Friday, 27 March 2020

Black Parents Concerned About How School Disciplinary Actions Affect Their Children

By Neil Armstrong 

Photo contributed      Althea Coke, a criminal defence lawyer

Black parents in Peel Region are concerned about how disciplinary actions in the Peel District School Board (PDSB) are affecting their children.

Several met on March 7 at Central Peel Secondary School in Brampton, Ontario to participate in a parent engagement workshop organized by the parent representatives of the We Rise Together Community Advisory Council.

We Rise Together is the PDSB’s action plan to identify, understand, minimize and eliminate the marginalization experienced by Black students in its schools.

Under the theme “Discipline: From Time Out to Kicked Out,” the parents heard from a panel of experts including education lawyer, Alex Battick; Abigail Hamilton, executive director of ResQ Youth; and Althea Coke, a criminal defence lawyer. 

Photo contributed         Alex Battick, an education lawyer

The session, which focused on student progressive discipline, including detentions, suspensions, and expulsions, was moderated by Knia Singh, a lawyer and community advocate.

The aim was for parents to learn the process and how to advocate for their children if they have been put out of class, suspended or expelled.

Singh read from sections 306, 307 and 310 of the Ontario Education Act outlining suspensions and the requirements of principals, students, parents and guardians.

Hamilton said after a student has been suspended or expelled a notice must be sent to the parent within 24 hours informing of the action.

“I know that sometimes in our community we tend to react towards the child, however, there are certain steps that can be taken and I would strongly suggest it’s important to do your own investigation. Talk to your child and find out his side of what happened.”

She also suggested scheduling an appointment to go to the school to meet with the principal to get all the facts and then decide on what action to take.

Photo contributed         Abigail Hamilton, executive director, ResQ Youth International

Singh endorsed this approach noting that, “if you don’t understand the facts, you can’t address the issue.”

Coke said as a criminal lawyer one of the issues that she comes across is that when police are brought in and the student is charged, there are instances when the principal or school officials request a statement from the student.

She said they do not realize that the student has a right to be silent when faced with criminal offences.

The lawyer noted that there is a conflict here because while school policies might require that, at the end of the day charges are under the Youth Criminal Justice Act -- a federal Act that trumps any other policy or any other legislation of Ontario.

Coke said there are Charter rights; students have a right to be silent, parents need to be notified as well, students are presumed to be innocent and they have the right not to make any statement.

The lawyer said the police or a principal cannot question a student without their parent being present.

“They have the right to also contact counsel so they cannot make any statement without the parent or as well speaking with their lawyer or a lawyer.

Battick said parents are owed procedural fairness in that they are entitled to be notified that their child has been suspended and entitled to have an appeal right to challenge the decision. Parents should also be informed of the timeline that they have to make an appeal for that suspension.

Hamilton said sometimes principals will advise parents that it is not necessary for them to go to the school because they, the principals, will take care of the situation.

“Would that not be considered a conflict of interest because the principal is the person who obviously called the police so I would suggest to parents that it is your right to be there and not to just accept what the principal says,” she said.

Photo contributed        Knia Singh, lawyer and community advocate

Singh recommended that parents be aware of their rights by reading the Education Act and the school’s policy about student discipline.

He said from his experience in many instances the administrations of schools do not inform the parents of their rights.

Singh said the Education Act only allows 10 days for a parent to submit a request for an appeal.

It was also noted that it is important for parents to examine their child’s Ontario School Record at the school and they have the right to ask that certain things be expunged depending on the nature of it.

Coke said many studies have shown the existence of the school-to-prison pipeline and the education system is the key entry point to the criminal justice system.

“When there is an overreliance of involving the use of suspension and expulsion when there might otherwise be other ways of addressing it the school-based educational response what that leads to is to a weakened bond with the student and the school and the supportive systems in the school. And when you have that weakened bond you run the risk of students losing interest in school and then there are negative repercussions from that,” she said.

The panel also underscored the importance of parents documenting every phone call that they had with every teacher and principal, what their child told them, and any correspondence to strengthen their case.

