Posts tagged ‘Race’

November 1, 2013

Advocacy lessons from American race politics for Canada

“It is eerie and unsettling to hear the same issues in country after country. It lifts our common challenges in ways that are sobering,”

Angela Glover Blackwell said, after listening to each person’s introduction.

Squeezed into an early morning session, the walls at the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants (OCASI) were lined with people from the non-profit sector and advocacy groups, funders and even a former Cabinet Minister, all concerned with racial equity. The Colour of Poverty/Colour of Change had invited us to hear Blackwell, Founder and CEO at PolicyLink, and Dr. Manuel Pastor, Professor of Sociology and American Studies & Ethnicity, University of Southern California, both speaking at a recent conference in Toronto, and here to share lessons on how to advance the equity policy agenda.

“We need to continue to look for ways to capture the weary, to inspire those with goodness in their heart,” Blackwell explained.

“There is an immediate need to think long-term”

To do this, advocacy efforts must be attached to the issues which are the currency of the times, Blackwell explained. She drew examples from the 60s, 70s through to the present economic crunch. As an example, PolicyLink has shifted its most recent advocacy efforts from the Promise Neighbourhoods of Obama’s early days to an economic inclusion “All-In Nation” economic plan.

“Early on we framed what we’re doing as equity, allowing people to reach their full potential. Equity is the essential thing to do. In the U.S., your address is literally a proxy for your life opportunity:  what kind of schools you will attend, the job you will have, even your life expectancy,” Blackwell continued. “So, for instance, we attached equity to transportation – it is responsible for access to education, health, and jobs. Neighbourhood environments determine obesity. All of this is  connected to equity.”

“So be clear about the goals, but attach that to whichever issue is in currency,” Blackwell said, giving the example of how Policy Link attached the equity agenda to ideas of job preparation and entrepreneurialism after the 2008 crash. “That became the nation’s agenda,” she explained, so we developed America’s Tomorrow.”

In short, Policy Link is successful in pushing for racial equity by working in three steps, Blackwell said. First they begin by talk to People of Colour and advocacy groups about a strong narrative with People of Colour at the centre. Second they look for ways to attach these things to a national agenda. Lastly, they find ways to change the conversation.

Policy Link also works with allies, Blackwell explained, such The Center for American Progress which is “inside the beltway” to set a national agenda. “We’re showing if you just get rid of inequity, a lot of things will move forward,” Blackwell concluded.

Professor Pastor waded in next, offering his advice to those in the room.

“Race matters,” Pastor continued, “so it is important to put it into the conversation. There is a lot of talk about inequality, yes, but we have to answer the lasting legacies of racism.

To get race behind, we have to put race up front.

Pastor cautioned about concentrating only in the past, though. “Frame forward. Focus on 2042 when the majority of the population and the majority of the workforce [in the U.S.A.] will be people of colour. In 2019, the majority of youth will be. In 2012, the majority of births were.”

“Inequity has a dampening economic effect,” Pastor continued, explaining this was being said by many outside ‘the usual suspects,’ pointing to the IMF and the Cleveland Reserve. Both, he said, have stated that the single most dampening effect on the economy is inequality.

“The process of conversation is important,” Pastor continued. “The real problem is disconnection. So we need empathy.

A neighbourhood can be angry enough to burn itself down without being able to channel that.”

A good model of how to do this is the young, undocumented American residents who organized as the DREAMers. They have a forward focus, using others’ successful narrative of “coming out”. They have captured the narrative, the moment and the imagination,” Pastor explained. They are able, he said, to bridge different issues, be forward-looking, use moral & economic arguments, and have a values-driven narrative which successfully shifted the discussion to how Americans were related to each other.

‘Rock the naturalized vote’ is another successful example of visioning forward, Pastor said. 71% of Latinos and 73% of Asian vote went to Obama because wanted to “punish ‘stupid shit’. Immigration was central.

“The Economic Bureau has said that the debt would be reduced $1 trillion over 20 years if immigration was reformed. Does it make sense to pay $36-40 billion ( = one agent every 100 yards) to protect another border while we only spent $150 million on settlement?” Pastor continued.

Successful advocacy efforts must make a two-pronged argument, Pastor explained.

