BC Lion J.R. LaRose began his presentation in Ahousaht by telling his own story. His mother grew up in residential school with the abuses that many aboriginal children who went there experienced. He never knew his father.
“I grew up angry and had no trust,” said LaRose. Many people, just like his mother, turned to alcohol and drugs; something LaRose said tears families apart.
“All I wanted, more than anything was to be loved by a father,” he shared.
LaRose, and fellow Lion Shawn Gore, travelled to Ahousaht Feb. 25 to use their celebrity status to promote Be More Than a Bystander . According to the Ending Violence Association of BC (EVA), the presentation is a ground-breaking initiative aimed at substantially increasing understanding of the impact of men’s violence against women.
As a young man, LaRose endured many heartbreaking hurdles. Without a sober caretaker he was vulnerable and became the target of abuse. Eventually, LaRose discovered football and he said he continued to play it for two reasons: one, he was good at it, and two, he could hit people and not get in trouble.
In order to take football to the pro level, LaRose discovered he needed to pick up his grades in school, and that meant summer school.
“I hated it but I had to put in the effort in order to have that career,” he said.
In 2005 he signed with the Edmonton Eskimos where he played safety until he was severely injured during a game. With his leg broken in half, LaRose was sidelined for a season. To make matters worse, his team didn’t take him back after his recovery.
Looking for new opportunities to play his beloved sport, LaRose flew to British Columbia to try out for the BC Lion’s team. In 2010 he earned a position on the team and he’s been in the province ever since.
Inevitably, LaRose would have to face his former teammates as a BC Lion. When the time came LaRose found himself face-to-face talking trash to his former teammates. Not long after he was carted off the field with a broken leg, the same leg he broke earlier in his career.
LaRose said he stopped letting his anger get the best of him and has learned from his mistakes.
To the youth he said, “Life is about choices; if you want to reach your dreams, your goals, surround yourself with positive people.”
“I did that and I got to hoist up the Grey Cup,” said LaRose.
He reminded the young people that coming from a small community should not hold them back. “I’m from a small community and Sidney Crosby comes from a small community in eastern Canada and he’s one of the best hockey players in the world,” said LaRose. “Dreams do come true,” he added.
Shawn Gore, #85, plays slot back for the BC Lions football team. His presentation to the youth focused on what they can do to prevent violence.
“I have a wife, a daughter and a mother that I love dearly but I can’t always be around to protect them,” he said.
His goal is to teach people to be leaders instead of bystanders.
“I hope that I can trust that someone will step up to help the people I love if something happens and I’m not there,” Gore said.
Successful people, he explained, are brave people. They’re the ones that might have to step up and do something even if their peers may make fun of them for it. But that shouldn’t stop people from doing what is right, he said.
“We need more men to stand up with the women and speak up against violence.” Violence against women is not just a women’s issue, it’s everyone’s issue.
Everyone can play a role in creating a safe place, he said. Rather than ignore a fight, people can help by calling the police, for example.
There are more subtle ways of keeping the peace. Discouraging peers from bullying or making catcalls at women is one example.
“And we can do our part by not joining in on that kind of behavior,” said Gore.
The Ahousaht event was coordinated by Jacquie Adams who works in crime prevention at Ahousaht’s Chah chum Hiyup Teechmiss (a holistic wellness centre). She brought the workshop to her community because it is her goal to bring peace to the community so that the children of today can grow up in a violence-free place, she said.
Two local RCMP officers were in the audience showing their support for the work being done to promote a safe and happy community.
Chief Councillor Curtis Dick thanked the guest speakers on behalf of his council. He said he was grateful that they came so far to share their personal experiences in order to help his people. He acknowledged that almost all of the people in the community have been affected by violence.
The Be More Than a Bystander initiative is a program designed to break the silence surrounding violence against women and girls by providing tools, language and practical ideas about how to be more than a bystander.
This three-year initiative, guided by an advisory group of women who are experts in the area of violence against women, will see sports icons from the BC Lions Football Club use their status and public profile to educate about violence against women in BC and urge everyone to “Break the Silence on Violence Against Women”.
Founding partners are Status of Women Canada, the BC Ministry of Children and Family Development and Encana Corporation.
The BC Lions players will also be going into schools throughout B.C. to talk to students in grades 8 to 12 about how their individual choices and actions can be part of creating positive social change.