Guelph Black Heritage Society recent target of vandalism, threats

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The Guelph Black Heritage Society says it has faced vandalism and threats of violence since it organized a rally in downtown Guelph in June that saw over 5,000 people attend.

In a statement, the organization said it was saddened to report that its Heritage Hall on Essex Street was recently vandalized and there have been recent threats made against its members and volunteers.

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Denise Francis, president of the Guelph Black Heritage Society, said that since the group took ownership of the former church in 2012, it has been targeted by various crimes.

“But in the last couple of weeks, it seems like things have escalated,” she said in an interview on Thursday.

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For example, Francis said, their phone and internet cable was intentionally cut just over a week ago and recently some of the volunteers doing yard work were threatened.

The incidents have been reported to Guelph police and Global News has reached out to their public information officer for details.

“It just feels like we’ve been under siege for the last few weeks,” Francis said, noting that things have ramped up since the June 6 rally in support of Black Lives Matter.

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But she also noted that there have been positives that have come out of that rally.

There have been meetings with the public school board about changes to the curriculum and school resource officers. The organization has also met with Guelph police and the city’s elected leaders.

“People are listening. We haven’t really seen much change yet but at least we have the dialogue started that we never had before,” Francis said.

She also said the organization is starting a #ChangeStartsNow education initiative that will feature a resource list for those seeking information on Black history and issues, a library of Black literature at Heritage Hall and online events.

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Work is also continuing to preserve Heritage Hall, the former British Methodist Episcopal Church that has stood at 83 Essex St. since 1880 and was a safe haven for fugitives from slavery who escaped the United States via the Underground Railroad.

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“This building still serves as a safe haven and our safe haven is being threatened,” Francis said.

“The Guelph Black Heritage Society is a peaceful organization and we do not tolerate violence of any type.”

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