In a city infamous for its suburban sprawl and car culture, disconnect between inner-city and suburban dwellers often exists in Winnipeg.
Mitch Bourbonniere, a community activist and lecturer, alongside teacher Jason Neufeld and students at Maples Met School are challenging this divide through a new Dynamics of the Inner City course offered at the high school.
“We live in a lot of bubbles,” Neufeld says. “What ends up happening as a result is that people who live in the suburbs live primarily with conceptions and stereotypes about what the inner-city is.
“That’s the kind of bubble we’re trying to get students out of.”
Every second Tuesday from October to April, students spend a half-day learning about the inner workings of the inner-city.
“In our classroom, we only have eight students. I’d say half of them grew up in the inner-city, and half of them grew up in the suburbs, so it’s actually perfect,” Bourbonniere says. “In our conversations, they get to teach each other what life was like for them.”
Previously, the course was only taught at the University of Winnipeg through the Department of Urban and Inner-City Studies. Now, students can earn a post-secondary dual credit in high school – something Bourbonniere sees as an advantage for many reasons.
“There’s something about being a young person and learning about some of the unfair things that go on that I think adults take for granted,” Bourbonniere says. “When young people start to learn about different injustices that happen, they get really fired up and interested.”
Ryan Spence and Ben Ireland are two students taking the course. In class, they say, many stereotypes have been broken down on both sides. Ireland says one of the highlights was working alongside the Mama Bear Clan, a women-led community patrol group he plans to join this summer.
For Spence, it was the insights from Bourbonniere’s understanding of the nuances of Winnipeg’s inner-city.
“I think the big thing for me was just hearing Mitch talk,” Spence says. “He paints such a vivid picture of what’s happening in the inner-city that more people need to know and care about.”
Though the course covers a lot of ground, Bourbonierre says there’s a specific emphasis put on the relationship between the Indigenous community and the inner-city.
While eight students are set to come out of the program with a better understanding and compassion for Winnipeg’s inner-city, Bourbonniere says this would ideally play out on a city-wide level.
“I think we all should spend time in each other’s worlds. I think that would create more empathy, more understanding and people just getting along better in this world,” Bourbonniere says.
Published in Volume 75, Number 23 of The Uniter (March 24, 2021)