Celebrating Black Canadians’ Contributions in the City of Stratford
Kevin Bonnell B.Sc. MA (He/Him)
Manager of Diversity, Equity and Indigenous Initiatives
City of Stratford- City Hall
As a municipal worker, I passionate about moving different departments within the city to think about the ways in which they embed equity in their departments. The hope is that our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion department creates a safer and comfortable space to be uncomfortable so as a city we can reflect and learn on how we can better support a changing community.
For the City of Stratford, Black History Month is an important time for us to reflect on the histories of resistance within the City. During one of our recent City leadership meetings, we provided our team with education about the deep-rooted discrimination and resistance of Africville in Nova Scotia. We had an open discussion about what we can do to celebrate and recognize Black Canadians’ contributions and the local Black history within the City. Our staff through the discussion and when attempting to search for information on the history in Stratford came to learn that Black history is not well-documented in our Community. As the result of our experience our DEI department did further research and created and shared a newsletter providing some further history for all our staff to learn more.
The newsletter incorporated further information to educate our staff about why we recognize black history, spotlighted Joseph C. Harrison who escaped a plantation in Boston, Massachusetts and eventually made Stratford their home where they ran a dry cleaning and barber/hairdressing business. Sharing this research then stimulated a lot of further discussion and feedback from staff including inspiring one of our staff who works in the Cemeteries department to conduct a search to find the gravestone marker of Joseph C. Harrison in our City Cemetery.
Our newsletter also provided staff ways to engage through songs, podcasts, and video and reflection questions to think about how we can remove systemic barriers and what small changes we can do within our roles. For us, Black History Month is about igniting the spark within our staff to think about the Black history of resistance and discrimination and then finding new avenues to learn and reflect on how we can continue to address the Black experience beyond February.