Coined by Anjuan Simmons, the term ‘lending privilege’ describes using your own position or power to help underrepresented or disadvantaged groups. What does it look like in action? We spoke to Matthew Jefferson, who walked from BC to Newfoundland to raise awareness on the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women, and Jordan Hart, who completed 100 days of busking to raise money and awareness for people with intellectual disabilities. Here’s how they are using their own privilege to help others.
By Hailey Eisen
Anjuan Simmons has travelled the globe speaking about diversity and inclusion, but his focus remains on ‘lending privilege’ — a phrase he coined with the intention of galvanizing action. The Texas-based technologist, speaker, and author believes that every single person has the ability to use their own position or power — no matter how great or small that may be — to help others.
“The term ‘lending privilege’ means the willingness to take two actions,” he explains. “First, you have to be willing to recognize your own privilege, that is to understand how your gender, race, level of physical ability, and other factors provide access to resources. Second, you have to be willing to share your privilege with others.”
While lending privilege isn’t exclusively done by men — there are many examples of women lending privilege in extraordinary ways every day — Anjuan says men, given their traditionally inherent power, have a vital role to play.
“I always encourage men to recognize the power they have by changing how they think about justice,” he says, and that includes recognizing the systemic bias and barriers women face. “These experiences limit the job opportunities women can pursue, the promotions they receive, the salaries they are paid, and even how safe they feel walking down the street. If men can see that unfair system and care enough to create a better experience, then they can do their part in changing the system.” The result actually makes the workplace — and home life — better for all genders.
To make real change, there are a number of simple actions individuals can take. Lending privilege can be as easy as nominating someone for recognition or a particular assignment, inviting junior colleagues to meetings with leaders, sharing information with individuals who don’t have the same access you do, standing up for the equal pay or rights of a colleague, joining a campaign like 30% Club Canada with a focus on gender-balanced leadership, or stepping into the role of mentor or champion.
Matthew Jefferson is a man who has taken the concept of lending privilege one step further. Or, more like a million steps further. On June 25th of this year, Matthew completed a year-long, 8,275-kilometer walk — from Victoria, BC to Cape Spear, Newfoundland — with the intention of bringing awareness to the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women across Canada.
As a man who ‘presents white’ (on account of his New Zealand-born father) but is also full status indigenous, Matthew is committed to lending privilege to bridge indigenous and non-indigenous communities, open the channels of communication, and raise this often ignored issue to the broader public agenda.
“You never really know what you’re capable of until you apply yourself, I second-guessed myself every single day and even when I reached my final destination, I didn’t feel elated or done — this is just the beginning of my work and my journey.”
On October 14, 2017, Matthew’s aunt, Frances Brown, disappeared while mushroom picking in a forested area north of Smithers, BC. Local search and rescue crews from around the province were called in, alongside RCMP and volunteers — but the official search was called off eight days after it began.
“If I were an indigenous woman, or even looked more like an indigenous man, then you probably wouldn’t be having this conversation with me,” Matthew said from North Sydney, Nova Scotia. “As you can imagine, it’s a privilege to be who I am, and I am using that as a tool to deliver our message.”
Speaking in front of community groups, to the media, and most importantly, he says, to school-aged children, Matthew has been educating Canadians about residential schools, day schools, ‘the sixties scoop,’ and aboriginal child welfare — aspects of Canadian history that until recently had been brushed over in school curriculum. “Young people are this country’s future elders,” says Matthew. By educating them, he hopes they, in turn, can educate others.
Matthew is a staunch advocate for women’s rights — both indigenous and non-indigenous women — and while he says his talks across the country were mostly attended by women, his goal is to have more men engaged in these conversations. “Women are sacred, they are life bringers, water carriers, and an integral part of our societies,” Matthew says. “I want to see more non-indigenous women stand up for indigenous women, and more men stand up for all women.” Matthew is also a supporter of the Moose Hide campaign, a grassroots movement of Indigenous and non-Indigenous men and boys who are standing up against violence towards women.
While his walk proved excruciating at times, leading to physical injury, illness, and emotional trauma, Matthew says he realized a great deal about himself over the course of the year. “You never really know what you’re capable of until you apply yourself,” he says. “I second-guessed myself every single day and even when I reached my final destination, I didn’t feel elated or done — this is just the beginning of my work and my journey.”
