BY PATRICK HUNTER
Members of Toronto’s Black community met at the Jamaican Canadian Centre last Saturday for the “formal” release of a report: Towards a Vision for the Black Community.
The report was prepared by a group of well-known members of the community and followed a number of meetings – which they refer to as “family meetings” – and the smaller coordinating meetings which they refer to as “The Breakfast Club”.
Members of the latter include Hamlin Grange, Gervan Fearon, Peter Sloly, Mitzie Hunter, Danielle Dowdy, Mark Beckles, Audrey Campbell and Sharon Shelton.
Quoting from the introductory message: “The objective of this report is to establish a strategic plan in support of community development for the Black community as well as providing a framework for collaboration across organizations and groups within the Black community and stakeholders across communities in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).”
So, the report was designed to present a “status report” on the community based on “key indicators” which would, in essence, provide a framework for collaboration among community organizations towards community development.
The report contains some valuable statistics, presumably derived from recent Census and other available statistics, which demonstrate the relative performance and standing of the Black community relative to the rest of the greater community. In just about every category, we fall short in performance – the justice system, economic well-being, education levels, and so on. For instance, in wages and salaries of less than $20, 000, Blacks are at 63 per cent compared to the visible minority population of 56 per cent and the general population at 59 per cent. Other categories or indicators were similar.
One of the reasons for the objection to the federal government’s cancellation of the long-form Census is that some of the more detailed information about the status of members of the Black community will become less available, and the racial barriers that would be identified in the social spectrum, evidenced by the Census, would be harder to pinpoint. We would get even further lost in the shuffle as the government would bathe in the overall population well-being figures as a sign of a healthy racism-free nation.
But, back to the report. The essential impetus of the report is to assist, support or otherwise encourage greater collaboration between community service organizations, serving primarily the Black community, to set strategic goals towards community development.
This is not the first time these kinds of findings have been put forward by community organizations – indeed, the community as a whole. Whether through those reports, background studies and recommendations, essays, or what have you, there is a sense that both factually and intuitively, members of the community are very much aware of what needs to be done and, in many instances, how it should be done. Where these community-driven initiatives have failed is due in large part to a number of factors, not the least of which are political in-fighting and unnecessary competitiveness, ego and self-aggrandisement.
However, there is more to it than that. The existing community organizations rely heavily on government funding to carry out programs to their constituencies. Sometimes they have to do battle with new upstart organizations that believe that they can deliver certain programs better and therefore compete for funding from the same pot.
Government funding has changed making what is available governed by certain rules that exclude advocacy – advocacy of a type that could be critical of the conditions under which those who are funded must proceed – for one thing. Core funding, of course, is out. Project or program funding is now the norm which sometimes make it difficult for continuity.
One of the recommendations put forward by this report is one that I had hoped they would be more forthcoming in how to achieve it. The recommendation that “The Black community should establish a community research foundation that can provide evidenced-based data and information in support of decision-making and advocacy …” is something I have previously discussed here. Conceptually, this would be a body that would be independently funded by the community, not only to provide research and other supportive mechanisms to improve the community’s well-being, but will monitor and professionally lobby to make sure that the community’s views and impact are represented at all levels of governments and public-serving institutions.
It would seem that the community would need an angel to make this happen, as well as the right combination of leadership and assertiveness. Often, when our vision gets to this stage, things fall apart because of the heavy reliance on volunteer support as opposed to paid professionalism.
There is a cycle in which our community is caught. Being, for the most part, on the low income scale, most of our community is working at precarious jobs – sometimes two or more. Availing ourselves of the time to make representations to the powers that be, with the substantive background material to make the case for change, is not an easy choice. There is also the fear of retribution as well, particularly if you are a government employee. The result is that we do not attend the various committees or other bodies to voice the concerns of the community and ensure those concerns are heard. That results in apathy within the community, and frustrations of being ignored and further apathy.