An all-day event at Kitchener City Hall Tuesday is meant to open the discussion on racism in Waterloo region.

The event marks the United Nations' International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and is organized by the editor of the local website Cross Cultures, Gehan Sabry.

In the past year, there has been a lot of talk about racism in the region and Sabry hopes this event – now in its 16th year – will help kickstart more dialogue about the issue.

"There is racism," Sabry said.

"Sometimes it's more obvious and to the surface," she added. "We're hoping that people, through understanding each other, that there will be less of the unknown and treat each other as human beings instead of labelling and stereotyping and being leery of other people because they just don't understand them."

Everyone has talents, passions

The day will include several speakers, presentations, booths, music and discussions. The morning and early afternoon is largely for high school students, but the public is encouraged to take part in events starting at 2 p.m.

One of those talks will be by the organization Bridges to Belonging. Executive director Cameron Dearlove said that group is known for helping people with developmental disabilities or mental health issues, but he says they help anyone who struggles to build a full life in the community.

He said their message will be about how we need to see each other as people first.

"Everybody, whether you have a disability or not, has gifts, has talents, has passions," he said. "If people aren't sharing those, that's our job to help people uncover those and find the places where they can share those and build their life within the community."

'More peace, more respect'

This year's theme is Our Home On Native Land, and Sabry said it's important because we need to remember "we are all guests of the Indigenous people of this Turtle Island."

Sabry, who is Muslim, said she hopes people will come, listen and then go back to their communities and talk about the issues.

"I'm hoping people will be encouraged to share this information with others: Their family, their friends, their colleagues. And that we can promote better feelings amongst us, more peace, more respect, mutual respect," she said.