We Need More BIPOC Co-Ops

black and white photo of a grocery bag that reads "peope's free food program" between a women's legs

Highlighting Successful Black-led Food Cooperatives in the U.S

By: Ciana Hamilton

Food co-ops are one way BIPOC communities can reclaim food sovregnity whilst resisting problematic food systems. Cooperatives are owned and operated by groups of people or members. Members typically pay a small, one time, membership fee which allows them access to shop at the store, elect board members and provide input on products and services. One of the biggest impacts Black or Indigenous run food co-ops can have — is the ability to keep money within the community. Food Cooperatives do exist in Canada, but many remain inaccessible to the communities that need them the most. Here are three success stories of Black-led Food Co-ops operating in the U.S.

Mandela Grocery Cooperative 

Mandela Grocery, a Black-owned and led food co-op, has operated in West Oakland California for the last ten years. The full service grocery store is a worker-owned cooperative and provides fresh, high-quality food for residents in the community. Mandela Grocery prioritizes sourcing its food from Black and Brown farmers and strives to strengthen the community by providing an array of wellness resources. “We intentionally support businesses run by people of color because we are deeply committed to creating opportunity for interdependence in the food space, where POC entrepreneurs generate livable incomes that support their families.”

Check out Mandela Grocery here: https://www.mandelagrocery.coop/

Central Brooklyn Food Co-op

The Central Brooklyn Food Cooperative (CBFC) started in 2013 and is a member owned and operated food store located in Brooklyn, New York.The mission at Central Brooklyn Food Co-op is to collectively break down social barriers that prevent access to healthy and sustainable foods. Much like Mandela Grocery, CBFC prioritizes purchasing food from local farmers of colour. CBFC has a membership open to all and acts as a skill sharing hub to educate folks on nutrition and ways to overcome oppressive food systems. 

Check out Central Brooklyn Food Co-op here: http://cbfood.org/

Detroit People’s Food Co-op

The Detroit People’s Food Co-op (DPFC) is a full service grocery store set to open in 2020. DPFC is going to be Black led (not completely Black owned) with an elected board of directors. DPFC is striving to provide Detroit residents with access to healthy food and strengthen the food system within the Black community. DPFC will prioritize locally grown food in order to provide economic growth to Detroit’s fragile economy. 

Check out Detroit People’s Food Co-op here: https://detroitpeoplesfoodcoop.com/


A black and white portrait of Ciana smiling with her mouth closed. She is a 20 something black woman with dreads. She is wearing a winter coat, scarf and has a sunglasses ontop of her head.

Ciana Hamilton is a happy nappy freelance creative writer & journalist. When she’s not writing she can be found doing fun shit with her kids.

Restoring Indigenous Foodways

black and white illustration of two acorns and the plants accompanying leaves

Highlights across Turtle Island

Highlighting and shouting out Indigenous run food projects and businesses across Turtle Island.

Acorn Energy Bites 

Pomo and Miwok youth in Northern California are reclaiming traditional ways of harvesting and gathering acorns from nearby ancient oak groves. Acorn Energy Bites has been a project of the Tribal Youth Ambassadors in Santa Rosa California for almost four years. The project is a part of a bigger resource to teach Pomo and Miwok youth about ancestral traditions and cultural heritage. The youth – who range from grade school to college – harvest, process and then sell Acorn Energy Bites at a local farmers market. The Acorn Bites project began as a way to restore access to wild and traditional foods that the US government commonly restricts or prohibits. 

Mr Bannock  

Chef Paul Natrall, from Squamish Nation, has opened Vancouver’s first Indigenous food truck. Mr Bannock Indigenous Cuisine serves up award winning tacos, salads, and vegan dishes that use a range of fresh ingredients and are prepared with some traditional methods such as drying, clay and stone ovens. Owner Paul, is a long time chef who began his career in 2009. Paul works closely with Indigenous communities in the Lower Mainland; providing jobs, teaching, and volunteering at schools. Mr Bannock food truck began in 2018 and has been catering for offices and events around the city. If you’re ever in the Vancouver area go grab a taco or you can support him by purchasing gear on the website: 

mrbannock.com/gear 

Qajuqturvik Food Centre

The Qajuqturvik Food Centre (OFC) is redefining every common perception of a conventional soup kitchen. OFC, which is located in Iqaluit, offers a variety of accessible programs geared to combat food insecurity and empower local residents. The centre hosts a cooking club, a culinary skills training program and a community meal is served seven days a week. In addition to this, Qajuqturvik Food Centre provides a variety of other services such as free tax clinics, finance workshops, group socials and more. The centre has a dedicated team from full time staff to volunteers who are making all this possible. You can donate to OFC by going to: https://www.qajuqturvik.ca/

Miqmak Catering Indigenous Kitchen 

Norma Condo opened Montreal’s first Indigenous Restaurant in the summer of 2019. Miqmak Catering Indigenous Kitchen is Montreal’s first and only Indigenous owned restaurant. Norma initially started as a catering company but soon expanded due to popular demand. The menu at Miqmak Indigenous Kitchen has a variety of traditional recipes such as a three sisters casserole, wild rice and of course, bannock. If you’re ever in MTL go show her some love.

