Kate McKenzie

A collection of thoughts and reflections as we journey with Worldviews Project.


I’ve been in places before where attacks have happened. I know the drill, stay away from crowded or highly political spaces. But when the attack happened in Toronto I had a dilemma, I work in the heart of downtown at the busiest intersection in Canada. 

As I walked to work, I thought about all those who had been walking to work yesterday, also on Yonge street, just further north of me. They had no idea the tragedy that would hit them. I thought about all those who have come to our country fleeing violence who witnessed the attack yesterday. It must be aweful to wonder if this new country you have arrived in is any safer than the one you left. To feel unsafe in your home is overwhelming. 

I don’t want to live in fear. 

When I approached the busy intersection I couldn’t help but look around for vehicles speeding, for unusual activity, for any indication that the violence our city witnessed yesterday might happen again. 

That’s when I noticed a sign. It was handmade with hearts, smiley faces and peace symbols illustrated on it. It stood out in the sea of people. On it was a simple message: “Free Hugs.”

Young man named Christian holding “Free Hugs” sign at Yonge & Dundas intersection in Toronto.

On a day when I felt nervous about going to work, here was someone who had the courage to stand at the intersection all day and offer free hugs. I went over and chatted with him. His name was Christian. He wanted to remind Toronto that we were not defined by one negative act, that we could find the positive. In a time of fear when many might choose to pull away, he was inviting us to come together, embrace and find strength in community. 

I left feeling hopeful.

By Kate McKenzie

How to be more thankful


Sometimes it is very easy to complain about all the negative things happening all around us.  We start to be bogged down by little things that annoy us until we burst.  Enter the “Thankfullness Jar.”

A friend of mine, Cathy Yost, shared her wisdom with me several years ago when she told me that every year she picks a word to focus on for the year.  I chose “thankfulness” for this year.  I have been learning that when we choose to state and share what we are thankful for we actually increase our feelings of positivity overall. For example, one study showed that expressing gratitude for someone or for something you have could increase you happiness by 25%. So how do you make expressing gratitude a habit? Continue reading

Speaking at TEDxYYC

 I always encourage my students to take a step out of their comfort zone and be okay with taking risks.  I even have broken track and field hurdles up around my classroom to remind them that it is okay to run at life’s obstacles at 100%.  If you fall, I remind them, it’s okay, just remember to get back up and keep going.

Somehow, when I have to take that advice myself it gets a lot harder! I was invited today to speak at TEDxYYC.  I’m honoured, excited but mostly nervous!  This talk will be an amazing opportunity to share positive news with a new group of people and to honour those who participated in Worldviews Project. There’s a part of me though that still always feels scared.  What if no one is interested?  What if I mess it up?

I guess I’m also nervous that I’ll be branded as “Positive Story Girl” instead of Kate. I’m not positive all the time.  Sometimes I’m angry and I want to punch people or yell or scream.  I just try to work really hard to control those feelings and act in a better way.  I’m scared that somehow giving this talk will make people think I have it all figured out, which I don’t.  I’m just trying to be brave enough to say that my intention is to be positive.

I’m not so different from my students, taking that first step and staring that obstacle in the face is hard.  I’m determined to do it though.  I want to be the kind of person who approaches these kinds of challenges with courage rather than fear.

I will need all of you supporting me in this journey.  I need to know when I step on that stage on June 14th that there is a community of people behind me cheering me on.  Because, ultimately it’s not about me at all.  I’m giving this TED talk because I believe that we need to share positive news.  So even if I’m not the perfect ambassador for this message I’m going to give it my best shot.  Keep your fingers crossed for me!  Or better yet, buy a ticket and come be a friendly face in the audience!


Rocking Iran Style – Perspectives on Hijab

      Check out what me and Lucas wore in Iran!  Took me a while to adjust to figuring out how I was going to make my own style.  I was completely amazed by the women of Iran and their ability to wear a headscarf in so many different ways.

I’d ask other women how they kept theirs in place and try and copy their skills!  And we also had to ask how it was possible that some women wore their hair in what looked like a return to Prascilla Elvis’ beehive hair-do.  We’d try to get glimpses as they passed but finally had to ask a friend.  She quickly showed us it was all made possible by a giant “loofa-like” hair clip worn at the crown of the head so that they could wear their scarf just a wee bit further back.  It took the big hair look to a whole new level.

People have asked me if it was strange to wear a head scarf.  Yes in some ways but no in others.  I didn’t view it as a big deal since for me it was just about showing respect for their culture.  But it was also amazing to arrive in Israel and be able to feel the breeze against my skin after being covered up for so long!  Perhaps my favourite perspective on hijab though came from one of my former students who told me “I like wearing a head-scarf because when I’m wearing it I know that I’m not being judged on how I look but rather on what I say and my actions.”  Pretty amazing perspective!

Top 12 Lessons So Far

  1. All great ideas begin with one step and only succeed if you just keep moving forward, even if it is slowly.  Rather than talking and planning endlessly, just do something. Take one step.
  2. Loneliness only lasts as long as it takes for me to start a conversation with someone and take the risk of believing that we all want to connect and we all want to believe in a better world.
  3. Just hearing someone’s story is powerful and can bring healing, empowerment and confidence.  Sometimes we just need to listen and bear witness. Continue reading

Shifting Perspectives

  One of my good friends, Cathy Yost, has been an amazing support to me through this project by helping me to work through  things I have struggled with along the way.  I knew I needed to have a Skype date with her after the cockroach incident in Rwanda.

I heard it scuttling and immediately freaked out jumping on top of my bed, barricading myself inside my bug net while swinging my only weapon, a welcome mat!  I knew in that moment that my reaction was ridiculous but how could I get over my fear of spiders, cockroaches and all creepy crawlies?

Cathy helped me to realize that it wasn’t about the bugs it was about looking for what I wanted to see.  That if I chose to look for the good I wouldn’t see as much of the bad.  So that has been my challenge over the last coupe of months – to not look for the creepy crawlies, to keep going one step at a time forward in this journey of becoming more courageous in small ways.

Great Read!

The Blue Sweater: Bridging the Gap Between Rich & Poor in an Interconnected World
by Jacqueline Novogratz

Abraham & Kate

Each time I have finished one book another one seems to be waiting for me.  I received the Blue Sweater from my friend Abraham Temu the co-founder of KiBo and an Acumen Fellow who said to me “The best gift I can give you right now, especially since you are going to Rwanda is this book.” Abraham is an amazing leader who has found creative ways to pursue social change through practical methods so his recommendation made me dive into the book eagerly.  Continue reading

Unexpected Courage

Squat toilet

Courage can take many shapes and forms.  For me it did not take too much courage to go down class 5 rapids on the Nile River, it also did not take a lot of courage to record a song with Rwandan musicians or to start up conversations with people that I had never met.  Instead what took the most courage for me in the last couple of weeks was going to the bathroom! Continue reading

Excess Baggage

I was in a mad panic the day I left.  All of a sudden, I realized I was leaving and there was no more time left.  No more time to prepare, no more time to plan, only time to just make it happen.  I threw stuff in my backpack, desperately trying to make a mental note that all the things I had thought of including over the last couple of months had made it into my bag.  The floor was littered with items -absolute chaos! Continue reading