to engage with the Canadian concept of “visible minorities” which pushed her to write an op-ed titled “No, UBC, I won’t be white for you” that looked at the use of skin bleaching cream in The Talon, University of British Columbia`s (UBC) alternative media.

“Yes, many people use skin bleaching creams and perhaps my initial reaction seemed culturally insensitive, but in a settler-state like Canada, it is only more obvious how all attempts to whiten, Westernise and anglicise Indigenous people and people of colour are instances of oppressive and colonial violence,” she argued.

She later called for UBC to take a challenge.

“UBC teaches many things, but it fails to teach students of colour that we are valuable. It fails to undo colonial processes that marginalise and stigmatise blackness, brownness and indigeneity,” says Blain.

From student to a force of change

Blain arrived in Vancouver as a UBC student from England and majored in Modern European Studies with a minor in Russian language in 2012 and completing her studies in 2016.

Cicely Blain, artist, social activist and consultant. | Photo by K. Ho

During her student years, Blain was busy as she took on many projects, something she says newcomers to Canada should do.

“Look at posters, get involved in anything, meet people and join clubs,” she says.

Blain also played a key role in a presentation under the UBC Caribbean African Association, focused on the situation facing the LGBTQ communities, both at home and away, but this paved the way for her becoming more engaged with social activism in Canada.

She spoke about “the preconceived idea of black people in Canada and the discomfort in being the only black person” − just as much as the awareness of rejection felt within the LGBT community − as a factor that contributed to her campaign.

During her student years, Blain was an active student who took on various roles, including the Global Lounge Community Animator, Vice President of the British Club of UBC, founder of the Celebrating Women at UBC programme and later worked with the LGBTQ community around Vancouver through engagement with CampOUT! (social justice leadership for queer, trans and youth in B.C. and the Yukon).

Her core message was that “it’s ok to be queer” − something not made clear, but simply accepted by Canadians.

Making major change

Vancouver saw significant progress in 2016 with the launch of “Black Lives Matter” in solidarity with the American institutional racism experienced by black people.

“I think a lot of people do have the assumption that Canada is a post-racial society,” says Blain.

Her activism and leadership generated more than $20,000 in 2016 and aimed to conquer the social issues impacting minorities and enabling a better community for all.

“We wanted to show that there are black people in Canada and racism is still a thing that exists here in Canada,” she says.


Activism and experience were the foundations for a new venture that Blain hopes will help Vancouver to enhance the community’s understanding of multiculturalism and generate a path of hope.

“Waaw!” means “yes” in Wolof, a Gambian term − and now the name of the inspiring Vancouver series of events that will encourage critical thinking among professionals with inspiration from a range of speakers.

The first event is titled “How to Mix Social Justice and Business” on April 5 and is followed by “How to support LGBT Staff and clients” and more.

“My mission is to be inclusive of the community and to create a community based model,” she says.

Blain hopes her project will bring together the communities across Vancouver.

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