Radical Roots Cooperative

Cheyenne Sundance smiling and holding her hips while looking at a head of lettuce

By Cheyenne Sundance

I’ve noticed that over the last few months, I’ve received emails that have addressed Sundance Harvest as a team. I often say “we” when I speak about Sundance Harvest mainly because I’m shy and this is for community – but I think I’m under selling myself. I created Sundance Harvest all by myself when I was 21 years old. I have put my blood, sweat and tears into making it something that’s so tangible and real — high school Cheyenne would have been proud. So now, I make it known that I am Sundance Harvest. This is my baby, I have put in all the work and instead of letting people diminish my achievements, I am holding them up like a shining star. That’s what Sundance Harvest is, my shining star in a bleak and cold night.

A few of you know about how hard it’s been to deal with the rapid expansion of Sundance Harvest. I have had to hire part-time staff and I have realized that I’m not a good boss. I don’t want to be someone’s boss, I want folks to have independence in urban agriculture and craft their own way. So I decided I will not be hiring people. I’m happy about this decision because something really cool and magical birthed out of it. Radical Roots Cooperative.

Radical Roots Cooperative is a dream of mine. People I care about growing food with me and, in turn, growing community. In less than a year, Sundance Harvest has really been active and as a result I’ve noticed so much change in my community. From what I can see, Urban agriculture in Toronto hasn’t been making any major changes. I believe, part of the reason is because the non-profit model is not the solution; I think it’s a part of the larger problem. People who are systematically oppressed have to ask these non-profits and rely on them for food security. Instead what people, largely Black and Indigenous, should have in their communities is food sovereignty. A system whereby they manage it, control the seed, and chose how they grow and when. That’s what justice is. Not just community gardens, but rather community control and financial stability. You cannot pay your rent in tomatoes, you cannot survive the whole winter with just your humble harvests from your small community garden plot. Food insecurity isn’t caused by a lack of food or a lack of awareness of healthy choices, it’s a lack of income.

As someone who grew up in low-income working class home, I know this first hand. The solution is giving communities the tools they need to be resilient and survive — without non-profit interference. This is not say I don’t admire what many nonprofits are striving to do to help aide the effects colonialism, environmental racism and systemic oppression. I just think it could be done differently. What that looks like is urban farms that are governed and run by those who are most affected. Not class and race privileged people who took environmental studies in University and decided they want to “go back to the land”. Instead, those who have been historically displaced from lands here on Turtle Island and aboard that have been (and are) hurt by colonization.

Radical Roots is for us. Everything I have been doing is for us and when I say us — us knows who us is. Radical Roots is going to provide plots for us to farm and grow food as well as a direct sale through a CSA. By supporting Radical Roots, you are supporting the furthering of true food justice in Toronto that’s all led by and for youth. One that’s not dependent on benevolence, instead on independence of marginalized youth. Deciding and curating their own dreams, destinys and hopes for the future — especially in these times of climate crisis.

This is my new project and I’m proud to say that this was the end goal of something I’ve always wanted. I’ve been enjoying how big Sundance Harvest is getting, I won’t lie. But I also know that it’s time for me to give back and do what I’ve always said I was going to do — create a resilient food system. So I will be redistributing most of my food growing land towards this cooperative.

2020 is the year of radical change that has us leading it.

Resist always and forever, speak truth to power and never stop growing.

Love, Cheyenne Sundance


Cheyenne Sundance smiling and holding her hips while looking at a head of lettuce

Cheyenne Sundance is an organic farmer and food justice advocate who has worked in both rural and urban settings. Her farming has always been with a social justice framework since being able to grow your own food is the foundation of independence and liberation, especially for those who are Black, Indigenous. Cheyenne provides Toronto with organic and ethically grown produce through her year-round urban farm Sundance Harvest.