“To make the case for equity, both moral and material arguments are required,” Pastor continued. “Organize your work by addressing both areas, that is

  • Economic – episodic, interest-based
  • Moral – values, sustained, deeply held

“So first, to build the material case, consider framing and data issues. For instance, a California report looked at the number of undocumented Californians. Re-frame it. They are Californians. Half have been here for 10 years+. Immigration reforms help the next generation of Americans.

Pastor offered some other concrete examples of how framing works, such as the idea of developing regional equity profiles for municipal areas highlighting how rental tenancy is higher by people of colour in Fair Housing & Equity Assessment – HUD’s new frame used disaggregated data. Pastor also pointed to the access provided through San Francisco’s place-based initiative Communities of Opportunity.

At the most technical level, data disaggregation is important, Pastor said, because it reveals race neutrality is not real.

Similarly, “Nerd to Nerd” relations are key to laying an evidence base.

Those technical discussions that identify the right geographic focus, or compare the outcomes for various populations, or which match database variables, can open whole new perspectives on complex social problems, to understanding the layers of poverty.

Finally, Pastor said, the moral frame is vital too. Understand the moment, he advised, and consider the strategic target within the universal good, that is targeted universalism. Appeal to the larger value because

As Van Jones reminds us, Martin Luther King didn’t say “I have an issue.”

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November 10, 2009

An opportunity gap – not an achievement gap

OISE’s Centre for Urban Schooling packed them in for a lecture tonight by Linda Nathan called Grappling with the Hardest Questions: Why Must Schools Talk Openly About Race and Achievement and What Happens When They Do.

Nathan is co-headmaster of Boston’s Arts Academy (BAA), a small public high school located across from Fenway Park, where kids from all economic and racial backgrounds can take advantage of the kind of specialized education institution to which upper and middle class parents often send their children.

In a school with such diversity, BAA has worked to ensure all students achieve. In the No Child Left Behind ethos, this means making sure students achieve. As Nathan writes in her new book, The Hardest Questions Aren’t on the Test:

For the majority of educators of good will who are teaching in urban schools—many of them, though obviously not all, white women—the achievement gap is a hugely personal issue. The notion that today’s schools are not helping to equalize opportunity in the way American schools are supposed to do is not just a frustration. It haunts us.

If schools are going to ensure the achievement gap is closed, she writes, it will take more than the piles binders of disaggregated data which simply reiterate the problem.

Instead, Nathan argues schools need to

  • frame the problem as an opportunity gap, recognizing the challenged and unequal backgrounds some students come from. Address inequality. So, for instance, admission to BAA is not based on skill, developed through years of private lessons, but on a student’s passion for the opportunity before them.
  • address how race affects learning, rather than test scores. This means, for example, instead trying to close the gap by teaching testing skills, that teachers have the training and time to think through complex learning issues as a school team.
  • plan explicitly to raise the performance of African American boys. For instance, when honour roll assemblies are held, she underlines the importance of Black male achievement, not to the detriment of other students, but to emphasize what they can all do.
  • Find a common vision – BAA developed an ethos called R.I.C.O., which stands for Refine, Invent, Connect, and Own. These are values applied to all of school life.

Teachers and students became involved in the difficult conversation about race and opportunity at BAA.

“If we don’t speak the truth we all see,” she explained to the audience, “we won’t make sustainable change.”

Nathan urges us to think about the structures that create opportunity.

More than artistry, BAA teaches citizenry.

Schools, she said, must be places where we want to belong. The stories she told (and others) emphasized the participatory and democratic natures of the schools where Nathan has worked. (She felt odd, she explained, telling these stories without the students with her now, but cross-border travel does present complications.)

94% of BAA’s students go on to post-secondary studies—and Nathan says there is still room for improvement.

The lesson, unnerving as it may be for Canadians, is that when race is explicitly addressed, when students are fully engaged, and when opportunity is created, there is no achievement gap.

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May 31, 2009

Key factors associated with youth delinquency

A Statistics Canada analysis this spring looked at factors associated with delinquent activity among immigrant youth in Canada. Ostensibly, the report was comparing newcomer and Canadian-born youth, but what it found was more about the importance of family and friends.

