Peaceful youth rally held downtown Toronto for 'solutions to racial inequality'

A peaceful youth rally was underway downtown in what organizers are calling an attempt to raise awareness for issues plaguing the Black community and to find "solutions to racial inequality." 

'We need to wake up — change needs to happen,' organizer says

Protesters gathered at Christie Pits Park on Saturday afternoon, holding signs and chanting phrases like 'Black Lives Matter.' (Talia Ricci/CBC)

A peaceful youth rally was underway downtown Toronto Saturday in what organizers are calling an attempt to raise awareness for issues plaguing the Black community and to find "solutions to racial inequality." 

"We're here to recognize that for 400 years, my people have been oppressed, we've been afflicted," said Jacob Malcolm, a member of Remember the 400 — the non-profit community group leading the event. 

"We're here to recognize that we need to start the repairing process from within the community and outside the community." 

Participants congregated at Christie Pits Park around 1 p.m. Saturday afternoon, weaving their way through downtown Toronto streets toward Queen's Park, all the while chanting phrases like "Black Lives Matter" and "I can't breathe." 

Toronto has seen multiple protests and demonstrations against racism and police brutality following the deaths of Regis Korchinski-Paquet, a Toronto woman who fell to her death from her apartment balcony, and George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died as he was pinned under the knee of a police officer in Minneapolis on May 25.

"We hear the cries of our brothers and sisters across the border and worldwide," Malcolm told CBC Toronto. 

"We need to wake up — change needs to happen." 

Group member Tamar Houlder agrees. 

"People think there is just one Breonna Taylor or one George Floyd, but there are millions of Breonna Taylors and George Floyds," she said. "Enough is enough." 

According to website of Remember the 400, the non-profit group aims at bringing together individuals and organizations 'dedicated to creating a positive regional impact of healing the racial divide.' (Talia Ricci/CBC)

"Once people realize that the time for fighting for our people is long overdue, they will be out here marching with us too." 

Malcolm says this is not an "isolated" problem, but one affecting people worldwide, which is why "it's important to come together and fight this problem together." 

'You need to stand up for yourselves' 

Jamal Myers brought his two young daughters, London and Raiyne on Saturday for what was their first rally. 

When asked why she was there, London said "because I'm black" and "to end this racism." 

"You need to stand up for yourselves, right?" Myers said. 

He added that it's important for his daughters to "know who they are." 

"I'm very proud of both of them," he added. 

Protests have taken place across Canada following the death of George Floyd, a Black man who was killed by a white police officer in Minneapolis almost three weeks ago. (Talia Ricci/CBC)

Community calling on government for 'real change' 

Meanwhile, another rally was held outside Old City Hall, where meembers of more than a dozen Black organizations were calling for an end to "anti-Black racism and discrimination in institutions and systems." 

"The Black Community is calling on the Ontario Government, institutional leaders and systems of power to move beyond studies, convening committees and task forces to implement policies and reforms achieving real change," said Adaoma Patterson, president of the Jamaican Canadian Association, in a release. 

"The time for real action is now."

That action includes calls for change within Canada's legal system, schools and workplaces. 

Nadine Spencer, president of the Black Business and Professional Association, said what's great about the movement is the awareness it brings to issues that have long existed. 

"There is a movement to make changes in systemic racism and systemic barriers that the Black community faces, we have been encountering this for a very, very long time," she told CBC Toronto. 

Spencer said she is working with businesses owned by members of the Black community in an effort to secure them more support and funding. 

"Black businesses are here and we need support." 

Jessica Jones says it was important for her to attend Saturday's protest at Old City Hall to express her thoughts about what is going on in the world. (Camille Feireisen/CBC)

Jessica Jones, 17, who attended her first rally on Saturday, said it is important for her to make her voice and issues heard. 

"Being a Black girl, things are kind of limited for us," she said. 

"It's good to show that we're not just going to have someone's foot on our necks, that we're going to go up and show our support and stand up." 

Jones says she notices subtle differences in how she is treated from others. As an example, she said she is often followed around in stores by employees.

As a result, she says she always makes sure she remains "calm" and "resolved" and that she doesn't "cause too much of a stir." 

As a way of fixing those everyday issues, Jones says she is calling for changes to bigger issues in the justice system, as well as health-care systems and school systems, "for everyone to get an equal chance in this world." 

Similar rallies across the GTA 

Similar rallies are also underway this afternoon, including ones in Mississauga, Markham and Sarnia, Ont. 

A group of Torontonians will be participating in a 46-kilometre bike ride on Sunday morning along Lakeshore West "to honour the life of George Floyd," according to organizer and cyclist Matthew Cuesta.

The street is blocked off to all but local traffic, runners, walkers and cyclists for ActiveTO, one of several closures taking place this weekend

Protesters in Vancouver, meanwhile, lined up along the east and west ends of the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts early Saturday morning for a rally in support of Black Lives Matter and defunding police forces.

With files from Talia Ricci, Lorenda Reddekopp