Where Abolition Meets Action

black and white photo of butterfly

A History of Women Organizing Against Gender Violence

By Vikki Law (Adapted for The Peak by Sonali Menezes

There is a growing movement toward abolishing prisons. Anti-violence organizers are calling on prison abolitionists to take gender violence seriously in developing initiatives to address the problem within this context. Fuelled by increasing recognition that women of colour, immigrant, queer, transgender, poor, and other marginalized women are often further brutalized – rather than protected – by the police, grassroots groups, and activists throughout the world, are organizing community alternatives to calling 911. These initiatives are not new. Throughout history, women have acted and organized to ensure their own as well as their loved ones’ safety.

This article examines both past and present models of women’s community self-defence practices against interpersonal violence by exploring methods women have employed to protect themselves, their loved ones, and theircommunities. Storytelling to connect past, present, and future efforts to current initiatives allows us to both envision a future in which police and prisons are not the sole solutions to gender violence and to know that such possibilities can – and, in some small pockets, do or did – exist. While activists and others increasingly embrace the idea of community-based accountability as an alternative to the police, many have difficulty envisioning what accountability processes might look like.

Storytelling to Connect Past, Present and Future

In 2004, Mimi Kim launched Creative Interventions, a resource centre to promote community-based responses to interpersonal violence. The group developed STOP (StoryTelling and Organizing Project), a resource for people to share their experiences with community-based accountability models and interventions to domestic violence, family violence, and sexual abuse. In their 2001 statement on gender violence and incarceration, Critical Resistance and INCITE! Women of Colour Against Violence challenged communities to not only come up with ways to creatively address violence, but also to document these processes: ‘Transformative practices emerging from local communities should be documented and disseminated to promote collective responses to violence’ (Critical Resistance and INCITE!,2001). By connecting past and current organizing initiatives from across the globe, ‘Where Abolition Meets Actions’ hopes to contribute to the conversations around safety and abolition as well as inspires readers to organize in their own communities.

The 1970s (women’s liberation: defending themselves and each other)

Women’s liberation movements of the 1970s allowed women to begin talking openly about their experiences of sexual assault. Discussions led to a growing realization that women need to take their safety into their own hands and fight back.

Some women formed street patrols to watch for and prevent violence against women. In Cambridgeport, Massachusetts, members of Women’s Liberation group Cell 16 began patrolling the streets where women often left their factory jobs after dark. Students at Iowa State University and the University of Kentucky responded, forming patrols on their campus. The lack of police and judicial response to gender violence led to increasing recognition that women needed to learn to physically defend themselves from male violence.

In 1969, Cell 16 established Tae Kwan Do classes for women. Unlike existing police offered self-defense classes that promoted fear rather than empowerment,Cell 16’s classes challenged students to draw the connections between their learned sense of helplessness and their role in society as women (Lafferty & Clark, 1970, pp. 96–97).

In 1974, believing that all people had the right to live free from violence and recognizing that women were often disproportionately impacted by violence, Nadia Telsey and Annie Ellman started Brooklyn Women’s Martial Arts (BWMA) in New York City. ‘I have felt that it [self-defense] is connected to self-determination,’ stated Ellman. By the mid-1970s, the concept of women’s self-defense had become so popular that women began taking training into their own hands to protect them from violence. Some of the programs and schools founded in the 1970s, such as the BWMA (renamed the Center for Anti-Violence Education or CAE in 1989) and Feminists in Self-Defense Training (FIST) in Olympia, Washington, continue teaching women’s self-defense today.

Although much of the 1970s rhetoric and organizing around gender violence presupposed that women were attacked by strangers, women also recognized and organized against violence perpetrated by those that they know, including spouses and intimate partners. In Neu-Isenburg, a small town near Frankfurt, Germany, a group of women called Fan-Shen decided that, rather than establish a shelter for abused women, they would force the abuser out of the house. When a woman called the local women’s shelter, the group arrived at her home to not only confront her abuser, but also occupy the house as round-the-clock guards to the woman until her abuser moved out. When the strategy was reported in 1977, Fan-Shen had already been successful in five instances (‘Women’s Patrol,’ 1977, p.18).

Anti-violence organizing in communities of color

Communities of colour in the USalso developed methods to ensure women’s safety without relying on a system that has historically ignored their safety or further threatened it by using gender violence as a pretext for increased force, brutality, and mass incarceration against community members. In 1979, when Black women were found brutally murdered in Boston’s primarily Black Roxbury and Dorchester neighbourhoods, residents organized the Dorchester Green Light Program. The program provided identifiable safe houses for women who were threatened or assaulted on the streets. Program coordinators, who lived in Dorchester, visited and spoke at community groups and gatherings in their areas. Residents interested in opening their homes as safe houses filled out applications, which included references and descriptions of the house living situation. The program screened each application and checked the references. Once accepted, the resident attended orientation sessions, which included self-defense instruction. They were then given a green light bulb for their porch light; when someone was at home, the green light was turned on as a signal to anyone in trouble. Within eight months, over 100 safe houses had been established (Dejanikus & Kelly, 1979, p.7).