Jamaicans in Toronto Adjust to Precautions to ‘Flatten the Curve’ of COVID-19

By Neil Armstrong 

Jamaicans in Toronto are following the necessary precautions to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus – COVID-19 – in the wake of the declaration of a state of emergency, reduction in businesses and public transportation, a temporary closure of the U.S.-Canada border to non-essential travel, and advice to self-isolate and to practice social distancing.

Merrick Aries and Antovin Aries, owners of The Diner’s Corner restaurant in downtown Toronto, have seen a sharp decrease in their customers.

In ordering a state of emergency, Premier Doug Ford announced the immediate closure of “all bars and restaurants, except to the extent that such facilities provide takeout food and delivery.”

Merrick says many of their customers work in the office towers downtown and with the advice to work from home many are doing so, which has contributed to the drop in diners and takeout orders.

The restaurant has reduced its hours of operation and its staff complement. It will provide takeout and delivery only.

Andre Rose, an entrepreneur, recently went on a cruise and was outside Canada when things escalated regarding COVID-19 and all the necessary precautions.

He said while everyone had a wonderful time aboard what was noticeable were the hand sanitizers that were everywhere.

On his return to Toronto from Florida, Rose plans to self-quarantine for 14 days and to follow the directions of public health authorities.

Andre Rose, entrepreneur and author

Randy’s Take-Out, popular for its Jamaican patties, in the Eglinton Avenue West and Oakwood Avenue area, known as ‘Little Jamaica,’ is only allowing eight customers into the small space at any given time.

Toni, a worker there, said they have posted a big sign on the door informing customers that they will only allow a batch of eight customers in periodically.

She said she washes her hands often for 20 seconds and does that before handling food and before dealing with cash.

On March 17, the provincial government declared a state of emergency, in which it said by doing so Ontario is using every power possible to continue to protect the health and safety of all individuals and families.

"We are facing an unprecedented time in our history," said Premier Ford. "This is a decision that was not made lightly. COVID-19 constitutes a danger of major proportions. We are taking this extraordinary measure because we must offer our full support and every power possible to help our health care sector fight the spread of COVID-19. The health and wellbeing of every Ontarian must be our number one priority."

Christine Elliott, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health, said they were acting on the best advice of the Chief Medical Officer of Health and other leading public health officials across the province.

 "We know these measures will affect people's every day lives, but they are necessary to ensure that we can slow the spread of COVID-19 and protect our people. We're working with all partners across the system, from public health to hospitals and community care, to do everything we can to contain this virus and ensure that the system is prepared to respond to any scenario,” she said.

Meanwhile, Mayor John Tory, who is in self-isolation because he travelled to England recently on a business trip, said the state of emergency declaration will help the province and all cities, including Toronto, protect the health of residents and further prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“The declaration legally requires all bars and restaurants, except to the extent that such facilities provide takeout food and delivery; all theatres; all facilities providing indoor recreational programs; all public libraries; all private schools as defined in the Education Act; and all licensed child care centres to close immediately.
“All organized public events of over fifty people are also prohibited, including parades and events and communal services within places of worship.”
This follows the City of Toronto medical officer of health's strong recommendation for dine-in restaurants, bars, nightclubs, and theatres to temporarily close to fight COVID-19 and the closure of all City facilities, including libraries and recreation centres, which was announced on March 13.
The federal government has announced a massive $82-billion aid package to help Canadians and businesses, including income supports, wage subsidies and tax deferrals amid the global COVID-19 pandemic.

[An edited version of this story was published in the North American Weekly Gleaner, March 26-April 1, 2020.]

Torontonians Concerned About the Spread of COVID-19 Pandemic

By Neil Armstrong

Photo contributed        Adaoma Patterson, president of the Jamaican Canadian Association

Within hours of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s announcement of a more than $1 billion COVID-19 Response Fund and the World Health Organization declaring the disease a pandemic, the Jamaican Canadian Association (JCA) held a board meeting to put a plan in place to curb the spread of the virus at its centre.

The government’s comprehensive approach includes measures already underway to respond to the outbreak, as well as new investments to limit the spread of the virus in Canada and prepare for its possible broader impacts on our people, our economy, and our small businesses.

