By: Bina Patel
On Nov. 25, McMaster students held an anti-racism initiative at the Hamilton Central Library to allow youth and community members to engage in this important conversation.
The McMaster Womanists hosted the meeting in collaboration with other clubs, including McMaster Muslims for Peace, McMaster Indigenous Student Community Alliance, Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights McMaster and more.
“McMaster Womanists decided to organize this event as a direct response to the community consultation that was hosted by the Anti-Racism Directorate of the ministry. They came to Hamilton at the end of September, and didn’t really reach out to a lot of youth,” said Sarah Jama, co-president of McMaster Womanists.
The community consultation held on Sept. 26 attracted approximately 150 people, and focused on establishing whether or not systemic racism existed in Hamilton. Audience members critiqued the event for ignoring past research that had already completed by community organizations.
According to the description given by the organizers of the initiative, this most recent meeting aimed to elevate community voices and develop strategies on how to combat racism in Hamilton.
In the planning phase, the clubs determined how they wanted the event to unfold and see racism be addressed. This included giving people who had experienced racism first-hand the opportunity to speak and share their thoughts on how to combat racism in the city.
The meeting attracted more people than the 100 that the organizers had anticipated. This included representatives from clubs, organizations in Hamilton, McMaster students, professors, volunteers and other community members. After hearing speakers share narratives about racism and discrimination, attendees split into groups to discuss a range of topics from gentrification and Indigenous concerns to hate crimes.
In addition to facilitating a focused dialogue, there was also an emphasis on what Hamilton could do to be progressive, such as stricter rent controlled areas protection for small commercial enterprises.
Over the course of this component of the event, individuals had with others in the group and then shifted to other tables with a different focus so that they engage in a multi-faceted conversation that touched on many concerns. There was an emphasis for this meeting to include those who truly represented victims of racism.
In addition, organizers wanted to hold the initiative at a location that was more accessible than that which was chosen for the community consultation in September: Mohawk College.
“We wanted to take an opposite route and have a consultation that would involve the community directly. It was a grassroots initiative,” Jama said, explaining why the main branch of the public library best suited the meeting.
As attendees expressed their concerns and ideas to help fight racism, facilitators took down notes to include in a report. McMaster Womanists hope to use what is taken from this event to impact further change.
“It’s a grassroots report that we’re going to use to lobby locally, provincially and maybe even federally. People were really engaged so I’m hopeful that the report will be robust,” Jama said.
Preliminary demands include the cessation of carding in Hamilton, formal responses condemning “alt-right” groups in Hamilton which have been linked to white supremacy, implementing measures to prevent discriminatory hiring practices, and more.
An executive summary of their findings will be published in December.