For this month’s Featured Facilitator article, we spoke to politician, organizer and activist Brian Chang! Brian has trained with us many times before, but his history with the Institute for Change Leaders dates way back– nearly as far back as its inception, actually! We spoke to Brian about the origins of ICL and how he became involved with us.
Brian is extremely active in his neighbourhood of Toronto Centre, but he wasn’t always so involved in politics. In fact, Brian’s interest in politics and social justice really began with one woman: Olivia Chow. He had been following Olivia’s career for as long as he can remember, so when she announced her mayoral campaign in 2014, Brian knew he wanted to help. He became Olivia’s policy coordinator on her campaign (a campaign which, some might not know, was heavily based on the Marshall Ganz organizing model – the same model currently used for all of ICL’s curriculum) and the two have worked together frequently ever since. Following the 2014 campaign, Olivia wanted to continue teaching the Ganz model to create meaningful, tangible social change. She brought up the subject to Brian and, not long after, the preliminary concept of ICL was born.
“I was involved with ICL before it was even ICL,” Brian recalls. “Back when it was a thing called ‘Project Organize’. I was one of the lead people. A lot of the work that we’re doing now – the worksheets, the curriculum and stuff – I was part of the development early on.”
When originally envisioning the key components of ICL, Olivia and Brian kept returning to the idea of social justice as something active that needs to be consistently fought for. To this day, this is still a vital aspect of both ICL and Brian’s work. “I always try and add that to whatever I’m doing,” Brian says. He emphasizes the importance of seeing every social issue as something active and shifting that requires our ever-evolving attention and action. “If we add that lens of justice to all the work that we’re doing,” Brian says, “then we end up with better outcomes.”
Brian says that ICL has had a huge impact on his work and who he is as a person.
“I’m an example of someone who went through what ICL teaches,” Brian says. “How I got where I am is because that work was successful.”
Since those early days, Brian has gotten a bit busier with his work, community outreach, and, of course, his own campaign. Living in Toronto Centre, there’s always something going on. “If there’s an issue around the world and people want to talk about it, they always seem to come to downtown Toronto,” Brian remarks. “I try and show up to as much of that stuff as I can.”
It really shows. On his Instagram, Brian can constantly be seen out and about at events of all sorts, showing his support for the plethora of communities that flock to Toronto Central or call it home. He feels it’s vital to show up and amplify the voices of those shouting for justice.
Amidst all his activism and community work, Brian is also incredibly musical and, pre-pandemic times, sang in the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir. And, like so many of us during the pandemic, he also finds comfort in the video game Animal Crossing New Horizons, in which you play as a character living out a calm, blissful lifestyle on an island of your own design.
But Brian doesn’t just have a passion for building idyllic communities in video games! He speaks frequently about the importance of creating a world that is fair and equitable for underrepresented people – a particularly personal topic to him as someone with facial differences and hearing disabilities. “’Disability [encompasses] a huge body of potential things that people are dealing with, and we have to be able to make sure we’re supporting people where they’re at,” Brian explains. “We need to be respectful and inclusive as much as possible. I always try and do that with all my politics and all of my advocacy.”
Although times are tough right now, Brian is able to draw hope from so many aspects of his life. “Whenever there’s so much going on it can feel really heavy,” he says, “but I also think those are moments for empowerment.” Whether it’s watching people fight for equal housing, social and environmental justice for Indigenous people, justice in policing, or equality and access for queer and disabled communities, Brain feels inspired by all those who are standing up to fight for what is right – and we know he’ll always be there, standing right up beside them.
If you want to learn more about Brian, you can follow him on social media: @bfchangTO