“Experts indicate that our approach has been very effective to date. The announcement of $1 billion is very welcome news and we hope that some of the funds will be used to protect and support those most vulnerable, such as precarious workers and people experiencing homelessness,” says JCA president Adaoma Patterson, about the federal government’s efforts to minimize the impact of COVID-19.

The JCA Board is putting a plan in place to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on the JCA Centre.

“You will see increased signage reminding people to wash and sanitize hands, increased number of sanitizer stations, more frequent wiping of common areas, door handles and other surfaces, and we encourage people to contact us by phone to book the halls, especially if they have a cough,” says Patterson.

Since taking those precautionary measures the JCA has subsequently cancelled or postponed activities at the centre.

"The COVID-19 pandemic has become a cause for concern globally and has been impacting activities all over. In keeping with health authorities and government orders we have cancelled or postponed a number of activities. Further to this, the JCA is not considered an essential service which means we will be closed as per provincial requirements," said the organization in a email sent to members and friends on March 25.

Among the measures announced by Prime Minister Trudeau are investments to provide support to workers in quarantine or who have been directed to self-isolate who will claim Employment Insurance (EI) sickness benefits by waiving the mandatory one-week waiting period so they can be paid for the first week of their claim. 

“We are exploring additional measures to support other affected Canadians, including income support for those who are not eligible for EI sickness benefits.”

There will also be an introduction of enhancements to the Work-Sharing program to help support employers and their workers who are experiencing a downturn in business due to COVID-19.

Work-sharing helps keep workers employed and able to receive income support even as their hours of work may be reduced. These enhancements will double the length of time that employers and workers are eligible to use work-share from 38 to 76 weeks, and streamline processes so help can be accessed as soon as possible.

Martin Thame, a human resources manager, views the government’s response as a positive move.

“I’m very happy to see that the federal government has thought about several elements around a response to the coronavirus. One, the employer is covered in terms of how it is that the employer will be financed and some guidelines to the employers as to how it is that they can support the employees during this case. The employees are also supported as to what benefits are available to them in the event that they are unable to work and the policies are being flexed to accommodate these changes.”

He said it seems the government recognizes that this is only a temporary measure and any further measures will depend on how things progress.

Meanwhile, Canute Lawrence, a teacher in Toronto, the COVID-19 is “affecting all of us directly or indirectly.”

 “I am always in close proximity to many students throughout the day. If any of those students were exposed to the novel coronavirus, then you can imagine how easy it would be for the disease to be transmitted throughout a school.”

Lawrence is also the staff advisor for the DECA club, which prepares emerging leaders and entrepreneurs, and over twenty students have qualified to participate and compete in Nashville, Tennessee for the International Career Development Conference (ICDC), the international competition from April 27 to May 4.

“Many parents and students are deeply concerned about going to the US where the cases of COVID-19 are increasing steadily. I am also concerned that if we go, we may end up in a situation where we are quarantined in our hotel, and I prefer to be quarantined in Canada rather than in the USA," said Lawrence earlier in the month.

The DECA/ICDC trip was subsequently cancelled in light of the pandemic.

“I have become more aware of things I touch and I sanitize often. I also will avoid crowded spaces as much as possible,” said Lawrence.

Photo contributed      Hassan Yussuff, president of the Canadian Labour Congress

The federal government said it is working closely with local, provincial, territorial, and international partners to minimize its health, economic, and social impacts in Canada and around the world.

Meanwhile, Canada’s unions are calling on the federal government to implement all measures necessary to protect jobs and ensure public health measures stop the spread of COVID-19.

“Canadian workers are in a very tenuous situation right now. The majority have no paid sick leave and low cash reserves to buffer against unemployment. For many, missing work is not an option,” said Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) president Hassan Yussuff.

 “No one should be fired for self-quarantining or recovering from infection. We need to make sure the needs of all workers are moved to the top of the priority list as we position ourselves to respond to this evolving threat.”

Noting that the prime minister acted quickly to form a cabinet committee to respond to the spread of the virus, the unions are calling on the minister of labour to be included in this response unit.

Black Community Welcomes Black Mental Health Day

By Neil Armstrong

Photo contributed     A Community Healing Circle, organized by TAIBU Community Health Centre, at Tropicana Community Services in Scarborough, Ontario

The Black community in Toronto has welcomed the city’s first Black Mental Health Day, which was officially declared on March 2, and will be known as such on the first Monday of March in ensuing years.

