Adrian Harewood arrived a little late for his speaking engagement with the Canadian Club of Morrisburg and District on Wednesday, May 16.
However, this was understandable.
He was still on air when the banquet began, anchoring CBC News Ottawa, before thousands of viewers.
A renowned journalist, radio host (All in a Day) and respected news commentator, Harewood was the final speaker of the Club’s 2011-2012 series. A large crowd of members and guests was on hand to hear Harewood speak on topic about which he clearly has deep feelings, “Volunteers in the Community.”
Personable, outgoing and a gifted speaker, Harewood quickly won over the audience, with his sense of humour. However, there was a serious point to his address.
Canada, like the rest of the world, has changed, he explained, with traditional communities often lost in the new on-line ‘digital’ societies. This is a world made up of hundreds of “friends” that people have never met, will never meet.
“The digital world is, of course, a great creativity source,” Harwood said, “but one effect of this change is that we are in danger of losing the human touch in our lives. Research has found that more people feel disconnected from society than ever before. People seem to be craving the sense of community life, of simple conversations, of recognition. They share a wish that they actually knew their neighbours. Without reminders of what community can be, we may lose parts of our humanity.”
Harewood grew up in Ottawa, a member of a close-knit family where both parents were community activists. They instilled in their son the strong belief that he had a responsibility to people, even to people he would never know. Other people’s lives needed to matter to him.
“Our home was a place where everyone was welcome. I remember my mother bringing home a Tunisian woman, a woman struggling to gain an education and to leave behind the desperate circumstances of her old life. She was Tunisian, Arabic, a francophone, a Muslim, and a Canadian. She became part of our lives. She was a member of our community.”
Harewood’s parents emphasized the need to be involved with the people in one’s community, to work for justice and freedom. They always stressed that everyone has a responsibility to the community.
Years later, Harewood was interviewing former United States president Bill Clinton, and asked him what he saw as the biggest problem of the 21st century.
“The problem, Clinton told me, lies in the struggle to overcome the differences that divide us as a global community.”
Volunteering, actively and personally getting involved in the life of a community, is vital, Harewood stressed.
“The act of volunteering is the connective tissue that ties our communities together. Volunteers are the civil engineers who build a healthy community. They weave the webs of solidarity and compassion. We cannot survive without the support of others because we are the products of our communities.”
Harewood illustrated how the power of volunteering can bring even the most unlikely people together.
He cited the example, a few months ago, of a drought fund raising concert, arranged by young, educated Somalian activists at the Centre Point Theatre.
“They asked me to volunteer to work with them. But what utterly surprized me, when I saw the entertainment bill, was the highly unlikely presence on it of a country and western band made up of middle-aged, conservative, white men. That’s when I came to understand that those young African men and those middle-aged white men shared in common a profound belief in a cause: they were determined to help their community.”
Volunteering, Harewood said, is a gift to our neighbours, and a gift to ourselves. Volunteers often get back far more than they give in terms of new possibilities, of new ways of looking at the world.
Caring about the community, and doing what one can to help and to work with neighbours, makes all of us “more ‘human,’ human beings.”
Adrian Harewood chose words from the reverend Martin Luther King to conclude his address.
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”