At a 1986 conference on ending violence against women at UCLA, Beth Richie spoke about a community-based intervention program in East Harlem, a New York neighbourhood that was predominantly Black and Latino. Community residents organized to take responsibility for women’s safety. ‘Safety watchers’ visited the house when called by the abused person or the neighbours. They encouraged the abuser to leave; if the abuser refused, the watchers stayed in the house. Their presence prevented further violence, at least while they were present. One attendee noted; ‘in these communities, people do not call the police fearing more violence from the police. Men are not going to jail because the communities are working together’ (Bustamante, 1986, p.14).

Contemporary organizing against gender violence

Recent legislation, such as the US Violence Against Women Act (1994), recognizes the problem of gender violence and seeks to increase police responsiveness but does little to protect women who are politically, economically, or socially marginalized. Instead, the focus on criminalization and incarceration often places them at further risk of both interpersonal and state violence as well as of arrest, incarceration, and, for immigrant women, deportation (Critical Resistance and INCITE!, 2001).

Knowing this, women have acted both individually and collectively to defend themselves. Sex workers, for instance, have organized in different ways to protect themselves from violence.

In March 2006, police responded to the murders of three sex workers in Daytona Beach, Florida, by cracking down on  the sex trade. Recognizing that the police response did more to target than to protect them,street-based sex workers armed themselves with knives and other weapons to protect themselves and each other and to find the killer. In 1995, Stella Sex Workers Alliance was formed in Montréal by sex workers, public health researchers, and sympathizers. Sex workers are equipped with information and support to help them keep safe. Stella compiles, updates, and circulates a Bad Tricks and Assaulters list, enabling sex workers to share information and avoid dangerous situations. They also produce and provide free reference guides that cover working conditions, current solicitation laws, and health information. Stella also advocates for the decriminalization of sex work, recognizing that the criminalization renders sex workers vulnerable to both outside violence and police abuse (Stella, n.d.).

Sex workers are also taking direct action to stop sex trafficking. In 1997, former sex workers began guarding checkpoints along the Nepal–India border to rescue adolescent Nepalese girls from being smuggled into India. The idea emerged with the women living at Maiti Nepal, a home in Kathmandu for women returning from Indian brothels. Many of the women, who had been kidnapped as adolescents and sold into the sex industry, were ashamed and angry about their experiences and wanted to transform their anger into action. They set up four guard posts along the border and began monitoring for human trafficking. During the first three years, the women caught 70 traffickers, saving 240 girls from India’s brothels.

Women marginalized by other factors, such as racism and poverty, have also organized to protect themselves against both interpersonal and state violence. In 2000, the police murders of two young women of colour sparked a dialogue about violence against women among members of Sista II Sista, a collective of women of colour in Brooklyn, New York. Their response was to form Sistas Liberated Ground, a zone in their neighbourhood where crimes against women would not be tolerated. ‘…Our dependence on a police system that was inherently sexist, homophobic, racist, and classist did not decrease the ongoing violence against women we were seeing in our neighbourhoods. In fact, at times, the police themselves were its main perpetrators,’ members of the group stated in 2007 (Burrowes, Cousins, Rojas, & Ude, 2007, p.229).

They instituted an ‘action line,’ which women could call, to explore the options that they – and the group – could take to address violence in their lives. Sister Circles were also established where women could talk about violence and other problems in their daily lives and encouraged the community – rather than the individual woman – to find solutions. In one instance, a woman at the Sister Circle talked about the man who had been stalking her for over a year and, in response,members of the Sister Circle confronted the man at the barbershop where he worked. His male co-workers told the stalker that, if he continued to harass the woman, he would be fired, so he stopped stalking her (Ude, 2006).

Creating communities to deter violence

Not all strategies to prevent gender violence are easily classified as ‘policing from below.’ Some grassroots groups and coalitions recognize that building communities is the first line of defense against violence and are organizing to create social structures and support networks that can collectively address harmful situations. In Durham, North Carolina, in the aftermath of the 2006 rape of a Black woman by members of a Duke University lacrosse team, women of colour and survivors of sexual violence formed the UBUNTU coalition. UBUNTU works to ‘facilitate a systematic transformation of our communities until the day that sexual violence does not occur’ (UBUNTU). Alexis Pauline Gumbs noted: [Our] responses [to violence] were invented on the spot … without a pre-existing model or a logistical agreement. But they were also made possible by a larger agreement that we as a collective of people living all over the city are committed to responding to gendered violence…I think it is very important that we have been able to see each other as resources so that when we are faced with violent situations we don’t think our only option is to call the state. (Piepzna-Samarasinha, 2008, p.81)