Led by the City of Toronto and TAIBU Community Health Centre, the aim is to help highlight the impact of anti-Black racism on mental health in the city. 

“Mental health is a serious challenge within the diverse Black communities. It is stigmatizing for many. The impact that anti-Black racism and the direct effects of the various social determinants of health adversely and disproportionately affect us,” says Celestia Richards, president of TAIBU Community Health Centre.

She says the lack of sufficient race-based and disaggregated data hinder them from understanding the extent of the challenge, but at the same time is visible through various studies and reports.

“There are not enough culturally and African-centered mental health services that cater to the unique needs of the Black communities, including Francophone and newcomers.”

TAIBU decided to be a driving force for Black Mental Health Day to “enable us to have ongoing dialogue and discourse around our mental health and wellbeing within the Black communities to address our own stigma.”

Several members of the Black communities in Toronto, and as far away as Ottawa where a similar declaration was done, support the initiative.

“Recognizing Black Mental Health Day is a step in the right direction and an excellent opportunity to begin the conversation within the African Canadian community. Most people are unaware of the profound impact that racism has on Black people’s health and wellbeing,” says Sherldine Tomlinson, a lifestyle medicine educator and registered kinesiologist.

She hopes that the acknowledgement of this health issue opens up meaningful discussions on racism in Canada and its impact on the lives of Black people.

“Canadians have a tendency to ignore racism in Canada because we have been taught that racism is an American problem, so we do not often make the links to how racial inequality, poverty, and other forms of structural violence caused by racism can affect our mental health.”

The purpose of the day is to also engage stakeholders, including faith-based organizations, and build capacity so there is a stronger network and support  system. It also seeks to engage as well as confront the system players – service providers, mental health agencies and others in addressing access issues, as well as cultural appropriateness and safety.

“Toronto's recognition of March 2nd as Black Mental Health Day is an important acknowledgment of the effects racism has on Black mental health. Enormous respect must be given to the organizers and activists who made this happen. I'm skeptical as to whether Toronto will actually reexamine its policies and practices that perpetuate racism against Black people particularly in policing, transit, and housing. Nevertheless, I'm hopeful,” says Jamaal Myers, a community organizer.

TAIBU noted that a very important reason for the declaration is to identify and work with key allies who are able to move the agenda of health equity and anti-Black racism forward.

“It’s needed as I myself have recently struggled. It is a unique predicament as someone who has a Caribbean background may have had a relative struggle but it was never addressed or it was explained away. I pray we as a community can shake away the stigma and fear and begin real dialogue in our homes, churches, mosques, temples and wherever we communicate to address and help many of us who feel alone and are struggling,” says Janet Millington, an event planner.

Studies show witnessing or being the target of anti-Black racism throughout a person’s lifespan can have adverse effects on their mental health and physical wellbeing.

Anti-Black racism takes many forms. Black Torontonians frequently experience undue mistrust and scrutiny as a part of daily life, in workplaces, schools, public spaces, or during interactions with public institutions. 

Common experiences are microaggressions, difficulty in accessing appropriate care and support, and even disbelief from care providers when expressing distress or trauma.

For many Black people, these pressures result in feeling the need to practise extra vigilance to ensure their own safety, which puts extraordinary demands on their capacity for resilience.
These experiences can lead to or add to existing mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety. 

“Black mental health day is a meaningful addition to Toronto's yearly calendar.  It has been in the making from as far back as Black people moved to this city and with the support of our ancestors who have been advocating for a time a place to reflect on our past and plan for the future, despite the ongoing challenges of anti-Black racism and other forms of oppression.  On Monday, March 2nd, people took the time to pause and reflect on their painful experiences and to validate each other on their resiliency,” says Keith Cunningham, a psychotherapist.

He attended the TAIBU event at Tropicana and said he got to witness “a historical moment of resistance against isms of all sorts but most against anti-Black racism.”

