In the late 1950s, before the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and before most national development organizations got their start, an enthusiastic group of people were meeting in a basement, talking about international development and trying to figure out what to do next. Inspired by a Black American preacher named James Robinson, the group would go on to found Crossroads International and to enable thousands of Canadians and citizens in the developing world to join forces in the common goal of creating a more just and sustainable world. Dr. Robinson believed that people are fundamentally more similar than different and envisioned ONE WORLD in which mutual understanding and respect for racial and cultural differences prevailed. In a 1950s-era America divided by racism and discrimination, his vision was radical, and it remains profoundly relevant today. In 1958 he established Operation Crossroads Africa, a volunteer organization that brought black and white Americans and Canadians to work alongside Africans in development projects.

Peter Paris was the first Canadian Crossroader, travelling with Dr. Robinson to Nigeria in 1958. Small groups of volunteers raised funds and coordinated overseas placements for Canadians throughout the 1960s. Crossroaders, as the volunteers came to be known, built schools and community centres, taught in areas that did not have teachers and helped build infrastructure in vulnerable communities. By 1969, 257 Canadians participated in overseas placements.

The lesson from Crossroads founders is the tremendous obligation to carry this work forward, not to repeat it blindly. They did not repeat blindly what came before them. They developed new solutions to the challenges they faced and took bold, innovative steps. That’s what Crossroads and similar organizations have to do today; not to repeat what was done in 1957 or 1963 or 1972, but to do it new with the same kind of courage and creativity.

Michael Cooke, Former ED at Crossroads, Academic Vice President, George Brown College

Throughout its history, Crossroads has changed with changing needs, developing innovative volunteer cooperation programs that contribute to lasting change. More than 9,000 Canadians and volunteers from the global South have volunteered with Crossroads. As we work towards “One World”, the spirit of Dr. James Robinson and the commitment, determination and generosity of Crossroads’ founders continue to inspire and inform our work.

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