In support of Sonny Bill Williams: an open letter to him

In support of Sonny Bill Williams: an open letter to him

(caption for the above picture): Tayo Agunlejika (second from right) in Christchurch on April 22 at the interactive workshop organised by Youth Aotea-Reo, which is a collective of youth all over New Zealand coming together to develop an online tool that will empower and support all rangatahi of Aotearoa, all youth of New Zealand. (picture credit Manish Pandey)

SBW should be respected for his beliefs; that's what is expected from a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, and multi-religious New Zealand: Tayo Agunlejika, Executive Director, NZ Federation of Multicultural Councils

Kia ora, Talofa lava, Assalamu alaikum and Greetings,
I write to you in the mist of your harshest criticism to date to offer and express my appreciation for what you have achieved in the past two weeks. This letter is to commend you for being true to yourself; for identifying who you are and believing in your kaupapa; for having the conscience to use your profile for causes you believe in; for standing by your decisions despite being criticised; and most importantly for furthering the understanding of Treaty based Multiculturalism in Aotearoa New Zealand.

I would also like to commend and acknowledge the leadership of New Zealand Rugby and the Auckland Blues in the way the “logo vs belief” issue was handled and resolved - this is a true demonstration of Multiculturalism and showed NZRU's commitment to diversity and inclusion - anyone can participate in sport irrespective of gender, race, religion, culture, political affiliation, socioeconomic status or ethnicity.

Treaty based Multiculturalism might be a foreign concept to some people and even our leader struggled to understand the need for a "contentious objection clause" in your professional contract. It is the openness and flexibility that a clause like this helps give emerging ethnic communities the opportunity to succeed and contribute to our society like everyone else.

We are a new but growing country with more than 200 ethnicities in Auckland alone, an annual net migration of over 74,000 and refugee quota of 1,000 per year. This brings great opportunities; diverse networks, connections to the outside world, access to emerging export markets, richness and a unique position to lead the world and demonstrate what a true Multicultural society should be. This is what you and NZRU have demonstrated to us all and we need to learn from and apply it to other parts of our society.  We don't want to fail like Europe and the USA bynot being genuine and open about including others into mainstream society irrespective of their race, belief, sexual orientation, cultural background and religion.

For almost 10 years Multicultural NZ has been educating and promoting the need for politicians, central and local governments, policymakers and businesses to embrace Treaty based Multiculturalism. To help create awareness that Multiculturalism is not about religion but about identity, respect, dignity, inclusion, justice, equity and fairness for all New Zealanders while respecting the kawa of Tangata Whenua.

To you, thank you for indirectly facilitating this debate and please do remain strong. Thank you Tana Umaga for your leadership. And to NZRU, thank you for leading not only New Zealand but the world by promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion - building a truly inclusive society where minorities can participate without being judged or isolated.

Nga mihi,

Tayo Agunlejika

Executive Director of Multicultural New Zealand

Hailing from the Yoruba tribe of Nigeria - one of the 300-odd tribes in that country - appreciating diversity and respecting others' point of view, comes naturally to Tayo Agunlejika, Executive Director, NZ Federation of Multicultural Councils (NZFMC).

"That's why I felt the need to come out, along with my organisation, and support Sonny Bill Williams (SBW) on the stand he has taken according to his religious beliefs. We believe, SBW should be respected for his beliefs. That's what is expected from a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, and multi-religious New Zealand," Tayo said.

"This is what the Federation been fighting for in its 28 years of existence. With values of diversity, inclusiveness, equality, participation, and collaboration, we envisage a multicultural New Zealand where people of different cultures and beliefs live safely and in harmony. That's why we celebrate the Race Relations Day. We want all the various ethnic cultures in New Zealand to be visible and thrive in the mainstream," he added.

"And to be fair, we have made tremendous progress in the last few decades in this regard. NZ Police is a great example of that. Their recent recruitment seminars, aimed at getting ethnic communities on board, have been wonderful. And the communities have also responded with huge queues, I am told. Initiatives like these will prevent us from trailing the same path as Europe, which segregated cultures, and is now suffering from all the ills that ghettoisation brings."

Agunlejika's own NZ story started in 2004, when he moved to Upper Hut in Wellington.

"I was lucky in the sense that a kind-hearted Kiwi, who is now a very good friend, Jerry, gave me my first job within the first five months. Later, after settling, I started to pursue my passion of football and joined a local club in Upper Hut. To my surprise, I was the only one who was not from the mainstream culture. There were many migrants from Somalia, Fiji, and Sudan in our locality, who were very good players. But nobody was playing in any of the clubs. I decided to change that."

What followed was a football tournament with eight African ethnicities participating. The event has continued ever since.

Though Agunlejika moved on, joining the Upper Hut Multicultural Council as the Project Manager. Later he became the vice-president of the NZFMC, following it up with a two-and-half-year stint as the President from 2011.

Currently the Executive Director, he summarises his over a decade of work promoting diversity in New Zealand as a "privilege and a huge learning experience".

"There is no doubt we have come a long way. Equally, there is no doubt that there's still a long way to go," he concludes.             

About Multicultural New Zealand

Multicultural Councils Inc. was established in July 1989 as an incorporated, non-government body, which acts as an umbrella organisation for the ethnic communities of New Zealand. The Federation's primary role is to promote, support and share information among the Regional Councils and New Zealand's Ethnic Communities. The challenge for NZFMC is to provide an opportunity for people from all segments of New Zealand's diverse society to address the challenges facing our multicultural communities on the threshold of the 21st century.

"Ethnic" means pertaining to or relating to any segment of the population within New Zealand society sharing fundamental cultural values, customs, beliefs, languages, traditions and characteristics, that are different from those of the larger society.

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