Reset, Rebuild, Recover: The Toronto Black Policy Conference returns as a virtual event

Eunice K. Yeboah and Sharnelle Morgan

Munk School alumnae and Toronto Black Policy Conference founders Eunice K. Yeboah and Sharnelle Morgan appear at the inaugural event in 2019 (photo by Dewey Chang)

Organizers of the Toronto Black Policy Conference, which brings together speakers to reflect on the effects of systemic anti-Black racism in the city, are holding the free, day-long event for the time since the outset of the pandemic.

The event, to be held virtually on Saturday, Nov.27, will focus on mental health, the city’s housing crisis, and economic recovery in Toronto’s Black communities. It’s co-sponsored by the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy and founded by a group of the Munk School’s master of public policy (MPP) alumni. 

Associate Professor Tanya Sharpe and Assistant Professor Notisha Massaquoi, both of U of T’s Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work, will kick off the event with a conversation about mental health stigmas in Toronto’s Black communities. Other speakers will examine the challenges and opportunities created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Munk School’s Lani Krantz recently spoke with this year’s organizers – Munk School students and alumnae Eunice K. Yeboah, Sharnelle Morgan, Jennifer Oduro, Anna-Kay Russell, as well as Deborah Baiden, a PhD student at the Lawrence S. Bloomberg Faculty of Nursing – about the 2021 conference and the plans they have for the future.

The first Toronto Black Policy Conference took place before the pandemic in 2019. What has changed for you since then?

On Emancipation Day on August 1, 2020, we founded the Canadian Black Policy Network (CBPN), a new non-profit organization dedicated to creating a network across Canada of individuals and organizations interested in addressing issues that impact Black communities through policy. Our organization is committed to providing collaborative and innovative spaces and events (including the Toronto Black Policy Conference) to enhance the engagement of Canada’s Black communities in the public policy process and to support the exploration of public policy’s impact on those communities with interested Black groups and allies. As an emerging non-profit organization, CBPN is particularly keen to enhance our developments and activities in partnership building and public policy thought leadership.

What kinds of conversations are necessary to meet the needs of Toronto’s (and Canada’s) Black diaspora?

Black Canadians continue to face clear forms of structural racism in education, employment, housing, health care and the criminal justice system. Structural racism is a problem that remains active and alive and this is an issue that is deeply rooted. This year’s conference theme – Reset, Rebuild, Recover: Reimagining the Future of Toronto’s Black Communities – was chosen to provide Black community members in Toronto and their allies with the opportunity to reflect on how systemic racism has had a two-fold effect on Toronto’s Black communities: Black Torontonians were more exposed and less protected throughout the COVID-19 pandemic due to pre-existing racial inequalities.

What role do you hope the Toronto Black Policy Conference plays in effecting policy changes?

For the 2021 conference, the CBPN is keen on providing a platform for our community members to drive change and explore ways that Black Torontonians can engage within the policy process and be active in co-developing inclusive policies and programs. Similar to the 2019 conference, our hope is that the 2021 event will create a lasting, recurrent discussion of policy issues affecting Toronto’s Black communities with tangible outcomes. In addition, we would like this conference to further increase opportunities for collaboration between Black policy and other professionals and community leaders, as well as allies, to probe and tackle policy issues affecting Toronto’s Black communities. Finally, CBPN is focused on enhancing its partnership-building activities. As an emerging network, CBPN intends to use the 2021 conference as an opportunity to meet and engage with new and existing partners to co-develop and share our vision for the future of the network. 

How did your time studying at U of T influence your approach to building the CBPN and the Toronto Black Policy Conference?

The Munk School provides unique opportunities for professional development. As MPP students, we were fortunate to engage in emancipatory work through the extracurricular activities we were involved in – one of the prime examples being the Harvard Black Policy Conference. Participating in the planning of this annual conference reinforced our desire to create a space where these conversations could be had in the Toronto context, and in Canada as a whole.