Every Friday for over one and a half years, a committed group of community members has been meeting at the North End bell tower on Selkirk Avenue and Powers Street. They gather for a rally called Meet Me at the Bell Tower (MM@BT), and the community-building activity has led to a decrease in violent crime in the area. Organizers invite anyone to join the movement, which is still going strong.
Initiated by members of the AYO! (Aboriginal Youth Opportunities) Leadership Team in November 2011, this rally sees groups of between 40 and 100+ come together to build peace, support the community and set an example to help stop the violence.
Each Friday at 6 p.m., individuals, families and community helpers gather beneath the bell tower where they hang the Banner of Hope. Next up is a megaphone chat where anyone who has an announcement or words to share is welcome to do so. A group picture follows, along with the customary bell ringing, which tells the neighbourhood the group is still around. That is followed by a march through the neighbourhood, during which the group sings songs and invites neighbours to join.
Each evening finishes at the Indian Family Centre, 470 Selkirk Avenue, at an indoor space where there are prizes and further activities.
Every member of the community is invited to bring a prize and donate it to the door prize draw. Some nights there are enough prizes so everyone gets a gift.
Some recent themes include Tickled Pink (anti-bullying), All About Life (suicide prevention), Gangnam Style Gardening (gardening and dancing) and Got Bannock? (generosity).
When MM@BT began in 2011, Winnipeg was the murder capital of Canada and the first and last homicides of the year had occurred on Selkirk Avenue.
Thanks to the dedicated volunteers, the commitment of many other community groups, the closing of the Merchants Hotel, the opening of Makoonsag Daycare, and the focused efforts of the Winnipeg Police, the area immediately surrounding the bell tower saw an 18 per cent reduction in violent crime in 2012.
This is not to say work is anywhere near complete. MM@BT is only a part of a large network of groups working hard to make the streets safer. MM@BT organizers welcome other groups to come down to the bell tower and let MM@BT organizers know what else they can get involved with.
Organizers also encourage other neighbourhoods to gather regularly to discuss solutions and get to know one another.
MM@BT gatherings can be hosted by community groups, organizations or anyone interested in participating in the movement. MM@BT host responsibilities include providing prizes and volunteers.
Over the last year and a half, the Canadian Mental Health Association, Winnipeg Police Service, Canadian Union of Public Employees Human Rights Committee and Winnipeg Copwatch have all made contributions.
Each MM@BT is planned one week ahead of time and organizers are always looking for individuals to announce community events, take care of little kids, lead the crowd on the megaphone, or just act as helpers to make the event run smoothly.
Join MM@BT every Friday at 6 p.m. at Selkirk and Powers for this community building movement. It’s a family-friendly free event and if you’re new – or even if you have been there many times – you may get to ring the bell!
Michael Champagne is a member of the AYO! Leadership Team and one of the regular attendees of Meet Me at the Bell Tower.