After 25 years as Barbados House, the Donald Moore Community Services Inc. was unveiled last Saturday to reflect the needs of the evolving community.
A builder and activist, Moore successfully lobbied for changes to the discriminatory immigration laws that prevented Blacks from coming to Canada.
In a four-year span up until 1999, the organization administered and allocated nearly $10 million to community projects and, through the Jobs Ontario Youth program, helped thousands of young people in the Greater Toronto Area secure employment.
“This is probably the very last time that you will see or hear the words ‘Barbados House’,” said founding member, Reynold Austin, at the third annual Donald Moore Appreciation brunch. “But we will never be able to erase from the hearts and souls of those thousands of young people who walked into Barbados House over the last 25 years seeking their very first jobs, their very first careers and for many of them, the only career they will ever have.”
The organization’s rebranding started two years ago in the wake of former diplomat Kay McConney’s reminder that Barbadian organizations in Canada are losing their relevance and ability to attract young people.
“As part of our new mission, we will – with the support of partners – provide and support programs and services to inspire and uplift our community with the emphasis on seniors and young people of Black and Caribbean heritage,” said Austin, who is the president of the Canadian arm of the Barbados Democratic Labour Party. “Our vision is to be at the forefront of advocating and implementing initiatives that will bring positive and equitable benefits to the Black and Caribbean communities in Canada.”
In its infancy, Barbados House was dedicated to the establishment of a community centre to provide social and recreational services for Barbadian and other Caribbean citizens in the Greater Toronto Area.
The organization, which has maintained an office in Scarborough since its existence, was launched during an era of heightened systemic discrimination against Blacks in the early 1990s.
Using the Stephen Lewis report of 1992 as a backdrop, they received charitable status the following year and applied to the Ministry of Social Services & Citizenship for funding to erect a community centre – Barbados House – in Toronto. After several challenges with the application process over a two-year period, the organization’s request for $2 million to purchase the land to build the community centre in the Scarborough area was approved.
The euphoria was short-lived when the Conservatives, who replaced the New Democrats in the province, promptly nixed the funding for the proposed centre.
Undaunted, the organization ploughed on, providing weekend tutoring to young people, outfitting Barbadian schools with computers and other educational resources and shipping dozens of wheelchairs to the eastern Caribbean island.
Barbados House also presented bursaries and scholarships and donated several special awards in the past 19 years.
“We are proud of our achievements, but we realized that we had to change the way we were doing business if we wanted to be relevant,” said Austin, the president and chief executive officer of Ebony Gardens, which is the first Black-managed town home complex in the Hamilton region. “We renewed our focus and re-branded because we wanted to be more inclusive and broaden our scope while renewing our mission.”
Former federal minister Jean Augustine said the name change will remind young people that they stand on the shoulders of individuals who made huge sacrifices and paved the way for them to succeed.
“I think it’s important you do this,” said the Order of Canada recipient. “It’s crucial that we imprint the names of those who have made the path for so many of us. Far too many of our young people seem to think the world was always as it is, not recognizing the struggles, challenges and the doors that were not only pushed, but kicked down in order for us to be where we are today. It’s good for our young people to recognize there are a number of us who have done a few things in this society and moved the agenda forward. There are so many people who have been standing in those precious places making a difference, going all the way back to the time of Donald Moore.”
For the past 15 summers, the organization has staged a golf tournament which is a major fundraiser.
In addition to Austin, the original board comprised Covey Carter, Basil Blackman, Anita Quintine and the late Gordon Bynoe and Dr. Kenneth Searles.