Community leaders come together after ‘incredibly traumatic’ year to build on anti-racism initiatives

MPP Rima Berns-McGown hosts local activists discuss anti-racism efforts with community members

Anti-racism protesters holding black lives matter signs
East-enders take part in a Black Lives Matter march on June 14, moving through Kew Gardens in The Beach. Erin Horrocks-Pope/Beach Beat Blog

The past year has seen an “incredibly traumatic” surge in race-related incidents in Toronto’s east end — from schools and parks to local businesses and construction sites — a community meeting has been told.

A virtual community conversation was held Feb. 17 to discuss ongoing anti-racism initiatives organized by community members.

The live-streamed discussion, Building Anti-Racist Communities, was hosted by MPP Rima Berns-McGown and featured eight community activists.

“We have to re-educate and decolonize all of our own brains, and then we have to work together to build trust across race,” panelist Zhara Dhanani said.

Dhanani, co-owner of Old’s Cool General Store in East York, has been a community activist for decades.

When nooses were found on the Ellis Don construction site at Michael Garron Hospital in June, Dhanani and her colleagues took action.

“We were mortified,” she said. “We knew we had to make sure this didn’t get swept under the rug.”

The Old’s Cool team and community came together last year to demand action from Ellis Don with months of protests, art installations, and multi-platform media coverage.

Anti-racist artwork outside construction site
Anti-racism art installation organized by Old’s Cool General Store in response to nooses found on the Ellis Don construction site at Michael Garron Hospital in East York on Oct. 8. (ERIN HORROCKS-POPE/BEACH BEAT BLOG)

According to Steve Anderson, an Olympic Gold Medal Coach living in Toronto, people from “both sides of the fence” need to work together to deconstruct what doesn’t work and build a new system based on equity and equality.

“The system is not broken,” Anderson said. “The system is functioning the way that it was designed.”

D. Tyler Robinson, an educator with the TDSB, set out to address anti-Black racism in schools by creating a new course with his colleagues to help his students who live with the weight of systemic racism.

“We did what all thoughtful educators should do. We listened,” Robinson said. “We figured out that there was a community need, created an individual response and we collaborated.”

The Grade 12 university prep-course “Deconstructing anti-Black Racism in the Canadian and North American Context,” will be launched at five Toronto schools for the next school year.

“Anti-Black racism has been with us in this country since its founding,” Robinson said. “Race and racism is a social construct…. When we listen to each other, and we share, and we see each other’s full humanity — we’re a little bit nicer to each other. We’re a little bit more thoughtful about what we say and do and how our intentions can be different than the impact, so we create reflection in all these things.”

The full Building Anti-Racism Communities discussion can be watched online.

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Posted: Feb 19 2021 9:45 pm
Filed under: Community News