Gayle Valeriote: Community Advocate and Social Justice Activist
Gayle Valeriote has been engaged in social justice activism for most of her life. Valeriote first attended the University of Western Ontario, studying business economics, however, she felt unsuited for this type of career and moved back to Guelph in 1981. At the University of Guelph, she witnessed the Dean of Arts milking a cow in the University Center courtyard and she decided she was right where she needed to be. A friend suggested that she study International Development, and from there her passion turned to history, politics, and community activism.
In the early 1980s Valeriote began taking courses with Professor Clarence Munford, focusing on African and Black history. She became actively engaged with the anti-Apartheid movement. She approached the Ontario Public Interest Research Group (OPIRG) on campus for help starting the South African Interest Group (SAIG). OPIRG contributed $3,000 to SAIG. With SAIG, Valeriote campaigned for divestment and initiated boycott campaigns. SAIG tried to get the University to confer an honourary degree on Nelson Mandela in 1982, but was refused on the grounds that a degree could not be conferred on someone in prison. Undaunted, Valeriote and SAIG organized an alternative student-run convocation on Johnson Green in 1986. Members of the African National Conference (ANC) attended to accept degrees on behalf of Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela, Dorothy Nyembe, and Ahmed Kathrada.
In the late 1980’s, Valeriote began teaching. Through global education models, which help to empower children on global issues,Valeriote helped many children to gain a better understanding of the global South, and how they could have an active role in creating social change. She spent 10 years working with the Better Beginnings Better Futures program at the organization now called Shelldale Family Gateway, after which she worked in community development and family support work for another 10 years. Valeriote then became a leadership coach coach for community organizations, such as ARCH (HIV/AIDS Resources and Community Health). She also volunteered with the Guelph Inclusiveness Alliance, assisting new immigrants coming to Guelph. She has spent the last several years as a consultant for management and nonprofit leadership with the Volunteer Centre of Guelph-Wellington, now called PIN (the People and Information Network): https://pinnetwork.ca
Today, Valeriote continues to be active in matters of community rights and equality. Anti-racism, community development, and anti-poverty work lie at the heart of her passion. She spends much of her time assisting her partner, Kelly, in children’s rights legal services. In her spare time, Valeriote enjoys her garden space and revisits her love of art through painting. Asked what kind of legacy she would want to leave the Guelph community, she shared her desire for “people to come together and create real change through a willingness to be vulnerable with each other, and to listen deeply to each other’s needs.” This, she said, is the art of real change-making.
Gayle Valeriote is sitting at a table with two students, who are pointing at a piece of paper. Another student stands behind the table, facing the camera. They were meeting to discuss plans for the 1977 "Going Hungry for Money" fundraising event held to address community food insecurity. Photo appears courtesy of the Guelph Public Library Archives, Going Hungry for Money, (F45-0-8-0-0-446) 1977.