A long time ago, when I first approached Al Hamilton, then publisher of Contrast, to write a column for the newspaper, my selling point was to help our community better understand what was happening at the provincial government level. So, my column was entitled: “From Queen’s Park”.
I had the belief then, as I still do, that we should pay closer attention to what was being said and done at the provincial seat of government, how it works and what impact its actions had on our community. I wanted us to become more involved in the decision-making – to know how laws are developed and enacted; how policies were decided on, and how we can and should have a say in what was happening.
Over the years, we seem to have relied more heavily on street demonstrations to show dissatisfaction with some of the policies or lack of corrective measures that have a negative impact on members of our community.
Some things have changed as a result of those street demonstrations and we are thankful for that. At the same time, there was a period in which delegations to meet with ministers of government and other politicians at all levels increased. Some of those meetings were moderately successful. A weakness however was evident.
While many of the delegations were successful in gaining a meeting, there was no formal method or arrangement to do a follow up. The fact is that many of the delegations were ad hoc coalitions, if you will, which made pitches to government for resources, funding, policy changes – a spectrum of problems. In some cases, a measure of the results was tangible – funding was provided or a policy change was enacted. However, the “watchdog” apparatus was virtually non-existent. People went back to their “normal” life and there was no formal structure in place to maintain contact with the officials with whom they had met.
There were some cases, I regret to say, in which the delegations were somewhat unprepared in not only the key messages they wanted to deliver to the officials but the lack of a cohesive follow-up mechanism was the more serious fault.
One of the most consistent issue that we, particularly in the Toronto area, have is with the police – racial profiling, carding, among others. At times, one could walk away with the sense that this is the only problem the Black community has. Of course, police-Black community relations is not the only problem. It is however one of the touchstone issues that have the potential to galvanize the community in a way that few other issues have.
We know, for example, that one of the biggest problems facing our community is the high level of youth unemployment. And, as we know, the rate for Black youth is always higher than the “all youth” category. CivicAction, the Toronto-based group which monitors these weaknesses in the social fabric, reported last year that youth unemployment in Toronto was 19 per cent among non-visible minorities. For visible minorities, the number was 24 per cent.
We know that the dropout rate in Toronto schools among Black youth is higher. We know that racism continues to be the biggest barrier facing our community. We know that there are several reports that have documented the difficulties faced by our community. We know that promises have been made – promises such as a government body (like the old anti-racism secretariat and a cabinet committee to deal with issues of racism) that have yet to be fulfilled.
A bigger, more all-encompassing issue is the lack of formal advocacy architecture, not only to lobby governments to ensure across-the-board improvements in barrier-free access within the society where our community is concerned, but also to keep track of promises made and point out the failure to fulfill those promises, especially at election time.
Of course, someone who believes in conspiracy theories could propose the idea that keeping the issue of Black community-police relations in the forefront is a diversionary tactic designed to keep other issues off the table. Meanwhile the Wynne government blissfully moves on in every other direction except attending to some of the issues that could go far to resolving the Black community’s issues. We are not in the high priority class as residents of this province.
The vision that the Harper Government provides is “lock ‘em up” for as long as possible. The underlying message there is that we don’t matter.
In the United States there are organizations such as the NAACP and the National Urban League, among others, with a long history. Whatever one may think of them in today’s context, they continue to exist and provide some continuity in seeking a better life for African-Americans.
In Canada, many of the local organizations that formed the base for advocating for change have been forced to make a choice. They can provide services but open advocacy work is curtailed. Of course, there is also the problem, in some cases, of misguided leadership.
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