The first phase of a ground-breaking project exploring the lived experiences of Blacks in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) has been completed.
Through focused individual and group discussions and interviews, the initial community engagement phase of the Black Experience Project (BEP) established a solid foundation for the research by identifying the issues and questions of greatest relevance by leveraging the knowledge, skills and experiences within the community, engaging emerging youth leaders, bringing together leaders, local organizations and the community at large and providing opportunities for participants to contribute to subsequent phases of the project.
A total of 35 ‘Trailblazer” community leaders took part in the first community engagement session in September 2012. Based on their feedback, 19 community-wide sessions were held between November 2012 and March 2013 to engage individuals from diverse sections of the Black community. The first phase concluded with a community elders meeting last June.
The Environics Institute for Survey Research is collaborating with Ryerson University’s Diversity Institute, the YMCA of Greater Toronto and the United Way of Toronto on the pioneering research study.
“We started the institute in 2006 because we wanted to give a voice to the people in our community that we don’t normally hear from,” said Environics president Michael Adams. “There is a community at our doorstep that needs to be given that voice. They need respectful attention, they need to be better understood and they need to have an opportunity to tell their own stories and not just have them told by others.
“They need to be appreciated for their contributions to the broader society and they need to be understood for the diversity within the broader community. The 400,000 plus members of the Black community resident in the GTA stand out as a community that commands our attention.”
The Ted Rogers School of Management’s Diversity Institute at Ryerson University is a key partner in the project, working with organizations to develop customized strategies, programming and resources to promote new interdisciplinary knowledge and practice about diversity.
“Ryerson is committed to evidence-based research and it’s this commitment that resulted in the creation of a number of entry points that have helped us initiate critical discussions about being Black in the GTA through Phase One of the Black Experience Project,” said Dr. Laura Mae Lindo, a senior research associate at the institute.
“Speaking with a wide range of young people, students, community trailblazers and professionals who self-identify as being part of the GTA’s growing Black community, the first phase report presents a solid foundation for moving the BEP research agenda forward in ways that will illuminate and promote the valuable contributions of Black communities in the GTA and beyond.”
Michael Hall, the YMCA of Greater Toronto’s vice-president for program and research development, said the BEP fits with the values of his organization.
“This project offers us a unique opportunity to build on our own understanding both inside the Y and the GTA about the lives of an important segment of our community, one whose accomplishments are too infrequently highlighted and celebrated and a community where the focus has often being on deficits and problems rather than opportunities and successes,” he said.
The information captured through the community engagement process will guide the design of the research in the second phase which consists of an in-depth survey of the Black community across the GTA with a representative sample of 1,000 to 3,000 individuals.
Once the research is completed, the findings will be broadly shared and sessions and events will be organized to actively engage the Black community and policymakers around implications and follow up.
Marva Wisdom, a consultant and community enthusiast, was the first phase project director.
Environics executive director Dr. Keith Neuman will lead Phase Two while Wisdom will continue on the project as director of community engagement.
“The formal project will likely wrap-up late next year or early in 2016 and I have proposed a huge conference where the entire community can come together as part of the information dissemination and develop action plans based on the research findings,” Wisdom added.
A final report on the community engagement is available at www.environicsinstitute.org/bep-gta.