For me and for a lot of people, recent political events have made the world feel a little less ... welcoming. And that's true in places outside of America, too.

Janelle Venne, who has lived in Ottawa and, more recently, Alberta, Canada, for most of her life, says this recent surge of hatred is spreading north.

She tries to do her part every day, whether that's volunteering to cover up racist graffiti or just flashing a warm smile to passersby. But Venne says she heard a news story a few weeks back that made her stomach turn. A man had taken a rope out of his jacket, tied it into a noose, handed it to two hijabi women he saw at a light-rail station in Venne's town of Edmonton, and taunted them, singing "O Canada." The encounter was caught on camera by the two women.


“I was thinking, 'Why doesn't somebody do something about this?'" Venne says. "Then I realized: I am somebody.”

Venne came up with the idea to take back her local train station as a safe space for all by handing out flowers to any women she saw there wearing hijab.

Initially, she thought she'd spend about $50 of her own money on a few carnations. But the more people she talked to, the more people wanted to get involved.

Working alongside other volunteers, including Nakita Valerio from AMPAC (the Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council), Venne scraped together over $500 in only 24 hours.

That meant she was able to buy about 1,000 flowers to hand out.

Nakita Valerio (center) and Janelle Venn pose with flowers. Photo by Nakita Valerio, used with permission.

On Dec. 7, 2016, almost exactly a month after the incident, Venne and other volunteers set up shop between two escalators on the main train platform.

People filtered past in bunches — dozens of them, hundreds. And each time a woman wearing a hijab hurried through the crowd, Venne and others quietly slipped her a flower, their way of saying "You are welcome here."

"The first person I gave a flower to, she just about broke out crying and gave me a huge hug," Venne says. Another woman received a flower on her way to class, then came back to the station just to thank the volunteers again.

A group of people are giving out flowers in the University LRT station to Hijabi women in response to the hate crime...

Posted by Yasmeen Abdallah on Wednesday, December 7, 2016

In 12 hours, Venne says, the group handed out over 800 flowers.

And what might be even more encouraging than the sheer number of kind gestures performed by the volunteers that day was the interest from non-Muslim passersby.

"All different kinds of people came up and asked what they were up to and asked how they could help," Venne says. Many of the flowers were given to curious strangers who promised to hand them out throughout the day.

Photo by Nakita Valerio, used with permission.

Of course, not everyone loved what Venne was doing, and a few said so. “But the percentage was so tiny," she says. "They're loud, but they're obviously not the majority.”

Unfortunately, Venne and her friends can't be everywhere in the world at once, making sure everyone feels safe and loved.

So she has a few pieces of advice for anyone who might find themselves witnessing harassment like the incident that took place at her local train station:

“Completely ignore the harasser. Communicate with the person being harassed,” she says. Make normal conversation with them. Make them feel comfortable. “Eventually, the harasser will go away.”

If you're up for doing something more proactive in your own community to make the world feel safer, a little can go a long way.

"Because women who wear hijabs are so targeted and so easy to spot," Venne says, "I figured they should be targeted for a positive reason for once."

Let's Do More Together

A Boston couple moved into a new place the week of lockdown. Here’s how they kept their sanity.

The new litmus test for domestic partnerships? A pandemic.

For medical workers in a pandemic, protecting loved ones can be tricky.

To support this effort and other programs like it, all you have to do is keep doing what you're doing — like shopping for laundry detergent. Turn your everyday actions into acts of good every day at P&G Good Everyday.

True

When Jonathan Irons was 16, he was put on trial for burglary and assault with a weapon. According to CBS Sports, Irons was tried as adult, and an all-white jury found him guilty—despite there being no witnesses, no fingerprints, no footprints, and no DNA proving his guilt.

Irons began his 50-year sentence in a Missouri state prison in 1998. Now, 22 years later, he's a free man, largely thanks to the tireless efforts of a WNBA superstar.

Maya Moore is arguably the most decorated professional women's basketball player in the U.S. A first-round draft pick in 2011, she's played for the Minnesota Lynx, where she became a six-time WNBA All-Star, a five-time All-WNBA First Team player, a four-time WNBA champion, and the WNBA Most Valuable Player in 2014.

But before the 2019 season, in the peak of her career, Moore decided to take the year off for a different kind of court battle—one that had wrongfully convicted a young man and doomed him to spend most of his life behind bars. Her decision rocked her sport, and there was no guarantee that sacrificing an entire season to fight for criminal justice reform would bear any fruit.

Keep Reading Show less