NOTE: The below is an expanded version of my guest column submitted to the Burlington Post/InsideHalton.com.
Black History Month is a time to reflect on our local Black history, continue to talk about the historical injustices that people of colour in Canada have endured and that continue to be pervasive today, and continue working to create a community without racism, where every person feels valued and is treated fairly and with respect.
As Burlington’s Mayor, I can tell you all of us on Council and at City Hall share that goal of inclusion and diversity in our community. I am here to listen and learn about the initiatives that are happening in our community, let people know about funding opportunities and provide awareness and support; as well, to act by setting an example at City Hall and throughout this city for inclusion and diversity around our council, among our employees and city leaders, and for our residents.
I seek to make all my decisions as part of City Council through a lens of inclusivity and to encourage behaviours and initiatives that get us closer to where we need to be.
Celebrating Black History Month allows us the chance to continue to build stronger relationships with our community members so that we can work together towards our shared goals.
A lot has happened in Burlington since Black History Month 2020.
A global pandemic brought to light what many people have witnessed and observed for years: the disparities in how a health crisis affects different parts of our populations in different ways. It’s been said often that we are all in the same storm, but we are not all in the same boat – some have had a yacht, and some are trying to bail themselves out of leaky rowboats.
And all the while, racism has continued, as has the fight against it.
The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement gained global attention after tragic events and loss of life in the U.S. and Canada — Regis Korchinski-Paquet, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and D’Andre Campbell are but a few names to be aware of and remember.
Burlington residents came out last June to march locally against racism here and globally. This was an important moment in our community that sent a message of solidarity to those fighting racism around the world.
As was the temporary #BlackLivesMatter art installation in front of City Hall in August — continuing that message of support and inclusion. It was an entirely citizen-led initiative, created by a local resident who crowd-funded paint cost from supporters. The majority of the response on social media was overwhelmingly positive.
The City of Burlington embraces ideas for public art of this kind because we know art is a really powerful way to raise awareness and express the pain and struggles, as well as the hope, our community feels.
I also met one-on-one with community members and the organizers of our local BLM march; I heard their personal stories of racism and obstacles in our City. I invited two of the local BLM march organizers to appear on my Burlington Matters show on YourTV Halton. It was eye-opening and I am really grateful to all of them for their honesty and candor.
AT CITY HALL
We know we can’t build a community free from racism if we aren’t also dealing with issues of inclusivity and diversity in our own workforce at the City of Burlington, not just at City Hall and in our leadership ranks but throughout all our teams and departments.
In July 2020, Council approved hiring a consultant to assist with our Diversity and Inclusivity Strategy. The Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion was contracted and is bringing to the City:
- a Diversity Census and Inclusion Survey to better understand our workforce demographics;
- education and training for all our leaders to support them in becoming inclusive leaders; and
- a policy and documents review to ensure our employment systems do not pose any barriers for any group or individual.
Ultimately, they will help us build a strategy that will be ready to implement by the end of this year.
Representation matters. I was pleased to see our business development arm of the city, Burlington Economic Development — of which I serve as a board member – unanimously approved the 50/30 challenge last month to aim for 50% women and 30% visible minorities on their board. I know recruiting is happening right now.
Funding also matters. One of the ways the City of Burlington supports community initiatives of all kinds is through our Community Support Fund. This fund provides up to $5,000 per year in financial support to residents and community groups who want to enrich and connect the Burlington community through sport, recreation, art and cultural experiences.
Informal, unofficial or formal community-based organizations, not-for-profit, grassroots groups, schools and faith organizations, individual persons, artists or community champions can all apply.
You can find out more at Burlington.ca/communitysupportfund.
HALTON EQUITY & DIVERSITY ROUNDTABLE CHARTER
With the support of Burlington’s own Accessibility Advisory Committee and Inclusivity Advisory Committee, Council also recently signed the Halton Equity and Diversity Roundtable Charter: an explicit declaration of commitment to the values of equity, diversity and inclusion which also lists commitments and guiding principles to follow.
As we support grassroots initiatives, I will also use the role and platform of the Mayor’s Office to support and promote local efforts to combat racism. My learning and growth in this area is an ongoing journey and I welcome continuing dialogue with and input from our community.
Racism exists in our community; we cannot pretend it doesn’t. I saw it, I heard it and it came out in all its ugliness this past year in particular. We must continue to work together to ensure racism has no place in Burlington and Black history continues to be celebrated and recognized in the years to come.
- Ending Racism is All our Responsibility — Solidarity March in Burlington
- Burlington Partnering with Local Artists on Black Lives Matter Mural at City Hall
- Burlington Matters show on YourTV Halton (June 24, 2020) — Black Lives Matter in Burlington
- City of Burlington’s Diversity and Inclusion Strategy
- City of Burlington Community Support Fund
- Burlington City Council Endorses Halton Equity and Diversity Roundtable Charter