“Participants overly discussed their lived and vicarious experiences. Some of the running themes that were generated from the discussion are: early mental and other health prevention interventions, structural funding to support the work in Black communities, employment opportunities, mental health support in prisons, etc.  In summary, it was a moment of reflection on the past and present, and plans on how to safely address issues relating to Black lives in the future,” he said.

Apart from TAIBU, community resources in the city include the Black Health Alliance, Across Boundaries, Rexdale Community Health Centre, Black Creek Community Health Centre and Women’s Health in Women’s Hands.

Saturday, 21 March 2020

Education Minister Issues Short Timelines to Peel School Board to Respond to Directives

By Neil Armstrong

Photo contributed     Stephen Lecce, Minister of Education, Government of Ontario

Education Minister Stephen Lecce has given the Peel District School Board (PDSB) several short timelines to respond to some of his 27 directives resulting from the final report of the review of the board.

The review, which was done by reviewers Shawn Richard, Suzanne Herbert and Ena Chadha, was publicly released by Lecce on March 13.

By March 26, the board must submit a letter of commitment “on the part of each member of the board to participate fully in mediation.”

The direction notes that the board shall retain an independent mediator or conflict resolution expert, to assist the board to identify, address and resolve dysfunction between and among the members of the board and between the members of the board and the director and associate directors.

All members of the board shall attend one or more mediation sessions, as determined by the mediator or conflict resolution expert, and shall make their best efforts to achieve these purposes, it said.

The PDSB has to confirm by April 17 that it has retained a mediator or conflict resolution expert.

With also a deadline of March 26, the board has to submit a letter of confirmation to the minster that its members have stopped participating “on hiring, promotion and appointment panels, including temporary or acting positions, except for the position of director of education.”

“The board shall establish a policy restricting members of the board from
participating on hiring promotion and appointment panels, for positions, other
than the director of education,” notes the direction. A board-approved policy must be submitted by June 1, 2020.

Lecce also wants the board to report on its actions by March 26 regarding an apology to the Black communities in Peel.

“In the light of the harm to the community, particularly to the Black communities, the board shall give full and fair consideration to making a responsive and respectful apology.”

The reviewers said they were asked to review issues of anti-Black racism in the PDSB, noting that, “to their credit, the Board of Trustees and the senior administration of the PDSB, nearly without exception, acknowledged the existence of anti-Black racism in the PDSB.”
“Some of the leadership believe the Board’s current issues with anti-Black racism began with the “McCrimmon” comments, which were further exacerbated by the report of the Integrity Commissioner. We do not understand her critical comments referable to Trustee Kathy McDonald, who did not bring the claim before the Commissioner. They were, in our view, unnecessary, unhelpful and divisive.
People, especially elected officials of the Board, should be held to high standards. The staff, students, and families of McCrimmon Middle School and the Black communities of the PDSB deserve and are expecting an apology to address the hurt and harm that this incident has caused,” they said.
Photo contributed   Shawn Richard, Review of the Peel District School Board reviewer

As a result of the approaching deadlines and other aspects of the report, the PDSB will be holding a supplementary meeting of the board on March 24 where the “minister’s directions to the board” is one of the items on the agenda.

This will be an electronic meeting. The PDSB says due to the state of emergency declaration and to help contain the spread of the novel coronavirus, for everybody’s safety, this meeting will not be opened to the public. It will be live-streamed.

In a joint statement, the Chair of the Board Brad MacDonald and Director of Education Peter Joshua said the board will take immediate action on the minister’s directives.

The final report outlines the reviewers' observations and 29 recommendations, while the ministerial directions include deliverables, timelines and expectations to ensure parents and community members can track progress and hold PDSB officials to account. 

The recommendations are under the themes: governance and leadership, equity and human rights, anti-Black racism, and human resources and organizational alignment.

“Many students told us about feeling undervalued and being mis-tracked by teachers because of teachers’ perceptions about their ability based on their race. What we consistently heard during the course of this Review tells us that too many educators and administrators do not have high expectations for Black students. Many Black students receive inadequate advice on their academic choices and pathways, and by no means are encouraged to realize their full potential.
“It is untenable that, for many years, the Board has been unaware of this terrible state of affairs. Information gleaned from the Board’s own data discloses a prima facie case of race based, and more particularly anti-Black, discrimination and it must be remedied,” wrote the reviewers.
Photo contributed        Ena Chadha, Review of the Peel District School Board reviewer

The directions are aimed at addressing the systemic discrimination, specifically anti-Black racism; human resources practices; board leadership and governance issues.

