As a candidate running for Ottawa-Carleton District School Board Trustee in Zone 12, Innes/Beacon Hill–Cyrville, I was very excited to participate in the Black Municipal Candidates Meet & Greet hosted by Black Ottawa Business Network Social Group.
I told both CBC Radio and Television that underrepresentation for the Black community continues to be problem, especially at the elected level.
With over 60,000 Black community members in our region, constituting the largest racialized group at 26 percent, it is absolutely essential that we have representation around the City Council and School Board table to have our lived experience reflected in the decisions made in the city.
Continuing challenges that need to be addressed in a holistic fashion include lowering the unemployment rate for Black people, which is 73 percent higher than for non-racialized people and reducing the number of Black students who leave school early.
Rawlson King, a community leader and advocate in the Overbrook neighbourhood, was named a United Way Ottawa Community Builder Award recipient during National Volunteer Week. He was surprised with an award on Saturday, April 21 at the Overbrook Community Centre during the community's annual pancake breakfast by presenter Stefan Keyes.
Rawlson was President of the Overbrook Community Association, and led the organization when it organized and fund raised a successful community musical project last year that brought together 60 cast members and more than 120 volunteers to entertain nearly 800 people.
Rawlson was also a volunteer Board member and Treasurer at the Rideau-Rockcliffe Community Resource Centre, a Past President of Gallery 101 and a volunteer Board member at Proactive Education for All Children’s Enrichment, which manages an after-school program at the Overbrook Community Centre—to name a few of his many volunteer positions.
To mark the 150th anniversary of Canada, the Overbrook Community Association launched a unique sesquicentennial project to bring diverse groups together. Your organization led the creation of a community musical to bring people together in common cause to literally and figuratively tell their stories and bring their diverse voices and cultures to the stage. By bringing people together, we continue to work to break social isolation in our neighbourhood and help residents engage with the greater community through the arts. We were successful in raising grants from the United Way of Ottawa, Community Development Framework, Community Foundation of Ottawa and the Ontario Trillium Foundation for the community musical project which which was staged November 24, 25 and 26 in the auditorium at Ottawa Technical Secondary School on Donald Street. Your organization was able to put together a 40 cast member production, with more than 90 people working hard behind the scenes in various capacities, to entertain over 600 people over three nights. The Association’s Board would like to express its deepest appreciation to the team that worked hard all year to make this project a reality. The organizing team included Diewke de Haen, Wendy Dennys and Patrick Venier, along with project director Eleanor Crowder, scriptwriter Cleménce Roy-Darisse and musical director Adam Reid. The groundbreaking work the team undertook was documented and will be used to help other neighbourhoods interested in staging community musicals across Ontario.
With the closure of Rideau High School last year, the Association has also continued to advocate for the creation of a new community hub at the previous school site. A community hub offers co-located, coordinated and integrated services such as health care and social services. Community organizations, including our Association, are committed to the vision of the Rideau High School property being retained in public hands and used for the delivery of public services. A community hub would allow a number of agencies to provide social and cultural services, as well as contribute to economic development opportunities. For this reason, we unequivocally support the efforts led by the Rideau-Rockcliffe Community Resource Centre to examine the feasibility of operating a community hub at the Rideau High School location. Late last year, we were pleased to learn that the resource centre, along with the Odawa Native Friendship Centre obtained provincial funding to examine the possibilities of such a service provision model at the former school. We acknowledge the fact that in lieu of an operating secondary public school, a community hub can contribute tremendous value to local residents, which can be measured and demonstrated in social and economic terms. Our community looks forward to such social and economic enhancements with the emergence of this community hub project.
Remember, we remain committed to serve this community and need your help and input, along with financial and voluntary contributions. Please learn more about the Association at www.overbrook.ca and please make sure to become involved in your community today.
Rawlson King, President of the Overbrook Community Association, told CBC Ottawa that community groups in the neighbourhood are working hard to steer youth away from a life of crime, despite a recent shooting.
"It is disappointing whenever you hear about a shooting, but I do think we are better positioned than a lot of other neighbourhoods."
After this most recent incident, the community launched its post-incident neighbourhood support protocol as an initial rapid response. The protocol, which has now be adopted city-wide, was initially piloted in Overbrook, in conjunction with the community association.
Under the protocol, different City agencies and community associations collaborate on a collective response immediately after an incident has occurred. In the wake of the latest shooting, Ward 13 City Councillor Tobi Nussbaum's office convened a call with Ottawa Community Housing, the Ottawa Police Service, the Rideau-Rockcliffe Community Resource Centre and the Overbrook Community Association to share information about collective actions taken.
The results of initiating the protocol in this instance were: increased security patrols, along with the canvassing of nearby residents and businesses by police and social agencies to obtain resident feedback and input and increase safety awareness and crime prevention.
As a long term response, Overbrook is also on the cusp of unveiling a youth strategy after two years of consultations. The strategy is designed to give young people in the neighbourhood greater access to job and training opportunities, as well as safe recreational activities.
Previous crime reports noted that “youth not attending school” has been a significant predictor of overall criminal activity in Overbrook. Statistics show that 65 percent of all crime in Ward 13 are committed by youth, which is higher than the city average.
Working in conjunction partners including the Ottawa Carleton District School Board (OCDSB), Conseil des écoles publiques de l'Est de l'Ontario, Ottawa Community Housing and the Boys and Girls Club of Ottawa, the community is exploring new programming for at-youth risk.
Other efforts that Overbrook have made include a push, starting five years ago, to establish more neighbourhood watches. As a result, Overbrook now has some of the most active and effective watches in the city.
Rawlson King, President of the Overbrook Community Association, recently talked to Centretown News about civic underrepresentation in Ottawa.
He said: “If approximately 25 per cent (of residents) are visible minorities, ideally you want to see that reflected in public boards. And if it’s not, obviously some level of structural change might be needed in terms of the requirements to join those boards.”
“Unlike other cities, the City of Toronto has a human rights of diversity division that looks at their processes in place and that policies are followed in terms of diversity within the city’s work force. That doesn’t exist in the City of Ottawa.”
According to King, recognizing the issue is the first step, but there is a lot more work required to make the change.
King said there have been historical issues with the underrepresentation of visible minorities within city boards and committees at the elected level.
“It’s a gradual process, and it’s one that requires a lot of conversation and collaboration between groups,” said King. “One of the things people have to realize is that in order to have a social license, in order to have people feel the representation they have is legitimate, there really has to be a reflection of the entire community in the elected space and the appointed positions.”
He added: “[the city is] recognizing the fact that they could do better in terms of diverse representation but the real question of course is, what further actions are they going to take.”
I also told the Ottawa Citizen that it is important that opportunities to join the transit commission, for example, are real — and reachable. If the position requires specific qualifications, it may not actually be fully available to people with lower incomes or less education, even if the person has the unique knowledge or perspective of a user.
“I think there’s a deeper conversation that’s required.”
The lack of representation of visible minorities on volunteer agencies, boards and committees is a failure of the current system, King said, noting the city scrapped its equity and diversity advisory committee and doesn’t have a standalone equity and diversity division, as Toronto does.
“If we want inclusion, what substantive changes are we going to make to the system if we want to end systemic discrimination?” King asked.
“That will be the litmus test.”