‘The community wants to learn’: officials aim to educate, empower with Anti-Racism Summit in Guelph

GUELPH – The Guelph Black Heritage Society (GBHS) is hosting its inaugural #ChangeStartsNow Anti-Racism Summit next week – from April 29 to May 2.

GBHS president Denise Francis hopes the multi-day virtual summit, which will feature several prominent speakers, will educate and empower the community.

The #ChangeStartsNow initiative is an anti-racism project aimed at responding to and preventing racism in Guelph and Wellington County.

“We started the initiative after the (Black Lives Matter) march last summer,” Francis told the Advertiser.

“Since that time we’ve been working on our different initiatives.”

She explained the society is in the process of launching a business directory and, were it not for the COVID-19 pandemic, its library of Black literature would be open. The society has also started research on Black history in Guelph/Wellington.

“We really noticed too, during Black Heritage Month in February, that people wanted to learn about these issues,” said Francis.

“We had very good attendance for our Black Heritage Month event, in particular, our best-attended event, an anti-racism workshop [with Selam Debs].

“We know that the community wants to learn, and we’re here to help provide the resources to help them on that path.”

Francis hopes the Anti-Racism Summit, which begins with a free Black Community Town Hall on April 29 at 6pm, will provide safe spaces for the BIPOC (Black Indigenous and People of Colour) community.

“Sometimes in our community, we need a safe-haven; we need to be able to have a space where we feel comfortable talking about the issues that affect our community, and sometimes we need to create a safe space where it’s only members of the BIPOC community, where we’re together to share our shared experiences,” Francis  explained.

“That’s why it’s important; it gives us a time to talk, it gives us a time for community, and hopefully, it gives us a time to heal.”

Francis stressed the summit is open and inclusive to people of all backgrounds, colours and creeds. It will also host events dedicated to the Black and BIPOC community.

“The Black community has been in Guelph since the 1800s, but many people don’t realize that,” Francis explained.

“That’s why we’re having some events that are exclusively for the Black community so that we can have a safe space so that we can talk about issues affecting our community …”

The #ChangeStartsNow education initiative has developed community resources to educate the community about racism, local Black history, and methods for members of the public can help prevent racism and hate crimes.

“One of the best ways that we will be able to measure if hate has decreased is when we look at the statistics a year from now,” said Francis.

“We have received numbers from the Guelph Police services this year and we know that the Black community, in particular, has the highest amount of hate crime victims.”

She added, “The (Black Lives Matter) protest almost happened a year ago, and we still have lots of work to do but I’m hopeful things will get better.”

Summit workshops will focus on educating the community on implicit biases, business education for the BIPOC community, Canadian Black history, inclusive children’s literature, and more.

The best way to be an ally to the BIPOC community, according to Francis, is through education.

“On our website, we have our Top 100 Educational Resources … The community can attend events, one of the events that we have is being put on by Unlearn and it’s talking about biases and how we can unlearn that,” said Francis.

“I think the community needs to continue to educate themselves, continue to attend events, and also reach out, and we can help provide them with the resources.”

The summit will also include sessions for BIPOC youth.

“We’re trying to engage the youth in different ways; we’ve made contacts with officials at the Wellington Catholic District School Board, and the Upper Grand District School Board,” she said.

“Also, by having some sessions that we hope will appeal to the younger people, we hope that will encourage them to come out and participate.”

An event to look forward to during the Anti-Racism Summit, is the screening of the film John Ware Reclaimed, said Francis.

“The film is about John Ware, who came to what is now Calgary in the early 1900s. Many people think growing up in Ontario, we don’t know much about the west,” she said.

“Black people were in that community for over 100 years too. This film talks about the racism he encounters, and it also gives us a little history about the west. I’m most interested in the Q&A with the filmmaker Cheryl Foggo after the screening of the film.”

The virtual summit will feature a series of free and ticketed events. The Guelph Black Heritage Society will be providing additional free tickets for persons with financial barriers. Reach out at info@guelphblackheritage.ca for more information.

Each pass is offered on a sliding scale from $35 to $65 ($495 value) and will give access to 10 exclusive events for the duration of the summit.

Passes can be purchased at https://www.showpass.com/changestartsnow-anti-racism-summit. Details are also available on the Guelph Black Heritage Society Facebook page.