I grew up as a young Black girl in Toronto, never knowing much about our Black leaders, yet alone Black women leaders. I read a lot of books that made very little mention, if any, of Black leaders. How could that be I’d wonder. I felt I could make a difference in the world but that was very unlikely to happen since I was Black and female.
In my public school and teenage years I weathered the racial slurs and remarks directed at me. I often wondered why my colour was so offensive to others. They didn’t even know me and yet they had judged me and hated me based on my colour.
As a strong-willed determined woman, the one constant challenge I faced, and continue to face, was that Black women were (are) often not the ones chosen for positions of power and we know why. Our society used and continues to use race to establish and confer positions of power and privilege, and to sustain oppression.
I have had people say to me, “I don’t see colour.” However I need you to see my colour to better understand the world I live in, the air I breathe, and the obstacles I face. When you are a person of colour, or a person of colour in a position of leadership, discussions of racism and/or oppression will slowly break you down if you do not have a strong sense of self and a healthy support system.
In my late 20s I visited a community agency in North York and it was there that I met a beautiful Black woman who was the agency’s Executive Director. It was the first time in my life I had seen a Black person in a position of power. It was in that moment that I felt a sudden certainty that there was hope of a brighter future for my children and for me.
Today, almost two years after George Floyd’s murder and my first foray into writing (see the September-October 2020 issue of live magazine), I have learned a lot about myself as a Black woman, mother, community worker/leader and Christian leader. I now make a very conscious effort to address racism with all whom I meet. Just to be clear, it is not that I didn’t address issues of oppression and racism before, but there were times when I was not totally honest with my views and opinions, especially with my Christian community.
I am blessed to be part of a church leadership team that realizes we have done little in being intentional about addressing oppression and racism. The team has started the process of having those uncomfortable and messy conversations. And as we move forward with a new redevelopment of the church’s property, our goal is to build a centre for the community and a church where ALL are welcome. We commit to addressing racism in a way that will allow all who enter our new facility to have a sense of belonging and care . . . because they have been seen and heard.