Diverse Hands

Written by Anna Chilton

Dandelion Time is Growing

Many of us have realised, after the shocks of this pandemic, that connection to nature and people can get us through the toughest of times. The work of Dandelion Time has been to harness both in healing children and families from trauma. As Dandelion Time opens its doors to new communities, we look to cherish the diverse heritage of every person who walks through the door. The houses and gardens might change but the environment at Dandelion Time will always focus on healing, welcoming and accepting. This is the foundation on which Dandelion Time is built.

As a volunteer, I have witnessed the effort that goes into ensuring that those who walk through the door really do feel welcome. Every space is adapted with access for those of different abilities and a range of demographics sit at the Board, including a mother of a child who was previously under Dandelion’s Time care. There is a new diversity and inclusion policy update on the way, and as we look at how Dandelion Time can become a truly diverse organisation, we have asked ourselves some difficult questions. It takes courage and effort to make sure that every voice is included and heard, but it is worth the effort because we know that our future lies in diverse hands.

These last couple of years have certainly widened our perspective on the topic of diversity and inclusion. Against the backdrop of Black Lives Matter and the Me Too movements, the marches, debates, and dialogue of Twitter, there was that final scene of the European Cup. I was heart broken to see all the racism that preceded the match and, I guess, the love for the game, which can overrule compassion for common
humanity. The recent events which brought discrimination into the limelight are but a glimpse into what is the status quo for people who are dealing with prejudice daily. At the core of this topic, which touches us all, is the question of fairness.

‘Sometimes I look at these brilliant kids and my heart sinks at feeling that they have no chance because of how society is today.’ Graham, Chief Executive Officer at Dandelion Time.

For some, irrespective of how brilliant you might be, you have to accept that doors will be closed to you because of prejudice. This alone means that there is a segment of the population accessing benefits, simply based on gender, skin colour and position in society. Would access based on merit better benefit society? Prejudice does far from stop here. There is underhand and blatant discrimination, which (depending on how far you are from the privileged segment) you have to chance encountering at every turn. Shame, disheartenment and bolted doors – this is the past and the present of discrimination, not the future anyone would want for their children.

Interwoven Privileges

I asked a young friend from Africa, studying in Europe, to tell me about the role that discrimination has played in his life. When we sit down to talk, I notice that Tanaka is the kind of person that makes everything look stylish. He turns out the sleeves of his shirt with care, as if concerned about bending the fabric. He takes his appearance seriously, and the same goes for his choice of words. Eloquent and persuasive, his speech has the same potency as a whisper in a crowd. Student president, anthropology major, he speaks 5 languages. Yes, accomplished and gifted, but it’s not this that makes him who he is. Beyond the polish is the gaze of a person determined to get to the bottom of life, somehow at odds with what one might expect of a young man. The steady tone of his eyes reflects a strong interior he has sculpted over the years, made of defiance, silence and retaliation. This is the construction of a person in a world of prejudice agains blacks, gays and foreigners.

“It was a warm day at the end of the summer”, he tells me, “I was travelling by train to Zurich with a friend, the carriage was full. The ticket controller walked in and headed straight to the back of the carriage where we were sitting. He asked me for my tickets and then for my passport, questioning whether I was planning to stay in the next town, for how long and (strangely) why my friend and I came from different countries. I asked him to explain to me why he was checking our travel documents and no one else’s. The carriage was silent, people turned away, pretending not to look. The controller was at first taken aback that I questioned him, there was a pause and he looked at my watch. It was an antique Swiss watch. He looked at me. He looked at my watch. His tone changed. He started to make smalltalk about how the next town had a watch factory, then left the carriage without checking anyone else’s documents. My friend and I were the only black people on the carriage”. Tanaka explains that discrimination and privilege are often interwoven. “Threatening because I’m black and a man. Threatened because I’m gay. Respected because I’m educated. Rejected because I’m African.”

‘A great deal of change has happened. The very fact that we are able to imagine connectedness between struggles against racism, imperialism and homophobia, and discrimination against people who are differently abled; this is an indication that we have moved forward.’ Angela Davies, Social Justice Icon

Courage to Respond

Finding a voice when faced with discrimination is often the biggest challenge of all. “I learned how to maintain my dignity amid blatant discrimination. Expressing myself as a young gay man was harder than being black. That was until I started working – people would assume I was the coffee boy, not the manager”, recalls Tanaka. “It was embarrassing and hurtful but I had to prove myself so I would force myself to correct the situation. It has to be done but afterwards you feel exhausted. With practice, I understood that it’s important to allow people to learn at their own pace and stand back when people realise they made a mistake. I want to salvage whatever is possible from the interaction.”

