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Celebrating Culture and Promoting Fitness

In celebration of Jamaica’s 60th year of Independence and an opportunity to encourage movement and health as spring approaches, the Jamaican High Commission in Canada is collaborating with Winnipeg organization Pegcity Steppers for a week-long fitness and wellness event.

Established in the heights of winter after seeing a need in the Winnipeg community, Pegcity Steppers started as a group of friends wanting to motivate each other and stay active. Since that group was first formed in 2020, the organization has flourished and was excited about this new opportunity that celebrates Jamaican culture and facilitates healthy lifestyle changes.

“I was extremely elated. This was a big opportunity,” said Natalya Petrekin, a run leader with Pegcity Steppers. “Having migrated here, you still want to embrace your culture. Things that make you feel Jamaican even when you’re miles away. The High Commission is a high post, so when she [High Commissioner Sharon J. Miller] wanted to work with us, it was something we wanted to embrace and share with others.”

The Winnipeg event had two components. The first was a wellness seminar, which functioned as an opening ceremony, hosted by H.E Miller and Pegcity Steppers founder Shana Goodridge. The seminar featured a side area of guests and panellists Minister of Health and Wellness Jamaica, the honourable Dr. Christopher Tufton, Minister of Health Manitoba The Honourable Audrey Gordon, Dr. Losis Steward-Archer, Dr. Upton D. Allen, Juliet “Julie Mango” Bodley, and Roselyn Advincula, and moderated by Natalie Bell. The event focused on the many critical issues and challenges that affect immigrants as they settle in Canada and how to overcome them with innovative ways to improve mental and physical health.

The second was a seven-day fitness challenge filled with daily aerobic exercises and a 60KM run. Virtual fitness classes were also available, led by Stokley Rose, Orville Xpression Hall, and Cherelle Geroge. Although 60kms in a week seems daunting, Goodridge says it’s all in good fun and a goal to work towards.

“That’s one of our objectives too, to kickstart, especially in spring as it warms up. After all these challenges and moves, you’ll be pumped again to go the next day.”

Getting healthy wasn’t the only incentive. Individuals who signed up for the challenge were competing for various challenges and the ultimate title of the Jamaica 60 Fitness Challenge Champion. Although there was the chance to be competitive, Goodridge says it’s all in good fun, coming together, celebrating Jamaican heritage, and working towards a healthier life.

Pegcity Steppers’ event is one of many taking place across the country to celebrate Jamaica’s 60th Anniversary of Independence. For 15 minutes, Niagra falls will host the green, yellow, and black of the Jamaican flag and many other independent celebrations to honour the friendship between these two countries. According to High Commissioner Miller, the Winnipeg celebration is another great example of how Jamaicans have become a culture encompassing Canadian diversity.

“We are everywhere. We’ve taken a little piece of Jamaica, and it’s warm, it’s everywhere, it’s culture. People gravitate toward that. They love our music, and we know that. Reggae music has taken the world by storm. Bob Marley’s ‘One Love’ became the song of the century. Who doesn’t know Usain Bolt and Shelly-Ann? That is one of a diplomat’s duties is to ensure your country is recognized.”

Canada has a strong relationship and respect for Jamaica. Over 300,000 Jamaicans call Canada home, comprising 30 per cent of the black population in Canada. Cultural celebrations are just another way for Canada and Jamaican to strengthen this friendship.

“The structures and connectivity are already in place. What we need to do is protect them. My job is to ensure we enhance those, not just on the government to government level, but people to people exchanges. Students coming in, temporary workers, people moving between countries, migration, tourism. All of that serves to help in the understanding of cultural norms and to build respect for each other.

Funds from the Fitness Challenge went towards the Jamaica High Commission Special Projects/Scholarship Fund.

– Ryan Funk, U Multicultural

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of U Multicultural.

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