‘It’s about listening’: One team member’s journey of allyship
By Erika Stark 22 November 2019 3 min read
There are only two ways to find out about events in Airdrie: either you read the paper, or you listen to the local radio station. That’s according to Jenn Bellotto. She’s lived and worked in the fast-growing community for the last 11 years.
It was a notice in the local paper that led Jenn to volunteer for Airdrie’s first-ever Pride Festival this past June. She wasn’t the only one who saw it. When Jenn showed up to the local Good Earth for the first volunteer meeting, the place was packed.
“The organizers couldn’t believe that all of these people had shown up for the Pride Festival,” said Jenn, who works as a director within ATB’s People & Culture department.
She acknowledged that showing up to volunteer for the festival was a big personal step.
“I’m on this journey of allyship,” she explained. “The older you get, the more you start thinking about purpose. Equal treatment is one of those things for me that’s huge. I’ve always been an ally, but a silent ally.”
Jenn said she realized her six-year-old son was in many ways, a better ally than she’d been.
“He has the courage to call things out, to ask questions,” she said.
And so Jenn found herself at the coffee shop with the dozens of other eager volunteers.
Putting down roots
Despite the city’s proximity to Calgary, where there are a variety of supports, organizations and safe spaces for LQBTQ+ folks, the festival’s organizers felt it was important to develop that sense of community right at home in Airdrie. That notion is reflected in the name of the inaugural festival: Putting Down Roots.
“One of the most powerful things I heard was that people shouldn’t have to leave their community to be part of a community,” Jenn said.
Less than 3 months after that first meeting, the Airdrie Pride Festival kicked off on a gloomy, rainy Saturday.
“The moment the ceremony kicked off, the clouds parted and the sun came out,” Jenn recalled. “I got goosebumps and there were tears welling up in my eyes.”
Nose Creek Park was packed with people.
“Everyone, people would walk by and ask what’s going on, people would just join in,” Jenn said. “It was a very organic movement where every single person's heart was in it for the right reasons.”
Living ATB #11
At ATB, we encourage our team members to live by a number of guiding principles. We call them the “ATBs.” Last summer, we introduced our 11th ATB: Courageously be yourself and a true ally for each other.
When the 11th ATB was unveiled, Jenn started really reflecting on what it meant to be a true ally.
“I’ve had some really great and deep conversations with [team members] about allyship, conversations that have brought me to tears,” she admitted.
Through her experience volunteering with Airdrie Pride, Jenn said she’s learned that true allyship is about listening.
“That’s the stage I’m at,” she said. “I tend to be a solution-finder or a connector, and I’ve really learned to just listen. That’s been hugely powerful, and it’s all I need to do at this point.”
“I don’t need to solve problems, I just need to listen and understand so I can be a better ally and advocate. If I don’t understand the stories, if I don’t understand what people have been through, how can I be an ally?”
Jenn acknowledged that becoming a better ally can be a challenging and sometimes uncomfortable journey. There’s vulnerability in admitting what you don’t know, unlearning any biases or misconceptions you may have possessed, and asking difficult questions—of yourself and others.