Volunteer Stories: An Interview with Justin Rawlins

blogging-336375_1920As the Youth Blog Coordinator, Justin Rawlins has been an amazing part of our Check Your Head team over this past year. He was one of our 2015 Volunteers of the Year and we’re sad to say farewell to him this fall as he moves onto new projects.

In this blog post, youth blogger Scott Douglas Jacobsen chats with Justin about his involvement with Check Your Head. 


How did you find us at Check Your Head (CYH)?

A friend sent me the callout for CYH’s Democracy Check campaign, which focused on engaging young people in BC through digital media in the build up to the 42nd federal election. People can check out the Democracy Check archive to see some of the interesting and creative work that emerged from that campaign.

After the election, CYH was looking for a blog coordinator. I had such a positive experience with CYH during Democracy Check, so I volunteered for the position. And that was a year ago.

What tasks and responsibilities come along with your position at CYH?

The blog coordinator is responsible for recruiting volunteer bloggers and then coordinating and editing submissions. Most submissions go through multiple rounds of revisions, not because they are poor or deficient in some way, but in order to encourage writers to grapple with their ideas a bit longer.

What is the content and purpose of the written work through CYH – by others and yourself?

There are multiple purposes, but the one that I want to highlight is CYH’s blog as a platform for young people across BC to showcase some of their thoughts on the most pressing issues of our time. I was pleased with the quality and thoughtfulness of the submissions that I received on topics ranging from technological change to migrant justice to poverty to gentrification and beyond.

Did your education assist in writing your own work and editing others’ work for the blog?

I was a teaching assistant during my graduate studies, which prepared me for email exchanges and written feedback. I also learned a lot from Tahia and Aleks (former CYH staff members) during the orientation for Democracy Check, especially on how to interact with volunteers, because both of them are excellent facilitators and educators.

Also, university exposed me to a lot of different thinkers whose work I find useful for making sense of the world. I was able to pass some of that along to the volunteer bloggers, such as directing people to Edward Said’s work on Orientalism and imperialism or Ananya Roy’s work on poverty.

What is your post-secondary education in?

I completed a BA at SFU in political science and an MA in sociology. My MA thesis looked at the interconnectedness of urban and rural issues in Ankara, Turkey, with a focus on wheat cultivation and mass housing. More recently, I’m completing pre-requisite science courses, with the aim of gaining admittance to a physical therapy program.

What are some impacts you have seen in BC from the work of CYH – at all levels?

So much of formal education, especially at the high school level, is sanitized and avoids uncomfortable topics or presents them in a neutral way that justifies or entrenches existing power dynamics. CYH does a good job of unsettling taken-for-granted assumptions and a good example of that is their recent Inclusion and Anti-Racism project.

Also, CYH works with other organizations engaged in important struggles, such as the BC Health Coalition. I mention the BC Health Coalition because they have been a key player in confronting Dr. Brian Day’s legal push for increased private health care, a push that would fundamentally undermine public health care in Canada. And CYH has an informative health care workshop that unpacks some of the issues surrounding health care in general and privatized health care in particular.

Where do you hope CYH goes into the future?

This isn’t specific to CYH, but I would like to see the rules surrounding the political activities of charities in Canada revised, so that charities involved in advocacy work no longer need to fear costly CRA audits. The current restrictions are nebulous and stifle dissent.

I hope CYH continues to reach young people whose curiosities about the world are not necessarily being met through formal education. Young people are not apathetic–contrary to popular belief–but many do appear to possess a healthy suspicion about the old ways of doing things. CYH’s workshops and projects encourage young people to pursue their curiosities and imagine new ways of doing things. To paraphrase Paulo Freire: education changes people and people change the world. CYH will continue to educate and activate young people on social issues.


By Scott Douglas Jacobsen

* All views expressed in this interview belong to the interviewee and don’t necessarily reflect the views of CYH.