By Chris Jones/The Oshawa Express
Regional Chair John Henry says he is hosting his anti-black racism virtual town hall because, to him, it’s a chance to better understand one another.
“For us, it’s important to understand that we do have racism in Durham Region, and we admit that,” he explains. “It’s a challenge, and we need to find ways to hear the stories of what people have experienced.”
He believes the town hall will give Durham Region the opportunity to listen and learn about the challenges that have happened, and are happening right now.
“From this meeting, we will come together and we can look at ways towards eliminating some of the challenges against anti-black racism and against racism in general,” he says.
The town hall will have four panellists, including former Whitby MPP Celina Cesar-Chavannes; motivational speaker Sean Mauricette; Assistant Deputy Minister, Youth Justice Division of the Ontario Ministry of Children, Community and Social David Mitchell; and incoming President for the Black Student Success Network at Durham College Ann Marie Morrison.
They will be joined by Henry, as well as Durham Police Chief Paul Martin.
“We’ve got a great group of people. They’re going to help guide us through the meeting,” he says. “This meeting is one where we want to hear, and we know that there are people out there that have experienced some challenges, and we need to hear that.”
Henry believes the first step in dealing with a problem such as racism is acknowledging that there is a problem.
Aside from the fact all four panellists are black and can speak to the experiences of being black in Durham Region, Henry says each one brings something special to the table.
“They all have specific skill sets,” he says.
He continues noting Morrison represents the student population in Durham, Mitchell is with the provincial government, Cesar-Chavannes “brings a world of knowledge” from her time with the federal government, and Mauricette has a talent for working with young people.
“Bringing four key panellists, we’ve covered a youth component, a federal leadership component… and will bring their shared experiences,” says Henry. “Quite frankly we need to hear this.”
Henry says while he believes Canada to be an amazing country, its history is “clouded.”
“If you go back throughout our history, you can find times where we have not done a good job,” he says. “Not just with anti-black racism, but our Indigenous people too, and other cultures as well.”
He notes much of Canada’s history hasn’t necessarily been “printed,” and can only be heard about during certain opportunities in life.
“As you spend time, you find more and more people during difficult times have come to the aid of this country, and they happen to be of colour, but nobody is telling their stories,” says Oshawa’s former mayor.
He continues, noting this is a chance to listen, learn, and gain a better understanding.
“After that, we will be working on a plan,” he says.
To Henry, “the time is long past” to simply talk about racism. “We have a real opportunity to make true change,” he says.
The anti-black racism virtual town hall will be held on Aug. 6, and will begin at 6:30 p.m. Those interested in listening, or who would like to submit a question, can find out more at durham.ca/VirtualTownHall.