A welder and carpenter by trade, Matthew continues to commit his time and energy to championing this cause. “While I was walking I was able to meet with tens of thousands of people across our nation, laying the groundwork for what I’m about to do next.” On June 1st, 2020, Matthew will be leading a sponsored bike ride from B.C. to Newfoundland, raising funds for all indigenous communities in Canada that have missing family members. “I’ve connected with many people over the past year and through this bike ride I get to test their commitment to really wanting change.”
While Matthew was nearing the final leg of his journey, another Canadian man was just setting out on his own personal mission to lend a voice to those whose voices have traditionally been silenced.
This past spring, multi-instrumentalist, singer-songwriter Jordan Hart completed a 100-day busking challenge — serenading strangers on the streets across Toronto to raise money and awareness for L’Arche Canada, an organization that creates communities for people with intellectual disabilities.
Jordan was born into a musical family and says that he spoke music before he could speak words. Graduating from an arts high school in Edmonton and having completed a summer program at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Jordan chose busking as the route to musical fulfillment. In 2013, he set out to travel across North America as a busker, beginning in Vancouver. “Almost immediately I was connected with influential people in the industry, including producers, and I decided to stay and see where those connections would take me.”
“You know, as humans, we have this preconceived notion about someone’s value based on their capabilities, which tend to revolve around money or talent.”
A few years later he followed his music and connections to Toronto, where he spent time in the studio with producer Michael Sonier (who has worked with Alessia Cara, Mary J Blige, and more) and the multi-platform, Grammy-nominated production/songwriting group Kuya Productions (their credits include Alessia Cara, Drake, and others), creating a five-song EP that blends acoustic, roots soul with alternative R&B.
“I spent a lot of time in the studio and was ready to get back to the streets,” Jordan says. But rather than focusing on self-promotion, he took the opportunity to lend privilege to an organization and cause that was extremely close to his heart.
“My dad was the executive director of L’Arche in Edmonton and has been on the board of L’Arche Canada for some time, and from a young age I was in touch with the community, spent time visiting houses, and had relationships with residents and assistants,” Jordan says. “What I experienced in those communities was inspiring and unique. I had never seen such unconditional love and acceptance in my life.”
Jordan dedicated every Sunday of his 100-day challenge to L’Arche, raising funds, and more importantly, awareness. “What I felt I could really offer was exposure of L’Arche to a younger generation,” he says. Jordan brought core members from L’Arche communities out with him to speak, dedicated his social media posts to the cause, spoke to the media, handed out information, and had one-on-one conversations with people who came to watch him perform.
The results were more than he could have ever imagined. “You know, as humans, we have this preconceived notion about someone’s value based on their capabilities, which tend to revolve around money or talent,” Jordan says. “And you look at someone with intellectual disabilities and they don’t possess these things and so they’re often overlooked. But when you sit down with them, you realize that value is not attached to that at all — what matters most is being in the moment and being human together. And, you realize that your worth actually never had anything to do with what you’re capable of. That understanding left a huge space in my heart to love myself for who I am — and a desire to share this realization with others.”
What surprised and delighted Jordan most was how many young people he met while busking who wanted to learn more and get involved. “I’ll never forget the moment a young man came up to me, saying he’d moved to Toronto to pursue a job, and while he was doing well financially, and all his goals had been met, he was feeling unsatisfied. He needed to reconnect to community and he was drawn to what I was saying about L’Arche and wanted to know what he could do to help.”
As Jordan continues his musical journey, he plans to continue to involve L’Arche directly. Next up is a showcase that will include music as well as other art forms. “I would like to have artists of all backgrounds collaborating to create a multi-sensory experience where you can feel the openness and inspiration to become who you are and celebrate that,” he says. The project is in the works now, with the aim to have it ready by late summer or early fall.
While lending privilege certainly doesn’t have to be the grand gestures made by Jordan and Matthew, which are two completely different examples, it does require the realization that our privilege gives us benefits that others can’t easily access. It’s what you do with that realization — how you step into your power and use it to advance the voice, or the career, or the well-being of another person or group of people — that really matters. Whether that means making an introduction to someone in your network, bringing a junior employee into a meeting, or choosing to be a mentor or sponsor, there is likely a small action you can make immediately that will have a long-term impact on someone else’s life or career.
What is the role of men in gender equality? Over the next year, the 30% Club Canada and Women of Influence are partnering to explore this question. We’ll be sharing the stories of allies — men who are pushing for gender equality in the workplace, or making it happen in their own business. These Champions of Change can act as visible role models, inspiring and guiding other men to follow in their footsteps. If we’re going to level the playing field, we need men to be engaged.