The government will consider this report, its recommendations and the resulting ministerial directions as it works to develop a broader province-wide strategy, said the ministry of education.

"The accounts of systemic racism and discrimination documented in the report are deeply troubling and will not be tolerated," said Minister Lecce. 

"After decades of inaction, I want to see swift implementation of my directions to drive the necessary and positive change that students deserve. Students and the community have demanded change and I want to assure them that we will monitor board implementation of the directions and hold them to account to deliver transformational change that will put every student on a path to success."  

In November 2019, the minister of education announced a review of the PDSB following a request from the former chair and vice-chair of the board of trustees for assistance and intervention. 

Among the directions is that the PDSB must develop and implement a comprehensive Annual Equity Accountability Report Card to be included in the director of education’s annual report to the board.

The board must centrally track disaggregated race-based data on suspensions (in-school and out-of-school), expulsions and exclusions, and report publicly through the report card. The first progress report must be submitted by June 1, 2020 and by January 31, 2021 the board must submit a Report Card as part of the director’s annual report.

Photo contributed           Suzanne Herbert, Review of the Peel District School Board reviewer

With the announcement of 27 new ministerial directions, the government is positioning the PDSB to immediately strengthen its governance and leadership practices to focus its attention on ensuring that all PDSB students can realize their full potential in classrooms and schools where they are supported, respected, valued and welcomed, said the ministry.

From December 2019 to February 2020, the reviewers heard from over 300 individuals in various locations in Peel and Toronto and considered over 160 written submissions.

“We urge the PDSB leaders and community to come together to start the hard work of telling and hearing the personal truths about the machinations and magnitude of racism within the PDSB. And only after confronting these truths, acknowledging the myths and accepting responsibility, can the Board undertake the remedial work of seeking reconciliation and setting metrics to assess progress and success in community relations.
“It is our hope that, with this Report as concrete documentation of anti-Black racism in the Board and affirmation of the voices of Black students, parents, staff and community members, Black communities can begin to collaborate positively with the PDSB and push forward efforts to have the recommendations we offer to uproot systemic racism and inequities are acted upon,” said the reviewers.
The PDSB is responsible for 257 schools in Brampton, Mississauga and Caledon, and over 155,000 students representing a rich array of racial, ethnic, linguistic and religious backgrounds and sexual orientations.
83% of PDSB secondary students are racialized with more than 160 ethnic and cultural backgrounds and 110 languages spoken at home. Just under 10% of secondary students self-identify as 2SLGBTQ+. The 2016 PDSB employee census data indicates that approximately 25% of PDSB staff are racialized, which is almost the opposite of the demographics of the student body.

Links to the Review and Ministerial Directions:

Friday, 20 March 2020

Bonding During Efforts to 'Flatten the Curve' of COVID-19

By Neil Armstrong

As many of us heed all of the advice from municipal, provincial and federal public health departments, ministers of health, premiers, mayors, politicians, friends and family to self-isolate and to practice social distancing in an attempt to ‘flatten the curve' (slowing the rate of infection) of the novel coronavirus – COVID-19, some of us are drawing on things that soothe our soul – like food, or photos of food at past social gatherings which all tell different stories. Thinking of these as I self-isolate.

I’ve been tuned into the various reports about COVID-19 – updates here and elsewhere in the world. There was a doctor from London, Ontario on CBC Radio’s The Current who said he preferred the terms ‘social cohesion’ and ‘physical distancing’ than ‘social distancing’ to describe what is happening now. He said people are coming together though physically apart. I’ve been reading and hearing about small acts of altruism by various people throughout the country. Kudos to them!

I keep hearing the refrain, “We’re in this together, “ and we certainly are, so while I’m not able to meet up with family and friends to bond over food -- I am calling them. A friend told me that last weekend he baked for the first time. He made a blueberry cake and its aroma drew his neighbor across the hall to knock on his door to ask for a slice. Another friend has decided to eat more salads with a new salad dressing and is working out at home.

