Work to tackle systemic racism in Guelph continues following protest: activist

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One of the speakers at Guelph’s anti-Black racism protest says the work to tackle systemic racism in the Royal City has not stopped following the rally that brought together 5,000 people in the downtown core.

Marva Wisdom, the founding president of the Guelph Black Heritage Society, says the momentum hasn’t stopped following the protest on June 6.

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“It will stay top of mind because I’ll do everything that I can and I know others who are allies and others in the Black community who feel the same way, too, and we’re going to continue this work,” she said.

Wisdom said she has seen a significant difference when it comes to the attention systemic racism is receiving because people are no longer “passively listening,” as she puts it.

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She said she has heard from community leaders who said they are ready to help.

“The action that needs to be taken can no longer be something that happens to take an elected official from one election to the next,” she said.

One of those elected officials would be Mayor Cam Guthrie, who issued a statement earlier this month promising to identify gaps within the city’s work related to diversity and inclusion.

In a statement, Guthrie said there are some who believe that racism does not exist in Guelph.

“This sentiment — the denial of the experience of people of colour in our community — is part of the problem,” Guthrie said.

“We are not immune to the anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism and discrimination against people of colour that we see around the world.”

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Guthrie said diversity is a central tenet of Guelph’s official Community Plan, which outlines the city’s vision moving forward.

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Wisdom, who was a lead advisor in developing that plan, believes it needs to be revisited because while it does talk about inclusion, it does not address systemic racism.

“This is something we need to call out specifically,” she said.

There have also been ongoing conversations with the Guelph Police Services since before the protest, according to Wisdom, who has been invited to give a presentation to Chief Gord Cobey’s leadership group.

Wisdom said she has previously presented to the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police, along with police services in the Greater Toronto Area.

Cobey put out a statement following the Guelph protest and thanked the Guelph Black Heritage Society for its work and leadership.

“As a service, we are committed to continuing this dialogue to more fully understand the extent and impact that racism, prejudice and bias has in our community,” he stated.

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Guelph police were not invited to the protest because organizers said it would be against what the Black Lives Matter movement stands for. But Wisdom said she has spoken with Cobey.

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“He is very open to acknowledging that systemic racism exists and how we can strengthen his team to ensure that this kind of racism is stamped out,” she said.

Wisdom is also the director of community engagement and outreach on the Black Experience Project in the GTA, which was a study of the lived experience of individuals who identify as Black or of African heritage.

She said residents have to do their part, first by educating themselves about what is going on around them, and the study is a good starting point. She also asked residents to listen to those who talk about systemic racism, understand their experiences and not be a bystander anymore.

“Act out and speak out,” Wisdom said.

People should also speak to their church, school, company or any organization they are a part of to ensure policies are in place that fight systemic racism, she said.

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Finally, Wisdom asked residents to remember this issue when it comes time to cast a ballot to elect Guelph’s leaders.

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“Look at what they say, look at how they have behaved. Ensure for the sake of community unity, for the sake of inclusion, for the sake of belonging, for the sake of fighting systemic racism, that you’re selecting people who have those beliefs,” she said.

“It’s not enough to listen to rhetoric. Rhetoric is longer acceptable. It has to be real.”

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