Vancouver Island teen releases ‘devastating’ exploration of local hatred

Comox Valley student creates project addressing intolerance and bigotry in our community

Mackai Sharp's project addressing intolerance and bigotry will premier at the Comox Valley Art Gallery on Dec. 17. Photo supplied

Mackai Sharp knows first-hand about intolerance.

He has experienced it, and seen others suffer through acts of hatred, right there in his Comox Valley backyard.

The lack of tangible action being taken by community leaders to put an end to intolerance and bigotry has been frustrating for Sharp and others to endure. His latest project challenges people to take a deeper look within, and he is hopeful it is the catalyst to real change.

The project was launched on his website Dec. 14, and at the Comox Valley Art Gallery on Dec. 17. The response has been overwhelmingly positive.

“The project was launched a couple of days ago, and it’s made its way not only across the Valley, but across the Island,” he said. “I’m surprised by the amount of support it’s received.”

Mackai Sharp’s project addressing intolerance and bigotry will premier at the Comox Valley Art Gallery on Dec. 17. Photo supplied

Sharp’s project is entitled “Kill Yourself” and done with the help of his photographer friend, Nula Power. It is a photo essay, as well as a written document.

The photo captions offer comments and slurs that have been directed at him personally due to his sexual orientation. Sharp, who is bisexual, said the project is not about his sexuality, or the LGBTQ community in particular, but rather about the larger picture of intolerance and bigotry within the community.

“I am utilizing my experiences as a vehicle to highlight how this intolerance isn’t just for people like me; it’s for a variety of different people in the Comox Valley, and how it is affecting all of them in a very similar manner,” he said. “It’s not just about sexual orientation. It’s about gender identity, people of colour, and anyone whose [similar experiences] have affected their quality of life in this community.

“It’s a way of showcasing that this is happening to a lot of different people.”

Sharp said his personal motivation for taking on this project was frustration due to a lack of acknowledgment from community leaders that such a problem exists in the Comox Valley.

The catalyst was a verbal racial attack launched against two women at a Courtenay restaurant earlier this year.

RELATED: Racial attack at Courtenay restaurant

Sharp, the victims, and a few other witnesses met with government officials in the wake of the incident in an attempt to affect change and have been disappointed with the aftermath, starting with the local school district and working its way higher.

“It’s been five months now. There have been promises that have been made for acknowledgment, for changes in policy, and there has been nothing – not a single acknowledgment.

“It really instilled this frustration and disgust within myself. I was like, if these people, who experienced outright bigotry, couldn’t get any action… it made me feel hopeless. I was so disappointed in my community and its stance on this issue. It brought back a lot of emotions from when I was dealing with the same sort of intolerance. So to deal with that, I used this creative outlet.”

Sharp explains in his written document that the incessant bullying and bigotry he endured in high school eventually made him turn to home-schooling to complete his high school education. (He is in Grade 12 this year.)

Local politicians react

Sharp said the launch of his project on the website has already prompted some response from community leaders, including North Island-Powell River MP Rachel Blaney, who reached out to him after seeing it.

“I think it is powerful and very brave,” Blaney said to The Record, when asked her impressions of the project. “The language Mackai has experienced is absolutely heartbreaking. Part of building strong communities is creating an environment of belonging. To be told you do not belong is an injustice that needs to be addressed and Mackai is doing that.”

“It’s devastating to hear, but also I am very proud of him for being able to voice what we know is happening in our community that we never give voice to,” added Courtenay-Comox MLA Ronna-Rae Leonard, when contacted by The Record. “It’s very impressive, and very brave of him.”

Comox Valley Regional District director Arzeena Hamir was also moved by Sharp’s project.

“I fully understand that Mackai’s story isn’t just a single story,” she said. “I’ve heard it repeated so many times, be it a young woman dealing with sexual assault, a person of colour dealing with a racial slur. I myself have been a target so I know racism is present in the Valley. Our community does not do a great job dealing with difficult situations like this.

“I would love to see the day come for us to say, as a community, if you are a bigot, you are not welcome in the Comox Valley.”

It is reactions like these Sharp was hoping for when he set out to do the project.

“I hope it just, if anything, starts a conversation,” he said. “The concern to me is that we are allowing complacency to become the new normal. We are normalizing silence. I really just want the community to reassess its values.”

What can be done?

Blaney recognizes the need to be more proactive when it comes to intolerance.

“All too often we avoid what scares us. It is important to practise being an ally, because it’s not easy and it doesn’t come naturally to everyone. We all need to be prepared to speak out against discrimination when we see it. There is no perfect reaction and every scenario is different, but inaction can be a matter of life and death, so we need to practise in order to be prepared.”

Leonard pointed to the re-implementation of a BC human rights commissioner as one important step towards making communities safer from acts of intolerance and hatred. BC’s Human Rights Commissioner, Kasari Govender, started her five-year term in September of 2019. (It had been dismantled in 2002.)

