Black mothers: our community, our strength

This Black History month let’s take a moment to celebrate the incredible women behind the scenes – Black mothers.

I owe an incredible lot to the sacrifices made by my own mother, Sheryl Brady, who passed away far too soon after her battle with lung cancer. She was a Black mother with an incredible vision and passion for me to succeed and she carried this out while facing her own battles day to day.

Black children and youth have historically and, in cases now, currently are not expected to thrive and do well in our education system, and many scholars have and continue to work to address this (Dr. George Dei, UofT; Dr. Njoki Wane, UofT; Dr. Carl James, York; Dr. Erica Lawson, Western; Dr. Alana Butler, Queens). The advocacy work to address systemic barriers is often taken on by Black mothers, like my own.

My mother took it upon herself to ensure that I would have the same educational opportunities and pathways as other students, but this created extra work for her, to not only raise me, but to continuously fight to ensure I was treated fairly. Without her effort, I would not have continued my education past high-school and onto the post-secondary and graduate levels.

My story, though, is not unique. Instead, it is the story of many Black and newcomer students, where our mothers muster up the courage to correct a broken system. Importantly, my mother did not only advocate for me, but also for other children and youth and members of our community. Historically, Black mothers have often come together to address injustices through a community approach.

In fact, Black women do not need to be biological mothers in order to take on care of members of their community, this is known as ‘other-mothering’ or ‘community parenting’ stemming from African values where it “takes a village”. We see this today in the community programs, after school activities, advocacy groups, breakfast programs and other initiatives developed to create greater access of Black and racialized youth.

There are countless Black mothers – far too many to name who take on this important work right here in our community. Moving forward, as we celebrate Black History Month, take a moment to acknowledge a Black mother or community parent that you know who is fighting for a better and more equitable future for generations to come.

I dedicate this article to my mother, Sheryl Brady (August 7, 1970 – May 2, 2015)

North York Women’s Shelter’s new facilities bring opportunities

In spring of 2019, North York Women’s Shelter (NYWS) will open the doors to its newly renovated facilities that are set to be kid friendly, culturally competent, and include a community hub. NYWS is nestled in between Downsview Park and Sheppard West station – making it connected to a local scene and accessible to the rest of the city’s resources.

Established in 1984, NYWS continues to be a safe place for women and children impacted by violence. As research on how to best help survivors of gendered violence advanced, NYWS took federal funding opportunities to redesign and renovate the facility to better serve their residents.

Executive Director, Mohini Datta-Ray, described the new shelter as “future oriented” with a focus on providing survivors a holistic approach to healing and giving women the tools they need to take the next steps in their lives.

It will be a 24,000 square feet shelter with 17 bedrooms and 17 bathrooms with 30 beds, with the capacity for an additional 10 beds if their operational budget targets are met. This is a huge improvement from the 3,000 square feet shelter with only six bedrooms and three bathrooms for 30 beds that left residents crowded and prevented necessary programming.

Traditionally, women’s shelters are at a confidential and discrete location. Shelters are usually intended to be outside the purview of the community and to exist in isolation of the neighbourhood.

“It’s a new model – we’re breaking the paradigm. The model is that we are both a shelter and a community service hub,” Datta-Ray explained. The community hub will service not only those in the shelter but women within the community who need a safe space and cannot leave their situations.

The shelter itself will be built to accommodate children, have a kennel for residents’ dogs, and a wood-burning oven for women of different cultures to bake bread. Its new community hub will have partnerships with different groups like the Black Creek Community Health Centre, Black Creek Community Farm, and other service groups to ensure that clients can access the resources they need.

As Toronto becomes more expensive and funding for ending violence against women continues to be erratic and dependent on governments, it is important to not only give survivors the resources they need to survive but also to thrive.

The new NYWS has a large 1000 square-foot multipurpose room that can be a space where women can self-organize and be political. Alongside providing services, NYWS aims to foster a peer-support system so women can be politically active and demand more from their politicians to enact lasting change.

“We realized that you can build 40 thousand shelters but you will never address the issue because you are just continuing to address the symptom of the problem,” Datta-Ray explained. The new space will help empower residents to advocate for institutional changes to end violence against women.

NDP keeps pushing for auto insurance reform

Over 150 local residents packed an auto insurance town hall meeting I hosted in November to pressure this government to bring down the unfair auto insurance rates we pay in our community.

The community meeting was part of a series of auto insurance town halls Ontario’s NDP is holding across the GTA, each packed with people demanding change.

Our community continues to pay some of the highest auto insurance rates in this country even though we do not have the highest number of accidents on our streets.  In fact, there are even some in this community who are unable to drive because the insurance is simply unaffordable.

Ontario’s NDP has been fighting against auto insurance postal code discrimination for years but the Liberals, and now Doug Ford’s Conservative government, sided with big auto insurance corporations over the people.

In 2012, former NDP MPP Jagmeet Singh (and current federal NDP leader) tabled a private member’s bill that would have ended postal code discrimination, but both the Conservatives and the Liberals voted against it, and the bill failed. Later, the NDP extracted a promise from the provincial Liberals to reduce auto insurance rates by 15 per cent, but the Liberals simply broke their promise.

Most recently in October 2018, an NDP bill by MPP Gurratan Singh who attended our community meeting, called for auto insurance companies to treat the GTA as a single postal code when determining insurance rates.

Unfortunately, Doug Ford’s Conservative government voted against this NDP bill that aimed to bring down insurance rates for drivers. What’s more, one of the first things the Ford government did when taking office was to pave the way for a nine per cent hike to auto insurance rates.

Our community is tired of being taken advantage of by auto insurance corporations and deserve to be treated fairly.  I will continue to keep up the fight.