The skill and tenacity that Tanaka was able to develop over the years is not a given. So many voices are muted for fear of loosing acceptance, not knowing or trusting ourselves to respond the ‘right way’ to discrimination, worried of appearing hysterical and falling into the trap of cliches associated with a demographic. As a woman, I have witnessed verbal gender-based harassment on many occasions, I and the women around me were unable to speak up for fear of playing into stereotypes and being labelled as ‘difficult’.

‘‘Going high’ doesn’t mean you don’t feel hurt, or you’re not entitled to an emotion; it means that your response has to reflect the solution.’ Michelle Obama, Time Magazine

It is certainly tiring to carry the burden of prejudice and always take the higher ground, even harder to know how to phrase the solution. How could we possibly expect a child to know how to respond to discrimination? “I wish someone in that carriage said something,” remembers Tanaka, “because it would confirm that I’m not totally disconnected, that other people saw it too and they also thought it was wrong.”

‘Looking beyond anger and holding onto the certainty of the tenderness underneath is essential. Addressing the burning question held by many people (of colour): Can I be angry, and even confrontational, as sometimes I feel, and still be loved?’ The Race Conversation, Eugene Ellis

Silent Correctness

We have to tackle political correctness when discussing diversity and inclusion, we simply have to. This is what everyone seems to be frustrated with. There is even a dedicated episode on the topic on Netflix. Amid rotating terminology, we might think it’s best not to say anything at all. It would be naive of us to assume that language doesn’t matter. Words are loaded with images, associations and feelings, they can be misinterpreted, misspoken and easily misplaced. Yet the wrong words are not the reason that many children and families from ethnic groups seek councillors of similar backgrounds. Pratima Patel, a child therapist of Indian heritage
explains that, “In the therapy room we are seeking acceptance, understanding and an openness to every topic.” We may fumble through words but, if our intention is one of curiosity and understanding, we will get it right.

‘There is something deeply satisfying about aligning our outer behaviours with our inner human values of liberty and individual freedom that makes the journey worthwhile.’ The Race Conversation, Eugene Ellis. At the neurological level, diversity means viewing difference as a gift rather than as a disability. Graham explains that we need to practice caution when labelling behaviour, the diagnosis might well be culturallybiased. The danger is skewed statistics at the macro-level, and lives unnecessarily weighed down by prejudiced diagnosis, at the personal level. Dandelion embraces the concept of neurodiversity, where neurodivergence (e.g. autism, ADHD, dyslexia, bipolarity) are not labelled as a medical/psychiatric pathology but are instead seen as any other type of human diversity – a source of creative potential. ‘All behaviour is a form of communication. All behaviour has a cause.’ Elaine Halligan, Director of The Parent Practice, and author of the best-selling book, My Child’s Different.

There is a simple value placed at the heart of everything that happens at Dandelion Time. One principle. Everything we do is for the benefit of the child. A value-based organisation is less focused on the superfluous. Who we are and where we come from is less relevant than what we stand for. This relates to the healing process, which extends to the natural world. “Since nature is available to all of us,” explains Graham, “the ideas Dandelion gives to children can be sustained throughout their lives, making them free to continue self-healing.” Experiential therapy seeks to go beyond mental paradigms and judgements.” Just sensing again brings them back.”

Where the Roots Go

‘…a belief (real or imagined) that the benefits of society in which they live are not accessible to them’ DeGruy, 2005

Not all communities have access to the natural world. Some feel unsafe in community parks and green spaces. This is one of the challenges Dandelion Time has looked to address, by involving parents in the exploration of the benefits of outdoor spaces, “Sometimes, it’s enough just to show them that the park is safe,” explains Dr Caroline Jessel, Founder of Dandelion Time. Kathik Vijayakumar, Dandelion Time Board Member, has worked extensively with disadvantaged children in India, where, in built-up cities, access to parks (for some) is a distant dream. He explains that access to opportunity has been limited, historically, “Discrimination can be cultural. To break through these walls requires exceptional support but the confidence to reach out is very rare.” He has seen children break through socio-economic barriers then they have exposure to inspiring characters. “With no access to mentors outside of their immediate environment, they cannot come to know about opportunities, and the sparks that are needed are so few.” A family member, a teacher, a councillor, a mentor who can throw the ladder down, these are the sparks which can light up a life. Healing the wounds of discrimination can take generations but we can start building bridges, right here. By inviting the natural world into the healing process, we use the one leveller we all share. Looking at a beautiful flower, we see the same masterpiece. Might we paint each other with more than just one colour.


SOURCES: The Race Conversation by Eugene Ellis, Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg, Time to Talk by Alex Holmes, The Body is Not an Apology by Sonya Renee Taylor, Braving the Wilderness by Brene Brown, Where Should We Begin, Esther Perel, Time to Talk with Alex Holmes, Counsellors and Psychotherapists of Black, African, Asian and Caribbean Heritage (BAATN)