She also referred to the government’s work on reforming the Police Act. A special committee was formed in July to examine the current Police Act and bring its recommendations forward.

Sharp is particularly interested in seeing change at the school level, which, according to his project essay is where much of the intolerance is experienced. Sharp says it’s not just students being intolerant towards others, but the authority figures turning a blind eye to acts of hatred.

“I want them to present new options, new change in the district,” he said. “I don’t expect them to do that alone. I am more than happy to meet with them. I know a lot of other students that would be very happy to meet with them. We want the conversation to be positive.”

***

On Dec. 17, School District 71 sent out a statement regarding Sharp’s project.

“We are always concerned to learn that a student felt mistreated or not supported in our schools,” the statement read.

”We must continue to make changes necessary until all our students feel welcomed and cared for. Every child deserves an education free from discrimination, bullying, harassment, intimidation and violence. ”

Mackai Sharp’s project can be seen at his website, Mackaisharp.com (Readers should understand the project is graphic in nature, with bigoted language in the captions.)

Comox Valley

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Emma Nunn from Alberni Valley Rescue Squad waits at the summit of Mount Arrowsmith for the rest of the AVRS rope rescue team on Sunday, Jan. 17, 2021. (PHOTO COURTESY DAVE POULSEN, AVRS)
UPDATE: Injured hikers among three rescued in the dark from Mount Arrowsmith

‘It was a very bad, very precarious spot to be able to locate them’

Parksville Fire Department crews attended the scene of a house fire on Monday, Jan. 18, 2021 at the end of Foster Place in Parksville. No injuries were reported. (Mandy Moraes photo)
Fire crews called to battle house fire in Parksville

No injuries reported, kitty rescued

Kim Burden, executive director of the Parksville and District and Qualicum Beach Chambers of Commerce. (PQB News photo)
PQBeat: Chamber of Commerce executive director Kim Burden looks ahead

Podcast: Talk includes 2021 business plans in Parksville, Qualicum Beach, events and more

The Village Way and Highway 19A roundabout is the Town of Qualicum Beach priority for a grant application. (Google Map)
Qualicum Beach council favours roundabout over turf field project

Mayor believes road project has better chance of landing grant

Curling season is over at the Parksville Curling Club and Qualicum Beach Curling Club. (PQB News file photo)
COVID-19: Parksville and Qualicum Beach curling clubs forced to end season

Restrictions impact financial sustainability of both operations

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry prepares a daily update on the coronavirus pandemic, April 21, 2020. (B.C. Government)
B.C. adjusts COVID-19 vaccine rollout for delivery slowdown

Daily cases decline over weekend, 31 more deaths

A female prisoner sent Langford police officers a thank-you card after she spent days in their custody. (Twitter/West Shore RCMP)
Woman gives Victoria-area jail 4.5-star review in handwritten card to police after arrest

‘We don’t often get thank you cards from people who stay with us, but this was sure nice to see’: RCMP

An elk got his antlers caught up in a zip line in Youbou over the weekend. (Conservation Officer Service Photo)
Elk rescued from zip line in Youbou on Vancouver Island

Officials urge people to manage items on their property that can hurt animals

A Trail man has a lucky tin for a keepsake after it saved him from a stabbing last week. File photo
Small tin in Kootenay man’s jacket pocket saved him from stabbing: RCMP

The man was uninjured thanks to a tin in his jacket

Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation Chantel Moore, 26, was fatally shot by a police officer during a wellness check in the early morning of June 4, 2020, in Edmundston, N.B. (Facebook)
Frustrated family denied access to B.C. Indigenous woman’s police shooting report

Independent investigation into B.C. woman’s fatal shooting in New Brunswick filed to Crown

Delta Police Constable Jason Martens and Dezi, a nine-year-old German Shepherd that recently retired after 10 years with Delta Police. (Photo submitted)
Dezi, a Delta police dog, retires on a high note after decade of service

Nine-year-old German Shepherd now fights over toys instead of chasing down bad guys

Nurses collect samples from a patient in a COVID suspect room in the COVID-19 intensive care unit at St. Paul’s hospital in downtown Vancouver, Tuesday, April 21, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward)
5 British Columbians under 20 years old battled COVID-19 in ICU in recent weeks

Overall hospitalizations have fallen but young people battling the virus in hospital has increased

Canada released proposed regulations Jan. 2 for the fisheries minister to maintain Canada’s major fish stocks at sustainable levels and recover those at risk. (File photo)
New laws would cement DFO accountability to depleted fish stocks

Three B.C. salmon stocks first in line for priority attention under proposed regulations

Trees destroyed a Shoreacres home during a wind storm Jan. 13, 2021. Photo: Submitted
Kootenay woman flees just before tree crushes house

Pamala DeRosa is thankful to be alive

Most Read