Sunbeams broke into the wide-windowed, wood-toned space where Niki Sharma‘s campaign event was being held this past Thursday, April 7th. Before my arrival, I realized I needed to meet this outstanding woman, and here is why: Niki is passionate about diversity, sustainability and equality, so much so that she has dedicated her life to fighting for these passions. Niki previously acted as liaison to the Urban Aboriginal Advisory Committee, the Women’s Advisory Committee and the Arts and Culture Policy Council. Niki formerly served on the Vancouver Park Board as a Park Commissioner, becoming the first candidate with an Indian surname to be elected. This gave her the opportunity to oversee a $100 million dollar budget on behalf of taxpayers. She also served as co-chair of the Environmental Stewardship and Education Task Force, as well as the Local Food Task Force.
Presently, Niki practices Aboriginal Law at Donovan & Co, while also holding a position as Board member for Battered Women’s Support Services. She is a member of the Women’s Advisory Committee and chairs the Pay-Equity Sub-committee. In addition, she is a founding member of Visible Majority, an organization with the aim to support women from minority groups to achieve better representation in our society.
This is why, despite the tempting warmth and dazzling blue sky, I found myself spending the evening of April 7th with Niki, and her friendly-faced group of supporters. I chose well.
Immediately, Niki was bright and engaging, laughing while she mingled and made an effort to speak with everyone in the room. Her jovial attitude, her candid sincerity, was instantly likeable. In fact, everyone seemed to coin that word when describing her: sincere. Yet only two weeks prior, Loretta Stark used a different word to describe Niki when they “met” on Facebook.
When Niki announced her candidacy for one of the three openings on the Vancity Board of Directors, an outpour of encouragement and support began flowing in, until Loretta’s shocking comment popped up. This comment, chockfull with hate, included a racial slur that could easily have been the spark to an internet war. This appalling, momentous encounter would have been well-deserving of hostility and outrage. Instead, Niki chose to respond extraordinarily, displaying her honesty and graciousness as she handled the situation. Her response letter is republished below:
It’s the middle of the night here in Vancouver. I can’t sleep.
I was going to delete your comment. As my hand went over to the delete button, something stopped me. As much as we both might want to, you and I cannot delete each other.
So, I want to introduce myself to you. My name is Niki Sharma. I come from a proud and beautiful family. My parents come from India, but I was born here in Canada. I grew up in a small town in the Rocky Mountains. My parents gave me the name Niki so that it would be easy for people here to pronounce.
I have thick brown skin — layers of protection beginning from when I was in Kindergarten and I was called that name for the first time and realized that there was something different about me.
I can see by your Facebook page that you are afraid of people like me. I see your posts have violent brown faces with names you probably cannot pronounce.
But, I am afraid too Loretta. I am worried that by staying silent and not confronting racism — our society will deform and twist until it is unrecognizable to us. Maybe it is already happening. I worry for the many young and more vulnerable people who are targeted by online hate speech, which is now unavoidable.
We may never agree on very much, but we are both human beings. We are all vulnerable and seeking acceptance and security in this confusing, scary and ever-changing world. I may never have your acceptance, but I ask that you stop spreading your hate.
From this letter, we are able to learn a great deal about Niki. She not only promotes but defends the arduous fight for equality, in her career as well as her personal approaches as well. Niki is noticeably attentive of her words yet her genuineness spills out of her letter, along with this powerful, champion cry demanding change in our society. Change that Niki believes she cannot stay silent for.
67-year old Loretta Stark has since apologized after being contacted by CBC news. “I apologize from the bottom of my heart,” she said. Since the incident, she has been subjected to rude comments and online humiliation, which Niki says is something she’d “never wish upon anybody”. Nevertheless, Niki has accepted Loretta’s apology, and is pleased the situation was able to avoid escalating hatred but rather, was resolved with an apology.
I hope that, if anything, what I wrote shows that there’s compassion and generosity in the world. If you put yourself out there in that way, you’ll receive it.”
Niki’s light shows through in her work, in her words. She is a fierce force, a necessary voice, and that is the kind of leader I want to stand behind. If you want to learn more about Niki, visit her website, Facebook, and Twitter. If you want to vote for Niki, you can do so here. If you want to hear Niki speak more on this encounter with Loretta, you can watch her video here.