The report on property-related and violent activities relied on self-reports from the 2006 International Youth Survey.

Youth were asked if they had participated in a series of risky behaviours in the previous 12 months:

  • Property delinquency was measured as youth who had damaged something on purpose (including bus shelter, window or seat), stolen a bicycle or vehicle, stolen from a store, burglary and arson
  • Violent delinquency was measured whether a youth had snatched a purse or bag, carried a weapon, threatened someone with harm, participated in a fight intentionally.

Here’s what the report found:

Rates of both property and violent delinquency vary by generational status within Canada. Native-born youth reported the highest rates of property-related delinquency, while youth who had immigrated to Canada after the age of 5 reported the lowest rates. However, factors other than generational status were found to account for differences across generational groups in rates of property-related and violent delinquency.

Having delinquent peers has the strongest effect on all youth in terms of explaining rates of self-reported delinquency. The odds of reporting property delinquency were more than three and a half times higher for youth who had delinquent peers than for those who did not. Youth who reported having peers involved in delinquent activities were almost three times more likely, as those without, to report violent delinquency.

Relationships with family also play an important role. Youth who reported a good relationship with their mother were less likely to report violent delinquency.

Youth who spent the majority of their time with friends were also more likely to report property  and/or violent delinquency. Youth who were isolated from family or friends reported higher levels of property delinquency.

If youth reporting being a victim, they also were more likely to be involved in delinquent behaviour. Those who had experienced a theft were more likely to report property-related delinquency. They were also more likely, along with those who reported having been hit violently, to report violent delinquent acts.

Finally, schools play a role as well. Youth who aspired to university were less likely to report either type of property or violent activities while youth who skipped school were more likely to do so. Youth who felt that their school was ‘unsafe’ were also more likely to report having committed acts of violent delinquency.

In sum, protective factors for youth included aspirations for university and spending time with family and/or close relationship with mothers. (Recent immigrants were most likely to enjoy these conditions, and therefore were least likely to be involved in delinquent behaviours. Stereotypes, be damned!)

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April 30, 2009

Proximity makes the heart grow fonder

How do friendships form? gives some insight into why mixed neighbourhoods are important. The study, from Marmaros and Sacerdote, researchers from Google and Dartmouth College, tracked the 4.2 million e-mail exchanges between university students for more than a year to identify the social networks they established.

As Dartmouth students are assigned randomly to student residences, the researchers were able to track how factors like geographic proximity, family background, racial identity and shared student activities affected the formation of friendships between students.

The literature explains we are most likely to become close friends with people with whom we have frequent contact.  Fostering friendship with a random stranger further away requires an additional investment of time with no guarantee of a positive pay-off of a close friendship. Marmoros and Sacerdote wanted to test the theory that we are more likely to become close friends with someone with whom we have “lots of local, low cost social interactions.”

In essence, when we see a neighbour regularly, we get a short-term and a long-term benefit: in the immediate interaction, we are provided with the opportunity to exchange information and then, over the course of time, trust is built through reciprocity. Both these benefits can emerge at a fairly low cost to ourselves without a large investment of time or other resources. Random interactions expose us to the possibility of bigger pay-offs.

Marmaros and Sacerdote found such a “neighbourly effect” among the students whom they mapped. Students were more likely to form friendships with those who lived close to them or who shared an activity or class. The effect was lessened if students did not share the same racial or family background, however, the effect was still positive.

A caution from the study:

  • The positive effects on social interaction were only found at fairly close distances, such as among those living on the same floor in a school dorm.

Otherwise shared activities were required to demonstrate significant cross-cultural friendship formation. Even while seen as a broad societal benefit, the authors explained, an individual may be less likely to form a cr0ss-cultural friendship if it is seen as more “costly” in terms of time or additional risk factors. Happily, proximity to each other seems to help overcome the racial barrier.

