By TOM GODFREY
The second of three town hall meetings to examine critical issues facing the Black community drew a packed house of concerned residents, including some high-profile political figures.
The meetings, that have been well received, are developing strategies to tackle racial profiling and carding; a high dropout rate of Black students; the large amount of Black men incarcerated and a lack of opportunities, among other concerns.
More than 200 people from across the GTA attended the February 11 meeting that was organized by the Jamaican Canadian Association, Black Action Defense Committee and the Jamaica Diaspora Canada Foundation (JDCF).
More than a dozen community groups have signed up to be part of a coalition to seek changes.
“We are very encouraged by the response that we have been receiving from the community,” JDCF board member, Kingsley Gilliam, told Share. “There has been a lot of discussion that we will soon be putting into action.”
Attendees heard from former MPP Dr. Alvin Curling, a former Speaker of the Ontario Legislature and Ambassador to the Dominican Republic; Lloyd Wilks, consul general of Jamaica and Dr. Vidhya Gyan Tota-Maharaj, consul general of Trinidad & Tobago.
Curling, a former Minister of Housing, co-wrote the Roots of Youth Violence Report, with Roy McMurtry, the former Attorney General of Ontario and former Chief Justice of Ontario.
Organizers said the report is one of about 10 papers prepared in the last decade relating to policing in the Black community.
“We have had numerous similar gatherings and discussed issues over time and have approached politicians but all those efforts have failed,” Curling told a packed house.
“When you take a delegation to meet the Mayor, he must know that it not only affects you personally, but your community, your city, your province and country.”
He said the provincial and federal governments also have to be lobbied for changes.
“Let them know that the economic well-being of the city, the province and the country is being destroyed because of their lack of action on those critical issues,” Curling urged.
He told the gathering to get involved in the proposed closure of Toronto schools because it affects our communities and makes them less livable.
“We must move away from the talk and take effective action,” said Curling. “When the politicians recognize that you have proper representation they will take you seriously.”
Wilks reminded Jamaicans not to become complacent since some of them now have comfortable lives.
He credited the pioneering work of those who helped to pave the way for their success and said that “they have a responsibility to continue the struggle to maintain the progress that they now enjoy”.
Donna Harrow, chair of the Guiding Circle of African-Canadian Coalition of Community Organizations, said her group was created after the 2013 Danzig St. shootings to address violence in the community.
Harrow said a summit was held with community leaders and all levels of governments that produced recommendations that her group is trying to have implemented.
Kirk Mark, of the Canadian Association of Black Educators, said if “students don’t see themselves in the curriculum, they will conclude that they do not exist and they don’t belong.
“We can ill-afford to sit back and let other people make decisions on the lives of our children,” he said. “It’s up to us parents and elders in the community to let your voices be heard by way of representation at the Board of Trustees meetings.”
Also being looked at is the under-representation of Blacks in the Ontario public service; the problems of violence and murder among young Black men and the impact on families; declining employment opportunities and a lack of input in government policy-making.
The next meeting is slated for Wednesday, March 18 at 7 p.m. at the JCA, 995 Arrow Rd.