Black parent council town hall offers space for healing, joy and support

The Black Parent Council of Kitchener-Waterloo’s first community town hall offered members and allies a space for healing and joy, and supporting one another.

Council hosted first in-person community town hall on Saturday

Members of the Black Parent Council of Kitchener-Waterloo, allies and community members met for the group's first community town hall on Saturday at the Mill Courtland Community Centre. The event offered a space for healing, joy and support. (Submitted by Black Parent Council KW)

The Black Parent Council of Kitchener-Waterloo's first town hall meeting offered members and allies a space for healing and joy, and to support one another.

The group, which is made up of up to 40 parents and caregivers of African, Caribbean and Black identifying students in Waterloo region, launched in March with a goal to address systemic racism in local schools and advocate for the well-being and safety of Black children. 

The group also advocates for communities who have historically been marginalized or impacted by various forms of discrimination.

After months of meeting online, the group and community members came together on Saturday at the Mill Courtland Community Centre.

"On one hand, it was an opportunity for us to continuously strategize, to continuously find solutions, to continuously be in community and on the other hand, this event in particular was created to create a space for healing and for joy," said Selam Debs, who is a Black Ethiopian parent, anti-racism advocate and educator, and one of the co-chairs of the council.

The strength of community 

The council publicly launched after news broke that the Waterloo Catholic District School Board (WCDSB) called the police on a four-year-old Black student last fall.

A third-party provincial review of the incident wrapped up with a report that made 14 recommendations to the board about ways to address systemic racism. The board said it's considering the recommendations and will release more information this upcoming fall.

"The reality is, as parents of Black children and as Black parents, we are constantly having to deal with the trauma, with the anger, with the grief of anti-Black racism in our school systems, in our communities, in the constant news," Debs said.

"So, this was actually an opportunity for us to support each other in our well-being," she said

"When we are not in community, these systems often win because we're often too busy or we're working so much or we're so focused on changing these systems that we often don't get time to rest, to play, to be in a space of joy. And so another form of resistance for us as Black parents or parents of Black children is to also come together in community," she added.

Rufus John, a recent member of the council who attended the Saturday event, said he faced blatant racism after moving to the region in his pre-teen years and now his children have experienced incidents rooted in discrimination as well.

"[The council] is another place where I can share these stories and we as a collective can now take that in and be like, 'Okay, what are we going to do so other kids don't experience the same thing'," he said.

"I really hope that we can start changing culture, policies and systems. All three of those things I think need to be ... addressed simultaneously if we really want to start to see change," he added.

Earlier this year, the council sent a letter to both the WCDSB and the Waterloo Region District School Board calling for about a dozen action items that includes commissioning a third-party investigation of racial violence at the two school boards.

Debs said the council has been in conversation with the public school board about the demands, but has not heard from the catholic school board. 

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.