Two additional noteworthy upsides:

  • Close friendships continued even when students moved further distances from each other. The opportunity to form friendships across a variety of identities, provided by living close to each other, provides a lasting effect. Once friendships are formed, most students found it worth continuing to invest in them.
  • Citing other research and expanding on their own, the authors describe the positive equity effects on the attitudes of white students who live with a Black roommate. While the white students were not more likely to have a larger circle of Black friends (as a result of having one Black friend), they are “more likely to support affirmative action in admissions and societal income redistribution.”
March 22, 2009

Advocacy in a time of change

To commemorate the International Day for the Elimination of Discrimination, 130 community activists gathered at the  School of Public Health at the University of Toronto. The auditorium was filled with familiar faces, with familiar messages in this old, familiar place (the old Toronto School Board office). However, this time, there was change in the air.

“We can’t sit around and watch our children die anymore,” said one presenter. “The Ontario government will use the economic downturn as a reason not to act on its commitments to poverty reduction and to the Roots of Violence recommendations,if we don’t act.”

Akua Benjamin, Ryerson Social Work professor, underlined the point, that young Black men are the ones who are dying most often, and that we need to address this specifically. Too often the broader terms of racism or people of colour occlude the particular issue of anti-Black racism.

The keynote speaker was the honourable Alvin Curling, co-chair of the recent Roots of Violence report. He has been making the rounds to numerous community meetings since its release because “writing that report was just one part” of what needs to be done.

If the recommendations are to be implemented, he explained, citizens need to push the government to carry out its commitment and to develop an implementation plan with hard goals and timelines.

Curling sounded pessimistic as some of the deadlines from the fall report loom.  However, he had people laughing out loud as he described the structural problems which lay in the way of successful implementation of the Roots of Violence report.

Siloed government ministries are like the kids in a family who each have to have their own iPod. Now, he explained, they can’t use their iPod 24 hours a day, but they also cannot share, so they each go out and get one. In fact, he explained, they won’t even tell each other what they have on their playlists.

The problem is so deep, he said, that there is no way we should throw money at it “unless the government gets its act together.”

In response to a question, Curling highlighted the recommendation on mental health supports, though, noting that this was the one recommendation which had money attached to it because of the seriousness of the issue.

Curling also touched on the topic of race-based collection of statistics, recounting a story from the consultations.

“We can’t do that,” the review was told by law enforcement officials. “The Blacks [sic] don’t like us to collect that.”

“Oh no,” snapped back one of the staff. “We just don’t like what you do with them.”

Other presenters at the day:

The City of Toronto public health report,  The Unequal City (2008), which demonstrates how different health outcomes are tied to income.

Sarah Blackstock, from the Income Security Advocacy Centre, exemplified how the 25 in 5 Network has ably kept poverty reduction on the agenda. [Conflict of interest, 1st alert, I sat onthe Steering Committee for a number of months.] The Network has had to balance maintaining an authentic link to community and labour while balancing Blackberries and meetings with the Premiers’ Office and the cabinet-level Results table, now charged with implementing the poverty reduction strategy. It’s a long way from the barricaded doors of old.

Lance McCready, from OISE/UT described his work in inner city and high need schools and his participation with the People for education report on Urban and Suburban schools. [Conflict of interest, 2nd alert, I was involved in this report and P4E before that.]

Margaret Parson of the African Canadian Legal Clinic described the upcoming World Conference on Racism and her participation, with many others in the room that day, at the conference ten years ago. Parsons urged Canadian NGOs and activists to participate even if the Canadian government was choosing not to participate in anticipation of a descent into”regrettable anti-Semitism.” She concluded by reading the final version of the controversial paragraph which had sparked the furor at the 2001 World Conference, and urged participants not to allow the broader issues of racism to be so easily set aside by a government seemingly unwilling to act.

Colin Hughes gave participants the long view, describing how the unanimous (and now notorious) 1989 parliamentary motion to abolish child poverty is  nine years overdue. Yet the momentum to keep the promise has not waned through the efforts of groups like Campaign 2000. Far from defeated, Hughes kept his sense of humour, laughing about his “useless Powerpoint slides” which had lost all his labels on the graphs.

