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What you need to know about COVID-19: September 18, 2020
Thousands of people filled Centennial Square in Victoria on Sunday and spilled onto surrounding streets on Sunday for the Peace Rally for Black Lives.
Canadian rugby player Pam Buisa was one of the organizers for a June 7 Black Lives Matter rally in Victoria.
Pam Buisa would have been a near-certain selection for the women’s team that would have competed at the Tokyo Olympics this summer.
The COVID-19 pandemic, of course, intervened. And then George Floyd was killed.
Last Sunday, Victoria saw thousands of people descend upon Centennial Square to protest against racism and inequality.
Buisa was one of the lead organizers — but six months ago she might not have been.
The death of George Floyd in Minneapolis under the knee of a white police officer outraged her.
“I’d had enough. I had to get off social media. I was really sad,” Buisa said.
But with the Olympics postponed a year, she found herself refocusing on social justice.
Now living and training on Vancouver Island, the 23 year old grew up in Ottawa to parents originally from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. They came to Canada in the 1990s after first living in South Africa for a time. Apartheid was still in place.
“Protests were not OK. Speaking up against racism was not OK there,” she said. “That’s the household I grew up in.”
She was scared to speak out. She suppressed her views. She just tried to fit in.
Buisa used to relax her hair and use bleaching creams on her skin, to make herself appear more “white.”
She saw how her highly educated parents were still underestimated by other Canadians because of their accents.
Her own physical stature often made for negative perceptions. One time, in a McDonald’s, a smaller blonde woman was hurling racist slurs at her and her friends, but she didn’t stand up for herself because she thought it would look bad for her to be towering over the other woman.
She worried it might have tarnished her Olympic dreams.
Then, this past winter she saw the protests in support of the Wetʼsuwetʼen people and the Unistʼotʼen camp.
Even when the Canadian team was at a training camp in France, she kept watching and thinking.
“I was always so scared to speak up, because it’s scary to have to not only represent yourself but represent people that look like you as well. That’s a lot of pressure,” she said.
Vanessa Simone, a friend from the University of Victoria, encouraged her to join her at a Black Lives Matter march to the legislature at the end of May.
A few hundred people were at that march. The next day, along with another friend, Asiyah Robinson, the duo set a goal of staging an even bigger rally on June 7.
The reality of COVID-19 meant they needed to take precautions.
They asked everyone to keep focused on staying spread out. That actually made the rally look even bigger.
They had masks and gloves available for free. And they put together a live online stream. More than 10,000 people watched some part of the rally online, she said.
“It was absolutely beautiful,” she said. “This is probably the first time I’ve seen so many black and brown people in Victoria … it’s important that those who have that fire need to share that fire.”
In the crowd were her teammates from the Rugby Canada sevens program, both men and women.
“The rugby community is so beautiful. And what I love about the sport of rugby is that being different, having different skill sets is an asset,” she said. “I think it is just so telling of where we are with Rugby Canada and the leaders that we have within the community. They’re moving in the right direction.”
She also said Rugby Canada’s senior leadership has been very receptive, telling her they there to listen, learn and help.
For real change to start happening, hard discussions need to come next.
“We need to start coming together and figuring out what are the systems that are suppressing us? What are the systems that are preventing us from moving forward,” she said. “We have a platform. We had everybody listen, now, going forward from that we need to not just ask for things, but making them happen.”
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020