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Celebrating Black History Month

February 12, 2022 by United Way Greater Toronto

Banner with the words 'Black History Month' and an illustration of silhouetted people

Let’s celebrate and elevate Black voices this February, and Forever.

Dear Friend,

I’d like to share three quotes with you as we celebrate Black History Month.

First, from the timeless words of the Honourable Jean Augustine, who single-handedly introduced a motion for Black History Month in the House of Commons in 1995, “Black History is not just for Black people – Black History is Canadian History.” An opportunity for all of us to recognize the vital contributions of people of African descent to our communities, Canada, and the world from pre-colonialism to the present. And to do so year-round, as Canada’s 2022 theme suggests: February and Forever: Celebrating Black History today and every day.

The second, a personal favourite from activist and author bell hooks: “Beloved community is formed not by the eradication of difference but by its affirmation, by each of us claiming the identities and cultural legacies that shape who we are and how we live in the world.” From wherever we sit, we have not just the power, but the obligation to build our beloved community into one where everyone has a chance at a better life.

Finally, a recent one from Kearie Daniel, Co-Founder and ED of Parents of Black Children, who joined us for last week’s United Way Black Community Advisory Council (BCAC)’s Black Leadership & Recognition event. “One of the easiest ways to think about systemic change is to look at the response to the COVID pandemic. Think of all the organizations that pivoted overnight to respond to the pandemic. That is systemic change, and it is possible.”

What a hopeful message. She’s absolutely right. We’ve seen seemingly intractable systems change and adapt and progress to meet the call of the pandemic, and it’s with that spirit that we should examine other such challenges, including structural racism. I hope you’ll read on to see what role United Way is playing in this.

I invite you to continue celebrating Black voices and histories today and every day, while thoughtfully reflecting on how we each show up to support our friends, peers and community in our own equity journey.

Always, and only, thank you.

Daniele Zanotti
President & CEO
United Way Greater Toronto

Things to Know Right Now

A collage that shows the headshots of Liberty Silver, Crystel Campbell, Gavin Smellie, and Kearie Daniel

On February 4, our Black Community Advisory Council held its annual Black Leadership and Recognition Event where we celebrated and heard from community leaders about how they’ve supported their communities through the pandemic. We invite you to see all the award recipients and to watch the inspiring conversation here. The BCAC has over the past 12 years established a platform for Black community members, agencies, business leaders, educators, parents, youth, and volunteers to inform the way that United Way’s work addresses issues that impact Black communities. During the pandemic, the BCAC has been crucial to United Way’s response by reaching out to grassroots organizations providing culturally relevant services. We thank Linden King, BCAC Chair, and our own Chris Thompson, Community Investment Manager, for leading it.

Beyond this month, United Way has long been working alongside Black and other equity-deserving communities. Here is a snapshot of that work:

  • Our Reconciliation and Equity action plan is building equity-mindedness into our organizational culture and practice, and permeates everything we do – from fundraising and grant making, to community engagement, to data-informed decision making, to communications and advocacy.
  • Our Black Resilience Cluster has been vital in ensuring a community-based emergency response to COVID in support of local African, Caribbean and Black communities.
  • Our new Organizational Infrastructure Grants deepen our investments in agencies led by, focused on and serving Indigenous, Black, and equity-deserving communities.
  • The Black Youth School Success Initiative started in Peel five years ago to support youth with wrap-around supports, and is now a stand-alone initiative that has extended its mandate to post-high school support and into York Region and Toronto as well.

Local Love in Action

Banner reading 'United Way Emergency Covid Support'. The image features two women from Working Women Community Centre wearing protective facemasks. One of them is holding a clipboard.

Emergency COVID Support

United Way is continuing to raise urgent funds for a network of agencies struggling to deliver essential programs and services. “We’ve seen a lot of job losses,” says Zarine Dordi, Community Development Coordinator at Working Women Community Centre. “There’s a major problem with access to food and people are struggling.” In addition to helping Working Women provide grocery cards for residents who’ve experienced increased hardship due to Omicron, we’re supporting hundreds of agencies across the GTA, including:

  • Scarborough Food Security Initiative is distributing grocery cards to people who are COVID-19 positive so they don’t have to make the decision between isolating and accessing food. 
  • Toronto Centre for Community Learning & Development is purchasing food and PPE for seniors in Regent Park who are impacted by COVID-19.
  • Richmond Hill Community Food Bank is purchasing HEPA filters so they can safely allow clients to access the food bank.
  • House of Compassion is purchasing masks, antigen tests, and disinfectant wipes in order to create a safter environment for its supportive home for elderly adults living with severe and persistent mental illness.

A donation to our Emergency COVID Support Appeal will help put food on the tables of hundreds of families, provide PPE, mental health resources, and hold the line for our frontline agencies. Thank you again for your continued support.

Get Involved

Opportunity: Become a United Way member

Show your local love by becoming a member of United Way Greater Toronto. Members are an essential part of our work: They are invited to attend our Annual General Meeting to vote on the appointment of Trustees, auditors and other special business, receive audited financial statements and receive reports on our work in community. Interested in joining? Fill out an application by March 3, 2022.

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