Sam Sullivan Intercultural Campaigner

Sam Sullivan Intercultural Campaigner

By:  Dr. Jan Walls

He is probably best known to most British Columbians as the 38th Mayor of Vancouver.  He is also the founder of innovative organizations, such as the Tetra Society which enables people with disabilities to connect with volunteers who develop devices that allow them to partake in activities previously unavailable to them; and the ConnecTra Society, which assists disabled people in finding gainful employment.  He has initiated and promoted the development of assistive devices that enable people with disabilities to fly ultralight aircraft, and even climb Mount Kilimanjaro or reach the base camp of Mount Everest.  Twenty million dollars has been raised by the Sam Sullivan Disability Foundation, which so far has supported at least 10,000 disabled people.

But this is not why I am celebrating him in this article.  And I’m not celebrating him because he started the EcoDensity Initiative to reduce the environmental damage created by cities, which won him the Canadian Planners Institute’s  highest award for city planning, or because of his active role in the creation of the Street to Home Foundation and the Inner Change Society which supports drug maintenance programs for people with addictions.  Nor am I writing about him because he formed the Global Civic Policy Society, which promotes innovative ideas presented by Vancouver’s thinkers and doers, or because he is the Director of the Center for Sustainable Market Urbanism, which looks to the wisdom of past ages for insights into current issues in urban reform.

I’m writing about him because I see him as an outstanding example of a “mainstream” intercultural citizen.  I was aware that he had learned to speak Cantonese years ago, even before he was elected mayor, as I became personally acquainted with him when we both performed roles in a Cantonese stage play at the Chan Centre, to raise funds for a local hospital foundation.  I learned that he could not only speak Cantonese, but could read Chinese characters too.  Then later I heard that he had learned to speak Punjabi as well.  Later, as mayor of Vancouver in 2006, when he accepted the olympic flag in Turin on behalf of our city, he addressed the audience in Italian, which he had learned to speak as a child growing up in Vancouver’s east side.

Languages are windows into cultures, and in Sam’s own words, “The world is getting smaller and it is essential that we learn to appreciate other cultures and embrace them as our futures are inextricably linked…. Understanding each other’s cultures not only makes us richer in experiences but ensures that our futures will be respectful and harmonious.”  This not only reflects his worldview, it explains his cityview of Vancouver and his embracing of diversity in its many forms — cultural, linguistic, ethnic, religious, etc.

To encourage fellow Vancouverites to become more familiar with the basics of each other’s languages and cultures, he founded and operates the Greeting Fluency Initiative to encourage citizens to learn basic greeting phrases in the languages of their neighbors. Like myself, he believes that competence in more than one language and culture not only doesn’t make us any less Canadian, it makes us more competent Canadians in the global village.  In his own words, “sharing in other’s cultures means we think less about “them”and more about‘us’.”He practices what he preaches, and this is a model worth celebrating.

Courtesy of What’s in Magazine


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