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Wednesday, 11 May 2011 20:58

CMHA's Mayor's Luncheon preaches about acceptance in unique way

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By Chris Jaster — This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Monica Knight stood in front of the 150 people who attended the Canadian Mental Health Association’s Mayor’s Luncheon May 5 struggling to communicate.

The keynote speaker of the luncheon was begging for someone backstage to play some music so she could become more comfortable in front of everyone. As soon as the music started, Knight went from leaning against the podium to being full of energy, dancing around while delivering her presentation.

With music playing in the background, Knight continued to dance while delivering her improvised speech on tolerance and acceptance.

Knight eventually mentioned during her presentation that it only takes one person to do something before other people will follow suit. That led one female member of the audience to stand up and start dancing at her table.

She was quickly followed by a few more and within a minute the entire room was on their feet dancing to seventies’ Canadian rock legends Trooper.

That brief moment with everyone in the room, including Mayor Jerrod Schafer, dancing during the presentation brought a large smile to Knight’s face.

“I don’t think I made them do anything,” said Knight, who also had audience members throw streamers during her speech. “I think they let go for a minute. I looked at the mayor, he gave me every encouragement to be who I was. He accepted my style of presentation today. I gained confidence as I progressed.

“I think you saw something special with the audience when they let go and they let that warmth come through in themselves, even though everything they did at this mayor’s luncheon was inappropriate behaviour.”

Knight believes for that time when people threw streamers and danced, they stopped tolerating her during her speech and accepted her.

That was the entire point of her presentation, which she created while in line at the buffet.

When she moved to Canada from Africa, Knight was told how Canadian people pride themselves on being tolerant.

Knight realized she was different and being tolerated. However, she found being tolerated wasn’t bringing her much warmth, nor did she find she was able to connect to her new country.

It wasn’t until she joined mental health organizations that she finally felt accepted.

The transformational speaker hoped her unique presentation and personal story would help members of the audience think about whether they tolerate or accept people, especially those with mental disabilities. The ultimate goal was to encourage people to be more accepting than tolerant.

That message hit home for Christina Wharton and Jan MacLeod.

“I was really touched by everything. It was really powerful the way she said it,” said Wharton, who had never seen a presentation such as Knight’s before.

“It was just so much fun and yet such a powerful message that she brought.”

“It touched my heart and it was also very meaningful not getting into judging people,” added MacLeod, who had seen Knight before. “That’s a big thing for me to not judge people because I know when people are judging me, it doesn’t feel very good.

“It was a very, very powerful presentation and the way she presented it too, was lighthearted and fun.”

That was exactly the message Knight, who wanted to “afflict the comforted and comfort the afflicted,” wanted to send.

“My message was if you’re still in a space where you’re tolerating individuals in your family or friends or neighbourhood or even yourself, you’re tolerating the issues with mental health in others,” she said. “Be yourself and move from tolerance to acceptance because that’s where the warmth and humanity comes from.

“I was very tolerant for a long, long time and it wasn’t a happy place to be. Acceptance is a very happy place.”

The luncheon is the first of a few events planned in Swift Current to raise awareness for mental health. The city will also be the site of the Canadian Mental Health Association’s provincial conference at the Day’s Inn June 24.

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