By Ryan Weston
St. Luke, Dixie South in Mississauga hosted more than 40 people from across Peel Region and beyond on Feb. 4 for a forum on “Equity, Inclusion and the Black Community in Peel.” The event provided the opportunity for churches and the wider community to discuss how they could respond to the recommendations of “Fighting an Uphill Battle: Report on the Consultations into the Well-Being of Black Youth in Peel Region,” released last March by the F.A.C.E.S. of Peel Collaborative.
Tana Turner and Dr. Carl James, lead authors of the report, were joined by Maame Debrah, a community outreach coordinator for the United Way of Peel Region, to present the context and recommendations of the report to the audience. Ms. Deborah noted that the report developed, in part, from a recognition of the importance of data in the social services sector and the need to compile relevant information to tell the story of black youth in Peel.
“We wanted to shift the conversation about black youth [in Peel Region],” she said. “What about the assets? What were the good things that were happening? How were we going to shift the conversation about black youth?”
Ms. Turner offered a closer look at some of the demographic data for Peel Region, noting that in the 2011 census the population of African-Canadians in Peel was about 116,000 or nine per cent of the region’s total population. However, “44 per cent of the black population in Peel is under the age of 24,” she noted. “So really, when we think about the future and our kids, it is so important to the black community because they make up such a large percentage of the population.”
The report highlights the experiences of black youth with key institutions in the region, ranging from police services to education to social services, with research participants sharing their experiences of discrimination, lowered expectations, and the need to overcome stereotypes. “In essence, they feel that they are unwelcome in their communities here in Peel,” said Dr. James, “and so, needless to say, this has an effect on their sense of being, their sense of self, their sense of belonging, their self-esteem. It affects their social and psychological well-being.”
Following the formal presentation, Ms. Turner facilitated small-group discussions around the specific role churches could play in responding to some of their recommendations. Although they had done similar presentations to stakeholders in the policing, education, and social service sectors, Ms. Turner noted that this was the first time they had been invited to speak to a gathering of church members, and they were eager to engage in a conversation about how churches could contribute to the ongoing work coming out of their research.
The Rev. Jacqueline Daley, assistant curate at St. Hilary, Cooksville and one of the organizers of the event, wanted to create a space for people to gather around this issue because the church needs to start addressing the racism and marginalization experienced by black youth. “It’s in the church, it’s not just out there,” she said. “Because who is out there is who is in the church, and we just have to get close to people, as Jesus did, and not be afraid of these issues.”
Elin Goulden, the parish outreach facilitator for York-Credit Valley and co-organizer of the event, also highlighted the importance of recognizing that churches are already implicated in these issues, even if they may not yet realize it. “I would like to encourage more churches to listen to their members and to their communities, especially those who have direct experience of injustice, without getting defensive, and without deciding in advance that we know what folks need,” she said. “Instead, we need to listen to them and ask how best we can support them.”
Ms. Daley affirmed that churches are not alone when they address these issues. “God is with us because that’s the foundation of who God is, righteousness and justice,” she said. “So when we’re talking about this, God is with us!”
Ryan Weston is the diocese’s Social Justice and Advocacy coordinator.