Ajax Anti-Black Racism task force reports plans to promote Black equity are well underway

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Published March 1, 2022 at 12:39 pm

The Town of Ajax unveiled art by Robert Small as part of its commitment to addressing inequity experienced by the town's Black community

The pursuit of the the Ajax Anti-Black Racism Task Force (AABR) goals to promote the interests of the town’s Black community is well underway, according to an update to town council presented February 28.

The Town founded the AABR in June 2020 in the wake George Floyd’s murder at the hands on Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. Ajax worked to build the task force through the resulting summer of discontent led by Black Lives Matter protests against police brutality and systemic racism, voting unanimously to begin the program in by the end of the month.

The AABRs mission is to make “recommendations for sustainable action to dismantle systemic and institutional racist policies, practices and procedures that negatively impact Black people and other racialized communities in the Town of Ajax.”

In pursuit of this mission the AABR undertook a two action plans encompassing 14 initiatives to engage, support and advocate for Ajax’s Black community while encouraging reforms in the Town of Ajax organization.

Ajax is the most racially diverse community in Durham Region by a significant margin per the 2016 census. The census found over 67,000 people in Ajax were from a visible minority group. The closest runner-up, Pickering, had about 39,000 people.

The largest demographic is people of South Asian descent at nearly 25,000, followed by Black people at nearly 20,000.

“The Town of Ajax listened to the voices in the community,” said Thomas, “and is committed to take action against systemic and institutional racism to combat barriers felt by the Black community and other racialized groups.”

Thomas considers this initiative an opportunity for “Ajax to be a leader providing opportunities for the Black community and other racialized groups, enabling them to reach their full potential.”

The first goal in the action plan is for the AABR to encourage engagement with the United Nations’ Declaration of the Decade of People of African Descent running from 2015-2024.

The decade promotes the need of the African diaspora (those living outside the continent) as a distinct group, 200 million strong in the Americas alone, whose “human rights must be promoted and protected,” per the declaration.

The declaration follows three pillars – Recognition, Justice and Development – which Ajax has used as the jumping-off point in developing its plans to promote Black equity.

We are pleased to note as of today the town acknowledges the UN International Decade,” AABR Vice-Chair Dane Lawrence told Ajax council in an update, “acknowledging the Decade assists the Town of Ajax with a more fulsome understanding of the goals of the task force.”

As a symbol of the Town’s commitment to the decade, Council unveiled the artwork ‘Decades to Come’ by local artist Robert Small, which will hang in town hall to “as a symbol to Ajax’s recognition of the Decade,” per Mayor Shaun Collier

“I would like to applaud the Task Force for all of their hard work and dedication, and Robert Small for the creation of such an inspiring piece,” he said.

The Town is taking action beyond the symbolic as well. Firstly, it will be instituting paid internships for people from the Black community and other racialized groups.

The town expects these internships to benefit the employer by bringing in “highly productive and potential leaders” for short-term and long-term projects. It would also benefit the interns by enhancing their classroom learning with on the job experience.

The town has grant funding established for one position in the Planning and Development department and is working to establish the job description. Work to create more internships is underway.

Next, the AABR established a Black-owned business directory. The task force contacted businesses in town to create an online resource to connect customers with Black-owned businesses. The directory is set to launch “soon,” according to Thomas.

Describing small businesses’ struggle through the COVID-19 pandemic, Lawrence said, “Overall we understand, anecdotally, that over 40 per cent of Black owned businesses have disappeared.”

Development of the directory was a two-pointed effort with the task force reaching out to businesses, “and then having the community turn around and say ‘Hey. I’m still here’,” said Lawrence.

The task force has also recently wrapped a five-part Diversity Xchange speaker series which featured numerous Black voices exploring topics from understanding racism to navigating mental health services.

While the series has concluded, the discussion remain viewable on the Task Force’s Facebook page. The series, “has received excellent feedback,” Thomas said.

The task force has further long-term goals in the works as well. They are exploring the feasibility of a resource centre for Ajax to create a culture, arts, health and business space, which would have a “strong focus on the needs of underrepresented groups.” Such a centre would be a Regional first, creating employment and economic activity in town.

“I would like to thank the Mayor and council for listening to the recommendations which will combat barriers experienced by the Black community,” said Thomas

“This is exactly, I think, what the Town envisioned when we started this taskforce. It’s more than symbolic it means a lot, especially to an incredibly racialized town like Ajax,” said Councillor Sterling Lee, who also chair the Regional Anti-Racism task force.

Referencing Ajax’s focus on the UN Decade, Lee concluded saying, “I dare say, we’re probably one of the only Durham Region [municipalities], and I think what you’re going to see ultimately is other Durham Region municipalities acknowledging this.”

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