Attendees of #MeToo rally call for termination of Africa Centre executive director

Members and supporters of women from Edmonton's black community attended a #MeToo rally at the Alberta Legislature Saturday. One of the key concerns highlighted at the rally was the call for the resignation of the executive director of the Africa Centre accused of abuse and sexual harassment.

Black Women United YEG called for Tesfaye Ayalew to resign following allegations of sexual harassment

Members of Black Women United YEG rallied for the termination of Africa Centre employee Tesfaye Ayalew, who has been accused of sexual harassment. (Min Dhariwal/CBC)

Members and supporters of women from Edmonton's black community attended a #MeToo rally at the Alberta Legislature Saturday. One of the key concerns highlighted at the rally was the call for the resignation of the executive director of the Africa Centre, who has been accused of abuse and sexual harassment.

Tesfaye Ayalew, the executive director of the Africa Centre in Edmonton, has been on paid administrative leave since January, while a third party investigates allegations of abuse and sexual harassment against him.

Ayalew denied the allegations in January in a statement from his lawyer.

Members of Black Women United YEG are calling for the Africa Centre's board of directors to step up and support women and to terminate Ayalew's employment.

A #MeToo rally was held at the Alberta Legislature grounds Saturday afternoon. (Anna McMillan/CBC)

"There's currently an investigation going on, but we don't have a lot of faith that justice will be served," said Beverley Elliott, a member of Black Women United YEG.

"If they don't remove him — if that is not the result from the investigation — then the community will be very disappointed."

Shortly after the allegations from a former Africa Centre employee came to light, community members sent a letter to the board of directors that said at least three other women were affected by similar alleged misconduct.

Elliott said it's crucial that the women who came forward are believed, rather than met with more adversity.

"Believe black women. It takes a lot of courage for them to come forward and we should believe them," she said.

The Africa Centre is a local example of the very real need for the #MeToo movement.- Beverley Elliott, Black Women United YEG

"They're usually penalized with reputation and career suicide after the fact. So the Africa Centre is a local example of the very real need for the #MeToo movement."

One of the key focuses of Saturday's rally was to highlight the need to move beyond the #MeToo hashtag, which Elliott said applies to the Africa Centre.

"We don't want [the board] to just say that they're going to change policies or say that they investigated," she said. "We want to see action. We want other black women to know that they can come forward, that they will be believed and that those responsible will be held accountable for their actions."

Maintaining momentum

One of the focuses of the rally was moving beyond the #MeToo hashtag. (Anna McMillan/CBC)

Paula Kirman, a co-organizer of the rally, echoed Elliott's call to move beyond the hashtag.

"It's great that survivors now have more ability and support to speak out. But now we need to know what's next," Kirman said.

She highlighted funding of sexual assault centres, education and policy development as potential methods to keep the momentum going.

Deb Tomlinson, the CEO of the Association of Alberta Sexual Assault Services, said the momentum behind the movement is relatively new.

"In the last three years, we have experienced a cultural transformation change like we've never, ever seen before. I think it's due to the advent of social media providing an avenue for survivors to come forward that's anonymous and confidential and speak their truth," Tomlinson said.

"This is preceded by decades and decades of secrecy and silence and stigma and shame. So when the invitation is there for survivors to speak their truth, they're going to come forward. And it's a flood and that's what we're experiencing now."

The movement is setting a new standard for how people respect each other and how they teach children and youth, Tomlinson said.

"I'm just so hopeful about a future that puts an end to sexual violence."