Opinion: What I have learned along the way as a person of colour in BC

Photo of a smiling Heather Lynch.

Written for Daily Hive by Heather Lynch, who is a senior program manager with Options Community Services in Surrey, BC and an alum of Royal Roads University's Master of Arts in Leadership program. It is republished with permission.

Read the original piece in the Daily Hive and learn more about the Master of Arts in Leadership program.

I was born and raised in New Westminster, BC, and was fortunate to have a strong family unit to guide and teach me as I grew up in a province with very few people of colour. In fact, I was the only person of colour at my elementary school until my younger brother joined me.

I clearly remember starting kindergarten and feeling awkward as I felt the stares from children who seemed unfamiliar with someone like me, a person of colour.

I managed this difference by quickly identifying similarities between my classmates and myself and making friends. Sports, such as running, were also an outlet I used to stay healthy and positive as I felt different.

Coming from a family of Jamaican descent, I was told early on by my parents that I would need to work harder in life to show my abilities and highlight my passions and talents, as a woman of colour. I did this with enthusiasm, and although it wasn’t always easy, I took these words to heart and forged ahead.

I knew that every weekend, my close, faith-filled family would gather and enjoy time together and this gave me strength.

I also met an unlikely mentor as a young person in school: a BC police constable who saw something in me that maybe I did not yet see in myself. This constable checked in on me regularly, encouraging me, and asking when I planned to join the police force.

Although I didn’t pursue a career in law enforcement, I did choose community work via the Surrey-based non-profit organization Options Community Services, starting there as a youth worker in an emergency group home for children.

I have now been with Options for almost 30 years and I feel pride and passion for the work I do such as supporting youth with a variety of challenges, coaching those who work at our 24/7 crisis line, and working with team members to facilitate counselling for those who desperately need it.

My biggest work passions include coaching and supporting team members to be game-changers in our community and working with the team to develop programs where we see gaps and serious needs.

I received a Bachelor of Arts in Criminology from Simon Fraser University and a Master’s in Leadership from Royal Roads University.

It was during this time, studying for my master’s, that I realized the ways in which I showed up in the world were dependent on my engagement in self-work. During my formal leadership journey, I had the opportunity to address my internal struggles related to impostor syndrome – feeling that I was a fake and that there was a mistake as to why I was in a leadership role. After grasping this issue, it gave me the ability to appreciate the valuable offerings that I had to offer the world.

Options Community Services.

Heather Lynch works with youth in Surrey as part of the Options Community Services program. (City of Surrey)

My academic path also equipped me with the language to help me to articulate my frustrations being a Black female in my industry. Although I share many similarities with other females, my experience is profoundly different being Black. Although I appreciate the struggles of my black “brothas,” their experience is often different than mine.

Surrey, where I work daily, now has the highest percentage of people of colour and that is still low at 2.3%. No matter how low this percentage is, we will continue to grow as a culture, and as we celebrate and recognize Black History Month, my hope is that not-for-profits, all levels of government, and businesses will intentionally explore equitable practices that will help vulnerable and under-represented individuals to thrive.

My advice to young women is to be authentic to their core values and find a career that fills them with joy; one that they are excited about daily when they get up in the morning. It’s also vital to surround yourself with kind and loving people that exercise integrity.

Black History Month is a great time to recognize and celebrate people of colour but I encourage us all to look at the impressive contributions and value of men and women of colour throughout the year. Our population in BC continues to grow, and I am excited to see what my peers of colour will add to BC, and beyond, as we move forward.