Embracing one’s identity is a process of self-discovery leading to self-affirmation, self-acceptance and a sense of pride. For students from marginalized groups, this process is facilitated when it is grounded in a social justice framework, and supported by the development of critical-thinking skills. Through this lens, young people gain understanding, insight and clarity as they reflect on information and messages from the dominant culture that they have absorbed.
As a whole school, how can we honour students’ achievement while preserving the dignity of those who feel shame for their circumstances? In our school, we had awards and those chosen were not necessarily the best students but those who overcame adversity. Who beats the odds this year? Who is the most improved, who overcame the most adversity? The award showed us that it’s not where you come from that matters.
The process of reclaiming one’s identity, embracing one’s culture and learning one’s history and language is often associated with healing for First Nations, Métis and Inuit young people, and for their families and communities. While this process and its roadblocks are distinct for different people, it is similarly positive, powerful and meaningful for young people from other marginalized groups.
Such a process, leading to embracing one’s identity as part of a larger community, is known as collective empowerment. For many students, this process contains the seeds of their empowerment as individuals, and individual and collective empowerment represents two halves of a whole.