FERGUS – About 500 people turned up at Victoria Park for the Black Lives Matter march on June 20.
And they heard sobering stories of overt racism in this community as well as the more subtle ways Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC) feel less valued here.
Eric Baptiste, who emceed the event, said his parents left Haiti for Florida when he was young, but his father was arrested and deported back to Haiti.
His mother brought the family to Canada – a country that prides itself on having no racism.
“Those claims turned out to be a façade,” he said, adding his mother has been called the ‘N’ word at her job.
“And it’s not just her. This county was created on white supremacy. Canada displays multiculturalism, but it’s only a marketing strategy.
“Black and Indigenous people are killed in Canada while officers go unpunished.”
Andrew Knight, another speaker, said he’s experienced racism for most of his 30 years in Canada, “but I have experienced more racism in the last 10 days than in all my other years.
“People yelling at me when I’m crossing the street and death threats.
“Get on the right side of change. I think deep down, even racists know it ain’t right.”
When Carlen Golding took the mic, he heaped criticism at the Wellington Advertiser for a cartoon in its June 18 edition.
The cartoon depicted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau with his knee on the back of a beaver that represented taxpayers. The Advertiser has received criticism on social media as well for the cartoon.
“I’m disgusted with the cartoon,” Golding said to cries of support from the crowd.
“And the worst part is that it ran on Juneteenth, the day slavery ended,” in the United States.
“And this is Pride Month and I don’t see Pride flags or rainbows. We can do better as a community to make people feel proud of who they are.”
Kyra Nankivell shared stories of being one of the few People of Colour when she attended Centre Wellington District High School and how people would comment and want to touch her hair, compare their tans to her skin colour, and how one customer wouldn’t let her serve him when she worked at McDonald’s.
“This community desperately needs to hear our voices,” Nankivell said.
Then the march began. It wove along Albert, Scotland, St. Andrew and Tower streets, as well as Belsyde Avenue, before returning to Victoria Park.
Marchers chanted “No justice, No peace, No racist police,” “don’t shoot” and “I can’t breathe” and received honks and cheers as they marched through town.
Back at Victoria Park, Nankivell thanked supporters and issued a challenge.
“I’m so proud. Look at this crowd. We showed this town that Black Lives Matter,” she said.
“But it doesn’t end today. Continue the conversation. I know there are many white people here. You need to talk to your kids and your family.”
In an interview after the event, Nankivell said systemic change does have to happen – in schools, with police, with government – “but changing government is a slow process.
“We have a grassroots movement here. If everybody here keeps talking about racism and calls it out when they see it, we can also change attitudes.”