That’s what Linden King said before joining the Black Caucus Advisory Group as chair. With an overzealous resume and consistent track record in helping Black communities succeed, he owed it to his home city to do the same. This time around, his role as chair of the Black Caucus meant playing a pivotal role when advising Mississagua’s mayor on issues impacting Black communities.
It’s been nearly 50 years since King settled in Mississagua. “I lived in Mississagua before it was even a city,” says King. As a pioneer who witnessed the growing need for a Black Caucus, King believes that this long-year process has generated hope, trust, and excitement.
First of its kind in Mississauga, the Black Caucus strives to inform the Mayor about systemic barriers that limit the needs of various Black communities in the city. Mississauga mayor Bonnie Crombie and council members unanimously passed an anti-Black motion on June 24, 2020.
One of the motion’s recommendations was to create a Black Caucus to play an instrumental role in gathering the community and vocalizing suggestions on better supporting Black residents, business owners, locals, and more. The motion passed when the Black Lives Movement was at its peak, and institutions awakened to the realities of Black communities' systemic and daily challenges.
Enter King, whose roots are planted in Missisaugan soil and wants to get involved in initiatives like these to empower the community around him. “It was something that was near and dear to my heart with regards to the Black community,” says King.
The report, First Steps: A Community-Driven Report on Making Mississauga More Equitable for Black Communities, shares nearly 60 recommendations based on the feedback, ideas, and lived experiences discussed by Black community members during six community consultations hosted by Mayor Crombie and Councillors in 2021. According to a news release by the mayor's office, over 900 community members, experts, and city staff participated in well-attended talks over six weeks.
The report outlined recommendations to “further engage Black community members in the decision-making process at City Hall and ensure city programs and services are equitable and inclusive to all members of the community,” according to a news release.
King says some of the consultations were heated, but these discussions needed to happen. The talks brought up a wide variety of topics like healthcare, childcare, economic empowerment, political engagement, and more.
“We created a safe space for people to speak their opinion. One of them was on policing, the way the police treat our community. So that was definitely at the forefront,” says King, adding that Peel Regional Police was a part of those conversations.
Recommendations for policing include:
- Black representation on the Peel Regional Police Service Board
- More transparency regarding AI and new technologies in policing
- Amendments to the provincial legislation to allow additional first responders to respond to a mental health crisis
As for political engagement, King says the community needs to get more involved in elections. “Our vote counts, we need to make sure that these politicians know that we can make a difference when it comes to the voting process. And again, too, we need to have more individuals run as well in the political arena.”
King says this was received well by the community, and he’s “very appreciative” of the community’s support during this initiative. “We as a community need to continue that momentum to ensure that systemic changes in the city and a region are taking us seriously,” says King.
A part of the recommendations for political engagement includes community members wanting to be more politically engaged but encountering challenges when accessing the city’s political landscapes and Black representation and appointments to the city’s Committee of Councils and on its boards.
In a news release, Mayor Crombie says, “And as the title suggests, these are just the ‘first steps.’ We have a lot of important work ahead of us to ensure that Mississauga’s diverse communities feel included, supported, and empowered.”
"This means tracking and measuring success," says King. After taking the report to the council last week, King says Councillor Pat Mullin urged staff to give regular updates on how they are tracking recommendations. On paper, recommendations are nothing but words, but they become factors of change with actions, and Black communities become agents of change.
“The city more or less has had to step outside of their comfort zone with regards to this report that we've put forward as well,” says King. King credits Claudia McCoy, the consultant who wrote this report and the principal of UpSurgence. “She did an extremely great job, her passion, her commitment, it showed in this report, and she really wanted to make sure that everything was covered when it came to addressing the issues in the Black community.”
According to the First Steps report, we can expect to see the launch of city-led targeted meet and greets for Black community leaders and businesses over the next couple of months, the Black Caucus Alliance identifying a Black incubator/accelerator program and more.
“Our voices speak,” King says, adding that their mantra “Nothing About Us, Without Us” captures the purpose of the report and Black Caucus. Black communities have a longstanding influence on municipalities' social and economic growth, and our time to thrive has been long overdue.