Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Black Community in Peel Meets to Discuss Crucial Concerns

By Neil Armstrong

From left: Sharon Fletcher, Danielle Dowdy, Yolande Davidson and Audrey Campbell at the 'JCA Let's Chat' event in Brampton, Ontario.

The frigid temperatures did not dampen the enthusiasm of many members of the Region of Peel’s black community who attended a town hall meeting to discuss issues affecting their lives.

Organized by the political advocacy committee of the Jamaican Canadian Association, “JCA Let’s Chat,” is the first of a quarterly series and was held at Xaymaca, a local restaurant in Brampton, Ontario on November 9.

In her opening remarks, JCA president, Adaoma Patterson, noted that Jamaica is among the top ten places of origin of people living in Peel, particularly those living in Brampton, and to a lesser extent Mississauga.

She pondered what that meant in terms of political power, noting that in the 1980s politicians used to come to the Jamaican community regarding various matters.

That has changed to the extent that a politician told Patterson in 2015 that “your community does not vote.”

The forum was held to discuss the issues impacting the black community and the role that the community can play in them.

Patterson noted that Brampton West has been identified as having the highest number of Jamaicans per capita of any riding in Canada.

Garnett Manning, a former Brampton city councillor; Michelle Richards, co-chair of the Peel Police Black Advisory Committee; and Kathy McDonald, Peel District School Board trustee spoke on issues such as political engagement, policing, the child welfare system and education.

The facilitator was Danielle Dowdy, who along with Yolande Davidson and Audrey Campbell organized the event.

Manning said democracy demands participation and that a free democratic society elects its leaders through the process of voting.

He said some people could be apathetic but the beneficiaries of the system are those who participate.

The former councillor said there are three steps to political involvement, starting with the individual.

“It begins with you and it ends with you,” he said, emphasizing the importance of parents taking their children to the polling station on election day so that they see them actively participating in the process.

Manning also told them that they could be ‘squandering an important opportunity’ if they do not vote strategically.

“Think about what you want candidates to have on their platform,” he said, encouraging them to run as candidates too.

The aim is to have candidates run and win, said Manning, noting that people coming together strategically was how he won as councillor in 2003.

Speaking on street checks or carding, Richards said Peel’s chief of police, Jennifer Evans, has said she will not stop it.

Richards urged the community to challenge such checks by contacting a division staff sergeant to file a complaint.

Regarding school resource officers, she said the police told her that they have been operating in schools for 25 years to create a safe environment and that there has been a reduction in the youth crime rate.

As someone who works in child welfare, she said the Children’s Aid Society (CAS) is not the place to call for general assistance.

She said schools are a feeder into the child welfare system noting that some teachers will call the CAS if they think a child is at the risk of harm – which is very subjective.

Richards said the CAS operates on a fear-based perspective and that once anyone is involved in the system it can be an assumption of risk, which varies.

She told parents that they are not obligated to let CAS in their homes and to demand to see what the agency has written about them.

McDonald said children are the community’s most precious resources and as a school board trustee her platform is to help marginalized kids in general, black boys and kids in poverty, in particular.

Speaking on the Peel District School Board’s plan to support black male students, “We Rise Together,” released in October 2016, she said there is “power in our community, power in our voices.”

“As a community we have to be vigilant and hold the board accountable. It’s really important that we use our voice. We, as the community, need to come out more and advocate for our kids.”

She said it is important to engage the community about what the board is doing with modern learning.

The school board trustee wants to “arm our parents with the knowledge of what the system has” so that they know what is available to their kids within the school board.

She encouraged them to attend the board meetings and to ask questions on any matter of concern.

Some in attendance spoke of the need for a common vision, a strategic plan that everybody buys into; others spoke of the need to get involved in a cause.

The next town hall will be held in Mississauga and on the agenda they hope to discuss economic power, collective wealth and establishing a credit union.

[This story has been published in the North American Weekly Gleaner, Nov. 23-29, 2017.]

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