Uzma Shakir, filled out the panel, and finished with a candid and rousing summary:

  • Racism might not be healthy for us,but anti-racism is.
  • It’s not good enough to hope that by ameliorating poverty, you are ameliorating the effectsof race. Because if good jobs are created, they run the risk of becoming generic jobs, ones that reenfoce the same old power structures. And then people of colour will be right back where we started.
  • Race and marginalization are not a newcomer phenomenon. There is a long history to racism in Canada. Immigrationis being blurred with it because most newcomers are people of colour.
  • The issue of race has to be disaggregated. If you use averages, then you could put my head in the freezer and feet in the oven, and say my body temperature was average. But that wouldn’t mean that I was healthy.

The Colour of Poverty campaign convened the one day forum with anti-racist and poverty activists, entitled Social Determinants, Growing Colour-coded Inequality in Ontario , and Racial Justice – the Pathway Forward.

A few short hours the provincial government announced it was increasing the Ontario Child Tax benefit and funding for housing. “A classic case of Liberals under-promising and over-delivering,” said one participant as his Blackberry buzzed with the leak of the announcement. “They undercut us again.”

Not that many minded. (But we’ll see what the provincial budget holds.)

March 10, 2009

Why Africentric Schools are a good idea

A number of years ago, a Black candidate for City council was denounced in the riding where he was running  for describing the chasm that existed between the Police and the (mainly) Black residents. Residents, he said, view the police as an “occupying army.”

The reaction in Toronto to his comment was a little like the divide that happened with the O.J. trial. Whether you nodded in recognition or shook your head in disbelief probably lined up with your racial background and your understanding of racism. It was one of the singular times that a bare racial divide in Toronto showed.

At a recent community consultation, parents at a school in the Beach, a  “white ethnic enclave,”  worried about the lack of diversity in their schools. They knew their children were not building skills for cultural competancy. And, the answer is larger than putting on a potluck and dressing up in national costumes, “saris and samosas,” as one author put it.

Race & racism is back on the public agenda with the establishment of an Africentric, or Black-focused, schools. However, this recent debate has not been so sharply divided along racial lines. Indeed, the “chattering classes” are torn around this issue.

Instead, we saw the school board’s white Chair, Director and half its school trustees  champion the initiative as a (partial) solution to address high drop-outs rates for Black students.

Opposition to the establishment of the schools centred around two arguments: abhorrence of anything that might move us back to the pain-filled days of segregation, and, secondly,  a worry that the establishment of the schools will absolve the Board of its obligation to teach all students equitably. These were well-argued positions put forward by progressive peoples.

Absent, also, from the call for Africentric schools were students. In fact the two student trustees stated that they would have voted against the motion if they had a vote. This worried me at first, but I think they are following the arc that many of us do – who wants to believe that the world is shaped by issues of race, especially as one begins to move into it?

Others who argued against the schools are those who have been successful, by mainstream standards. People like Lincoln Alexander. Holding onto a more monolithic view multiculturalism works for those who can afford it – most of the time.

These are valid points, made by many of my progressive friends, that establishing these schools moves towards segregation and separation, a trend which Canadians have fought, and that it relieves the system of a wider responsibility.

So let’s examine the objections to an Africentric school:

I do believe that the backlash to Africentric schools has come because of the fear of the painful historical realities of segregation. The backlash has come when, perhaps all so Canadian, when a model has been proposed that reverberates with a painful American history. This proposal reminds us of that shameful history and makes people nervous, and there is no doubt that segregation is a mistake.

However segregation is enforced separation. Africentric schools are not forced on unwilling people, and they are not exclusive. Anyone, by their choosing, may attend.

And, more fundamentally, in this free and democratic society, that withdrawal is a right, while perhaps troubling to some because of what it bespeaks – a failure of our civic institutions-, but it is a right.

Much as Canadians don’t like to admit it, separation – by choice – is defensible.

Ah, but the critics call, not on the public dime. Well, we crossed that river long ago. Native youth in Toronto are able to attend culturally appropriate schools. Catholics have their own culturally appropriate (publicly-funded) education system as part of the foundation of this nation.

To underline the parallel, even though Canadians ran separate residential schools for native children, there was, to my knowledge, no outcry when the First Nations schools were established in Toronto 30 years ago. We understood the withdrawals from the mainstream as divergent historical processes.

So, if the reasons against a Black-focused schools are shaky, what are the reasons for them?

The reasons are very practical.

