Multiculturalism Week in British Columbia is Nov.13-19, 2016, a time to celebrate B.C.’s rich, cultural mosaic. Jorge Salazar is one of five multicultural champions profiled this week.

When Jorge Salazar was growing up in his close-knit neighbourhood in Colombia, surrounded by friends and family, he never imagined that he would be forced to move thousands of kilometres away from the community that had played such an important role in his childhood. The former government-assisted refugee also never dreamed that he would grow up to become a multicultural champion in the most ethnically diverse province in Canada.

In 2012, Salazar received a British Columbia Multicultural Award (then known as a Provincial Nesika Award) in the youth category. He was recognized for his work at the Vancouver Foundation with immigrant and refugee youth, and with other organizations promoting strong community connections with First Nations and urban Aboriginal, immigrant and refugee communities in B.C.

“Receiving the award was nothing short of overwhelming,” Salazar says. “It was such a proud moment because it also honoured many of the people who worked alongside of me, yet aren’t often recognized for the important work that they do.”

Much of Salazar’s work as a multicultural champion is based on examples set by his father, a human rights advocate, and his mother, who worked with the women’s movement in Colombia. His desire to connect communities and fight injustice eventually led him to activism and his work at the Vancouver Foundation.

“I didn’t grow up privileged, but I did have strong community connections in my barrio. When we left Colombia, I lost the opportunity to remain a part of that community,” Salazar says. “Today, I use my own immigration journey and life experiences to foster connections and build bridges between diverse, multicultural communities. I want to ensure that other youth who are also forced to leave their communities behind can successfully rebuild their lives here in B.C.”

Salazar manages Fresh Voices, a Vancouver Foundation project that focuses on public engagement, research and partnership work to improve the experiences of newcomer youth in British Columbia. He remains deeply committed to his work and urges others to embrace multiculturalism in their own communities.

“Multiculturalism unites us. It gives us an opportunity to celebrate differences, which immediately makes us stronger as a society,” he says. “By recognizing the many contributions of our diverse multicultural communities, we also ensure people realize that regardless of ethnicity, of language, of religion – they are valued and their culture is important.”

The 2016 British Columbia Multicultural Awards to honour the province’s multicultural champions will be held Nov. 18, 2016 in Vancouver.