Tracey Jones-Grant has no illusions about the city’s plan to tackle racism specifically targeted towards Black people.
“It’s not going to solve everything and it’s not going fix everything, and developing a framework and an action plan isn’t going to erase 400 years of oppression,” she said in an interview Wednesday.
Still, as the city’s managing director of the office of diversity and inclusion, Jones-Grant said she’s excited for what she sees as an opportunity.
“In some respects, it can be overwhelming, and in other respects, it’s so exciting to know that we have this opportunity to impact how municipal government does its work.”
On Tuesday, Halifax regional council unanimously endorsed an “anti-Black racism framework” aimed to serve as a roadmap to develop an action plan and strategy to deal with anti-Black racism related to municipal services.
The plan aims for the office of diversity and inclusion to identify and consult with various Black community groups and Black HRM residents over the summer months. Based on that feedback, the office says it hopes to compile a final report to present to council by the end of the year. If that plan is also endorsed, an anti-Black racism awareness campaign would be then finalized. The action plan would then be implemented with regular monitoring and annual updates from the city’s CAO from 2022 to 2025.
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“So first and foremost, 2025, that’s no end date. Anti-Black racism didn’t happen overnight, and if we think we’re going address it by 2025, that’s not happening,” Jones-Grant said Wednesday. “We set a timeframe to hold ourselves accountable, to see some impactful change. And then we review, and then we keep going.”
Getting the word out
Following Tuesday’s presentation, and prior to the vote, councillors had a chance to share thoughts on the initiative. Councillors Lindell Smith and David Hendsbee expressed concerns about how community groups and stakeholders would be identified and engaged, to which Jones-Grant acknowledged: “There’s no ‘one voice’ that speaks for the community.”
Coun. Hendsbee, whose riding includes the Black community of Cherrybrook, East Preston and North Preston, expressed additional concern about the uncertainty around COVID restrictions in the upcoming months, and how that could impact the short timeframe to complete the strategy and action plan by fall.
“There’s still going to be a lot of hesitation out there, and also the hot weather may distract some people from getting together. So I want to make sure we have the ability to get the word out and have opportunities for dialogue,” he said, just prior to the vote.
Hendsbee spoke frankly and emphasized the importance of engaging young people and not leaving things until the last minute.
“I think there’s some folks that felt like they’re being disenfranchised — we need to get them involved and engaged,” he said. “I participated in one of those community circles and I was really disappointed about the turnout. And I think we need to get the word out … a lot further in advance instead of last-minute notice.”
Jones-Grant made a virtual presentation to council Tuesday prior to the vote. On Wednesday, she elaborated on what she referred to in the presentation as “generational racism” and why it makes the initiative necessary in the first place.
“The scars of that stay with us because those who excluded us still had children, who had children, who had children, who grow up with that similar or same mindset,” she said. “And those of us who are on the receiving end grow up in families that are constantly saying, ‘fight, fight, fight, fight, fight!’ Or, ‘you could do better than me,’ Or, ‘I want my children to have more than I have.’ Those are scars.”
She credits Black city workers who, in 2018, protested outside City Hall against what they said were ongoing issues with lack of diversity and racial inequality among staff.
“The Black (municipal) employees who very publicly expressed their concerns around anti-Black racism were the impetus for this work. So, it’s on their shoulders that we stand.”
The office of diversity and Inclusion say it is currently in the process of identifying and engaging with stakeholders and community groups within the Black community. From there, it says the plan is to seek Black community input through engagement sessions later this month through mid-August.