1. Schools are already de facto segregated, in that there are monocultures already in existence. David Hulchanski’s work, most recently, highlighted the economical and racial divides within this city which play out geographically.

2. There is blood on the floor. Over 600 young Black men have died violently since the mid-1980’s. Tens of thousands have stopped their education and thousands have been incarcerated. Toronto police indicate that the city is safer than ever -unless you are a young Black men living in a high-need neighbourhood. The people in crisis, leaving schools behind, the places where they should most belong, are young Black men. At double jeopardy, through their race and class, we have abandoned them.

3. Parents of Black children have fought for years for an inclusive education – parents of white children were largely absent. And the system has not responded. In fact the school board’s equity department was gutted after amalgamation and has never recovered. The resources and library materials were shelved. Professional development withered. The Equity Foundation statement was never implemented (see  the Falconer report, for more).

Until the underpinnings of existing inequality is changed, until people who work full-time make a living wage, until affordable mixed housing is built in all parts of the city, until a school fundraiser doesn’t rise or fall depending on the wealth of its commuity, the “system” will continue to push those on the edge further out.

The bid for Afrocentric schools is a bid to break the power at the centre, to create another power base, from which, people who have chosen to walk away from the current system, can rebuild their strength, rally, and enter into discourse with the mainstream, from their own solid foundation. In the end, I guess I am a separatist at heart. But I also know from my fervid days in student politics that after we have established our own strength, we need to re-enter the fray.

These schools will give the strength to young people to do that, and in turn to make the system a more encompassing and inclusive one.

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February 13, 2009

Ethnic enclaves in Toronto, 2001 – 2006

A packed house gathered last week at the Joint Centre for Excellence on Research in Immigration and Settlement. Building on their earlier work on ethnic enclaves in Toronto, professors Mohammed Qadeer (from Queen’s) and Sandeep Kumar Agrawal (from Ryerson) were speaking about the residential patterns of seven ethnic populations in Toronto:  African Blacks, Caribbean, Chinese, Italian, Jewish, Portuguese, and South Asian. (These are as reported at the census tract level by individual respondents to the 2001 and 2006 censuses living in the census metropolitan area (CMA) of Toronto.)

While the maps in their PDF presentation were the most interesting, Qadeer and Agrawal also laid out a few key elements about “ethnic enclaves”:

  • Enclaves are defined as residential concentrations with supporting cultural institutions and services.
  • Enclaves are distinct from ghettos because they happen through a positive choice, rather than a lack of choice. Measuring this, however, is a challenge.
  • Enclaves are an important step for Canadian newcomers on the way to settlement and integration.

Using GIS analysis, Qadeer and Agrawal’s found that ethnic enclaves are extending (so that they are now more widespread) and consolidating (single ethnic groups were more likely to be a higher portion of a neighbourhood). This growth, they found, was often spurred by new immigration.

However, they also found a wide variation in the likelihood of people of various ethnic groups to live within their own neighbourhoods, and that no enclaves were exclusive. All city census tracts had some ethnic mix.

The study provokes further questions to explore, many which were asked that afternoon. Further research could be done to look at these trends over a wider range of years and among other Canadian geographies or at alternate geographic levels (dissemination areas instead of census tract). Also worthwhile would be a examination of the shifting residential patterns of the City’s largest ethnic group, those of British ancestry, and, and more compelling, whether there is a tipping point when “white flight” becomes a reality.

Finally, the study gave a quick look at the percentage growths among various ethnic groups; Russian and Ukrainian populations grew the most quickly. The largest groups are British, South Asian, and, then, Chinese. (For more a detailed description, see the City of Toronto’s 2006 census broad overview and the profiles of specific ethnic groups.)

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January 17, 2009

Only in Toronto

We all know the stats. Half of Torontonians were born in another country (and an additional number of us were born elsewhere in Canada.) How we negotiate this diverse urban landscape plays out in daily life.

For instance, awhile back my Facebook status noted that I had listened to live music from four continents over the course of a week-end.

Or, at Christmas, I hosted guests from Russia, Malta, Israel, Tunisia, and Columbia.

