Pillar’s journey to starting a dialogue about the realities of Anti-Black racism

Image of people of different races linking arms

Pillar’s Director of Equity, Inclusion & Governance, Dharshi Lacey, shares what she has learned so far about how we can best support the local Black community in the ongoing fight against oppression and racism.

In the middle of a global pandemic, we watched and could not look away as George Floyd was murdered in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Perhaps the brutality of that moment caused us to look back and forward to Canada’s own story and our disproportionate undervaluation of the lives of Black, Indigenous and People of Colour. It was and is still not a pretty picture. In this moment, the Black Lives Matter movement rose to the top of the news again with brave and loud voices gathering during a pandemic to protest across the globe. Our city held a rally that drew over 15,000 people. We were in a “moment” in history.

As a network organization supporting over 600 nonprofits and social enterprises, we decided that we needed to have this important conversation about anti-Black racism within our network. We began to talk about hosting a community conversation on the topic as part of our Learning and Development programming on June 10. Now, deep into October, we are still having this discussion with members of the local Black community. It was important to me to start keeping a record of this process as we move along the journey of this work to share what we have learned and what we are still working through.

As I reflect on the steps we have taken to organize this session, and the conversations that have resulted, I realized that even as a racialized woman, I approached this process with a very traditional system lens. I knew (enough!) that this conversation needed to be led by members within the Black community. I thought I could reach out to a few people in my network, have a quick zoom call to discuss content, learning outcomes, length of time of session, presenter availability and we would be good to go!

What followed for me was a lesson in humility. Due to the strength, wisdom and kindness of the Black leaders who were willing to engage in this initial conversation, I heard many thoughtful questions and reflections and also challenges:

“Not so fast…”

“Who is not in this conversation who should be?”

“Why do you want to have this conversation?”

“What is your commitment to advocacy?”

“What makes you the agency that should be doing this?” 

“What is your role/space in this work?”

As I reflect on these questions, and how I entered this process with yes, great passion and excitement, I’m drawn to a phrase that one of my colleagues used: “white ways of doing”. I feel that was indeed what I was guilty of. White ways of doing often emphasize expediency and results often over the type of deep reflection and relationship-building that is required to do this type of work. In our earnest effort to support the Black community and have the conversation around how anti-Black racism exists in our city and what we can do to stop it, we moved too fast and didn’t think of these important questions that were raised to us.

So where do we go from here? This is still an active dialogue with members of the local Black community and a continual learning experience. From what we experienced together so far, I would like to share a few considerations that will guide our next steps and may be helpful for others trying to act as allies to under-represented communities.

  1. How can we be transparent about our capabilities and what our accountability will be?
  2. How are we committing to ongoing relationship development?
  3. How can we build more trust-based relationships?
  4. How can we ensure we are accurately conveying the complexity of anti-racism work while centering voices of the impacted?
  5. How can we approach this work with a shared agenda while not over-burdening the impacted community with responsibility?

I look forward to inviting others both within our own organization, and the leaders from the Black community who continue to gift us with their wisdom, to share their reflection as and when they are ready at all points along this continuing journey.