February is Black History Month. An opportunity for Torontonians to recognize and celebrate the extraordinary achievements and contributions of Black people across the Greater Toronto Area who have done so much to make our city the culturally diverse, compassionate and prosperous place that it is.
What does it mean to be Black in the GTA?
The Black Experience Project—a joint initiative of the Environics Institute for Survey Research, Ryerson University’s Diversity Institute, United Way Toronto and the YMCA of Greater Toronto —is a groundbreaking research study focusing on the lived experiences of the Black community across the GTA. The project aims to identify untapped strengths and capacity of this highly diverse group and to investigate the extent to which members face social and economic inequalities.
“When we started our exploration in 2010, we set out with one important principle in mind,” says Marva Wisdom, who led Phase 1 of the initiative and is also responsible for project outreach. “Research conducted by, and with, the community is of utmost importance. As one participant noted, ‘No research about us without us’.”
The first phase of the project, which involved consultations with nearly 300 community and youth leaders, local organizations and community members-at-large, was completed last January.
“What we learned is that there is no single ‘Black experience,’ but rather multiple experiences,” says Wisdom. “But as diverse as this community is, we need to find a way be more united in our diversity. Without the power of the strong voice, it’s difficult to be heard when policies are being developed, when governments are making decisions and when we need to advocate on behalf of our youth.”
With the help of a dedicated team of individuals from the community, Phase 2 is already underway. This part of the project will entail in-depth interviews with a representative sample of up to 2,000 individuals across the GTA who self identify as Black, on issues ranging from mental health and education to employment and racial identity.
The third, and final, phase of the Black Experience Project will involve widespread sharing of the results, and most importantly, a conversation around how to put the findings of the study to work both within, and beyond, the GTA’s Black community.
“Our community really owns this study, and it’ll be up to us to decide how to use and adapt the results,” says Wisdom. “I’m hoping this project will drive transformative change in how we view the Black community, and how we are able to leverage our own strengths.”
We’ll bring you more information as the rest of this exciting initiative unfolds. In the meantime, we invite you to get in touch with BEP by following them on Twitter, visiting their website and checking out their Facebook page where each week in February a new video will be posted showing different people sharing their story about being Black.
You can also check out Black History Month events happening across Toronto here.