‘Can You Hear Me Now?’ author talks empathy & equity

Former MP Celina Caesar-Chavannes speaks to importance of living authentically

Celina Caesar-Chavannes shares her new book Can You Hear Me Now?.
Credit: 
Supplied by CBC

Following the release of her Shaughnessy Cohen Prize-shortlisted book, Can You Hear Me Now?, The Journal sat down with former MP Celina Caesar-Chavannes.

Caesar-Chavannes, who formerly served as Member of Parliament for Whitby, now serves as Equity, Diversity & Inclusion (EDI) Senior Advisor for the Queen’s Faculty of Health Sciences.

In her role, Caesar-Chavannes helps ensure issues affecting the BIPOC community are tackled head-on and curriculum is decolonized.

Caesar-Chavannes is currently a Ph.D. candidate in Queen’s Faculty of Health Sciences. As part of her studies, she’s examining the intersection of empathy and equity.

“I’m looking at […] how we develop that empathetic courage to do what is right by people who need it the most,” Caesar-Chavannes said in an interview with The Journal.

“What does our brain do? What does our brain not do when we are trying to create equitable spaces, but we just lack the empathy to see each other?”

Caesar-Chavannes’ passion for empathy and equity was central to her four-year political career. After facing conflict with the Liberal Party, Caesar-Chavannes decided to run as an independent candidate.

“My values and beliefs are really important to me. I would never put my party above my principles,” she said.

Because of her experiences in politics, Caesar-Chavannes has become incredibly passionate about how empathy and equity affect policy decisions. Empathy for one another directly informs equitable policies.

“If we’re not able to treat the people that are sitting beside us in our workspaces—or around a political decision-making table—if we’re not able to treat these people properly, that are supposed to be working with us on these real, heavy, and wicked issues, how are we supposed to enact policy that is going to impact millions of people in an equitable way?”

Following her departure from the political scene, Caesar-Chavannes published Can You Hear Me Now?, which centres on issues of racism, micro-aggressions, and mental health. Although Caesar-Chavannes spoke extensively on these issues during her political career, she felt abandoned by the Liberal party and its silence.

“Talking about racism in 2018 is different from talking about racism in 2021. Now it’s sort of Avant-Garde to talk about privilege,” she said.

“The title, Can You Hear Me Now, really speaks to the fact that I’ve been saying this, and now everybody’s talking about it.”

Through her book, Caesar-Chavannes hopes to extend to all Canadians the experiences of Black women in the country. In a system largely designed to stifle Black voices, Caesar-Chavannes wants to ensure her voice is heard.

“Writing the book allows me to tell my story of what it was like while I was here—here meaning somebody who was an immigrant, somebody who went through high school in this system,” she said.

“It was an opportunity to tell a story that is often not told and often forgotten.”

The book speaks extensively of the lived experiences of Caesar-Chavannes and the mistakes she’s made along the way.

“I wrote it sort of upside-down,” she said. “I didn’t talk about all of my successes and praise, but talked about all the mistakes, and shames, and hurts.”

Drawing on her own experiences, Caesar-Chavannes implores us to live fully and authentically.

“Living authentically means that sometimes you make mistakes, and I always believed that mistakes are life’s greatest teacher,” she said.

“It is in living we are able to make those mistakes and screw things up. We live a really great life, and when it comes to an end, our tombstone will actually say all she had left to do was die.”

All final editorial decisions are made by the Editor(s)-in-Chief and/or the Managing Editor. Authors should not be contacted, targeted, or harassed under any circumstances. If you have any grievances with this article, please direct your comments to journal_editors@ams.queensu.ca.

When commenting, be considerate and respectful of writers and fellow commenters. Try to stay on topic. Spam and comments that are hateful or discriminatory will be deleted. Our full commenting policy can be read here.