Since so many events have been postponed or cancelled, I have been reading and writing more. You should all try to read the final report of the Peel District School Board Review by Shawn Richard, Suzanne Herbert and Ena that is available on the websites of the Ministry of Education, and Peel District School Board. You can also read the ministerial directions to the Board from Stephen Lecce, Minister of Education at

I’ve also been calling up friends who are owners of businesses in the food industry to find out how they are doing. As someone who enjoys walking this is a time for me to take long walks around the park and to try not to look at my phone. To essentially, be present in the moment, is my aim.

I am sharing photos of food, some prepared by me; others by family and friends and thinking of all the fun moments they represent. 

Be well, and stay safe as we wash our hands with soap and water for 20 seconds often to whatever songs we choose to sing or hum, avoid touching your face, and follow all the other necessary precautions to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Youth Initiative to Promote Black Pride and Positive Cultural Identity Launched

By Neil Armstrong 

Roderick Brereton and Farley Flex, founders of Urban Rez Solutions, at the launch of the Say It Loud youth initiative in Brampton, Ontario

A national initiative to support Black youth across Canada has been launched in Peel Region and organizers have plans to hold similar events in fifteen cities, in total, throughout the country.

Say It Loud aimed at youth, ages 14 to 29, promotes Black pride and positive cultural identity through the areas of technology, entrepreneurship, social initiatives, and culinary, visual, fashion and performing arts.

Roderick Brereton and Farley Flex, founders of Urban Rez Solutions, a social transformative change agency specializing in empowering individuals and organizations, are the creators of this initiative that seeks to reach 10,000 youth during the International Decade for People of African Descent.

Speaking at a meeting of stakeholders in Brampton, Ontario on March 6, Flex said in order to support the youth his agency needed to engage the people around them, mainly adults who work directly with youth and adults who care about them.

“The initiative is meant to debunk the negative stereotypes that have been out there in the media for far too long, and which from our perspective are predominantly sports-related, hip hop-related and crime-related. That’s the narrative that the media offers, that’s the narrative that not just the outside community believes but many of people within the Black community believe it as well.”

He said they have created a platform to showcase the brilliance of Black youth in specific categories.

The intention is for “our youth to see a sense of normalcy as to how capable we are, how many other youth like them are interested in those areas and excelling in those areas and create a platform where they can interact, influence one another, inspire one another, collaborate with one another.”

Brereton said they have held similar stakeholder meetings in Halifax, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Vancouver, Windsor and Ottawa.

Those remaining will be held in Hamilton, Toronto (east and west), Durham Region and Montreal.

By March 31 there will be a national open call for submissions and the deadline for those will be May 31.

After the submissions deadline has passed, an adjudication unit will sift through them looking “for the loudest submissions so the submissions that exhibit Black pride and cultural identity in terms of how loud you are saying it and what impact that will have on the Black community, in terms of perception and in actual sustainable impact.”

Brereton said after the adjudication process has been completed there will be a percentage of these submissions that will go on to the pop-ups and here the youth “who said it the loudest” will be able to showcase their ideas, concepts or what they have implemented in the various categories.

From there one entity will be chosen to represent the region or city that they are in to go to Ottawa in February 2021 where the twenty-fifth anniversary of Black History Month will be marked.

The Say It Loud national Black youth summit will also be held in that city at that time.

Say It Loud is funded by the Government of Canada from November 2019 to March 2021, however, Flex and Brereton have a sustainability strategy in place to find financial partners along the way.

“Because we have eight categories the sensible thing to do is to find corporations and entities that can champion those particular categories that identify with their brand.”

The Say It Loud ( website will also offer support in mentorship, wellness, financial literacy, grant writing, business plan writing, image consulting, publicity and marketing.

“And that will be the part where the mature adults or experienced adults will be able to contribute also,” said Brereton.

“It is focusing on youth but the better of the likelihood for youth to succeed is more to take the village to contribute, the wraparound support to move the youth forward.

In Peel Region, Urban Rez Solutions is partnering with ResQ Youth International Inc. to outreach to stakeholders and spread the word about the national initiative. 

[This story has been published in the North American Weekly Gleaner, March 19-25, 2020.]