Or one of my favourite moments on the TTC happened when a kindergarten class, tired from a long class trip, sat waiting for their stop. The little guy who sat in the seat by me fell asleep on the long ride. The streetcar was crowded, so the teachers were nervously shepherding their charges. As their stop neared, all the children were roused, but my little guy nodded off again – repeatedly. I tried. Other nearby adults tried as well. None of us spoke each other’s language, but we saw the problem, nudging him and guiding him to the exit where his classmates were clambering off. After the streetcar pulled away, him safely on the sidewalk, we all smiled at each other, nodding, and our task accomplished.

But this pattern of wide and disparate intersections, centred in this city, resurfaced yet again today.

This morning I popped in for a cup of tea with my neighbour, Daryl, and, as he often does, he began to reminisce. The cold weather had put him in mind of his rural childhood, in New Brunswick. He spent hours skating along the river which ran by his house with only a pail with lunch and some tea bags. When he and his friends and brothers got hungry, they would stop in the curve of a river, scavenge through the nearby forest for some dry branches, make a fire, boil some tea and eat. He explained in detail, as well, how a rabbit snare is set, with a bit of carrot as the bait. Anytime he caught a rabbit, his mother made a bony stew.

Then this afternoon, I learned from a fellow researcher that he had done his Master’s in India, writing about modern-day debt slaves, many who worked in the quarries of India. He spent fifteen years doing community development there. And finally, this evening, I sat at a mainly Afrocentric celebration, listening to a tall, young Native woman drum for us.

All this, in one day.

I try not to be awed. It’s such an unsophisticated response. But it does amaze me, the breadth of all of us, here.

The writer Dionne Brand, talking about this diversity, said it best: Toronto is “a city that has never happened before.”

December 23, 2008

Diversity in Neighbourhoods

Adam Gopnik, recently quoted in the Globe and Mail, on New York City neighbourhoods:

“I like the collision of types. The problem with our neighbourhood is that you walk out your door and you see people largely like yourself.”

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November 15, 2008

Roots of Violence report

Reports come and reports go. (Recently, some housing activists, bemoaning this truism, thought an effective protest might be to build a home out of all the housing reports which have been released on the topic.)

Into this environment, the long-awaited Roots of Violence report was released at Queen’s Park Friday (the last day of a week being a (non-)noteworthy day itself in the news cycle). And, this new report cited the decades-long list of reports which have covered the topics of youth violence, racism and poverty. The Literature Review for the report is 570 pages alone. A separate volume of commissioned research papers is almost as long, and an additional volume on “community perspectives” was included in the release.

One goes into these things, hoping again this isn’t the perennial re-arranging of the deckchairs on the Titanic. What we are looking for are lifeboats.

The Roots of Violence report sets out thirty recommendations, three for “priority implementation.”

The first, to provide universal mental health for youth, costed at $200 million. The report authors write that they believe this cost estimate is “manageable” within the current government’s term of office.

Second, the report recommends some anti-racism initiatives – calling for the establishment of a Cabinet Committee and Premier’s Advisory Committee on Social Inclusion and Anti-Racism; the training of front-line police officers; and teacher and school principals to “better reflect the neighbourhoods they serve”. (Nothing new here, and no specifics to get us there.)

The third priority recommendation is a call for “steps [emphasis added] towards community hubs….Another winter and spring should not go by in the most disadvantaged neighbourhoods with there being no safe place for youth to gather and play.” No costing is attached to the recommendation, so it’s also not likely to get far.

In their comments at the press conference, the authors largely focused the psychological and social effects of the criminalization of youth. McMurtry expounded how, with his fifty years in the justice system, both he and Police Chief Bill Blair knew that jailing kids was “a simplistic solution.” True enough, but aside from offering there are no “quick solutions,” little to move the agenda forward.

The report does suggest two other interesting bits:

  • A Youth Policy framework, a re-work of a low-key report released earlier this year at United Way Toronto. Another call to break down silos and improve service coordination. Perhaps it will work this time.
  • The development of an Index of Relative Deprivation to help target interventions at the neighbourhood level (Census Dissemination Area). Using census data, the Index gives an early hint at what the province might use in its soon to be announced Poverty Reduction Strategy.

Still, considering the vagueness of the report’s recommendations, I’m keeping my life jacket on. The ship is still sinking.

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