(FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE) The African, Caribbean and Black (ACB) Network of the Waterloo Region recently received an invitation from the City of Kitchener’s Mayor Berry Vrbanovic to attend a Black History Month dinner with a select few community leaders chosen from the Mayor’s Task Force on Equity, Diversity and Inclusion. We are deeply disappointed by this last-minute invitation, which was received after a Task Force member explicitly requested that the Mayor and staff commit to organizing a meaningful event with the ACB community.
Subsequent developments include:
- In early February, a member of the task force approached the city with concerns about the lack of formal acknowledgment for Black History Month. Her email stated “we can't be presenting maps of inclusions while missing opportunities to include the African, Caribbean and Black members of this community. There should be a formal event led by the Mayor at City Hall acknowledging not only Black History month, but also the history of the region and a willingness to work with the Black community to address the systemic barriers that impact us.”
- In response to this request, the city sent out private dinner invitations to fewer than 15 ACB community members. Several ACB community organizations and individual elders with longstanding relationships with the Mayor’s office were excluded.
- Other community members reached out to the Mayor privately through online communications asking him to reconsider plans for this dinner, and for him to consult with known ACB community leaders to apologize and seek feedback on proposing an appropriate alternate event.
- The ACB community Network and ACB community members requested an in-person meeting with the Mayor and the EDI Task Force Project manager. At the meeting the community members again asked for a cancellation, apology and repurposing of the dinner event to a consultation with the broader ACB community. These suggestions were not accepted.
- Furthermore, several individual community members have since reached out to mayor Berry Vrbanovic outlining ways in which the scope and focus of this event is inappropriate.
With our ancestor’s guidance, elders, multiple generations and youth within our ACB communities in Kitchener and the surrounding Waterloo Region have been advocating for change for decades. Task forces and consultations give the impression that change is occurring when no action has taken place. Engagement in further consultations requires that we reiterate and relive our trauma. We take the Mayor’s repeated refusals to repurpose the dinner event as an indication that our communities are not taken seriously as important coalitions of constituents, with pressing needs that require substantive political responses. Black History Month is a time of celebration, truth telling and deeper communion. Political representatives often celebrate with us, eat our food, and dance our dances without addressing anti-Black racism and white supremacy in any meaningful way. We must end performative allyship, and replace it with ongoing efforts acknowledging ACB contributions to the community. We must remove the systemic barriers that have a major impact on our lives and livelihoods as Black people. For the fifth time in this short month, we are asking the Mayor to apologize, cancel this exclusive event and convene a series of open working sessions with a large, diverse group of ACB community members to determine a resourced multi-year plan to address anti-Black racism in Kitchener.