UBUNTU members began organizing around the idea of a Harm-Free Zone – an area in which violence would be addressed by the community rather than by the police. ‘A lot of times we talk about community as if it already exists, but I don’t actually think that we have autonomous, completely sustained community. We live with all sorts of dependence on the state, [on] outside institutions. We have a lot of work to do to have the type of communications and support that would fulfill the needs of our community,’ stated Gibbs in 2009. Like the Dorchester Green Light Program, organizers of the Harm-Free Zone brought these ideas to the communities of which they were already a part. ‘Those of us who came together were already working in those settings…for each of us, we’re thinking about how we bring that analysis and that ideal into our preexisting communities.’

Conclusion

Many early anti-violence efforts addressed immediate instances of gender violence, often focusing on the physical aspects of self-defence or a direct response to violence. Women’s organizations taught self-defense classes, confronted abusers and assailants, and formed protective groups to escort each other safely through the streets. In contrast, contemporary organizing often utilizes a multi-layered approach, creatively addressing not only immediate instances of violence but also creating dialogue to challenge and change some of the root causes of gender violence. Despite these differences, each project emphasizes the importance of community – as opposed to individual – actions and responses. None of these projects would have succeeded without a collective sense of responsibility toward each other.

While not every project and group explicitly identifies as an abolitionist group, their practices work toward a radical re-envisioning of creating safety without relying on police. These models are important for imagining and then realizing abolitionist principles.

By examining the variety of approaches in their vastly different contexts, we can begin to connect the abstract ideal with concrete actions that make another world possible. We should be drawing lessons from these projects and approaches to create models that work for our own locations and communities.


Victoria Law is the author of Resistance Behind Bars: The Struggles of Incarcerated Women, editor of the zine Tenacious: Art and Writings by Women in Prison, and a proud parent. She has written extensively about the intersections of incarceration, gender and resistance for various news outlets, including Al Jazeera America, Bitchmedia, The Guardian, The Nation and Truthout.

Sonali is a little brown femme living in southern Ontario. She’s a student, artist, zinester, and maker of things through her itty bitty-business GlitteringMagpiee. She enjoys living gently and cuddling with her cat.

The Future is Intersectional

greyscale sketch of side profile of woman with headwrap on and a greyscale rose behind her

An Interview with 519’s Soofia Mahmood

by Liaba Nisar

Artwork by Thaila Paige-Dixon

Soofia Mahmood is the Manager of Communications and Fund Development at the 519; she has over fifteen years of experience, including working with UNICEF and gender activism during her time in Pakistan. She works at The 519 with Programs and Services, and Philanthropy teams to serve marginalized and vulnerable LGBTQ2S communities through programs, community engagement, space use, and advocacy initiatives. The Peak was able to ask her some questions about her work, and learn more about her experience and passion.

How did you get your start working in gender and sexuality-related activism? Did you find a passion for it early on, or was it something you came to later?

My work in gender professionally started 10 to 12 years ago. My path has been heavily linked to my own lived experience as someone who identifies as a woman and doesn’t follow conventional gender or gender expression norms – in a patriarchal and misogynistic world.

As a mother of a 12 year-old daughter, I feel even more passionate about this work.

What is a major way that your work now differs from what you focused on while in Pakistan? On the other hand, how has it remained mostly similar? 

Back home, my focus was feminism, and gender-based violence specific to women. My work in Canada has expanded my scope. It has also expanded my own understanding of gender. Personally, and professionally, it has been a process of growth. My field has always been communications – including writing and photography work. So even though the nature of my job here is similar, the scope and strength of my work has certainly changed.

How have you noticed your work changing from when you began to now, in terms of the people who come to you and what you do?

The demand for our refugee services has been increasing over the past few years – and is linked to the global socio-political situation and continued persecution of LGBTQ+ communities worldwide.

LGBTQ+ communities experience a lot of barriers to service. Any negative change impacts the most marginalized members even more. For example, the housing crisis is impacting everyone, but LGBTQ+ folks are impacted even more because of the higher incidence of poverty and higher levels of discrimination. Violence has also been a major issue that has always impacted our communities. The last two years have been particularly hard and that impacts the services needed as well. The need for healing spaces, counselling services, as well as trauma-informed services have also been steadily rising.

Is there an experience in particular that sticks out, that you remember to this day, in the work you’ve done? Something that keeps you going? 

When I write impact stories, I get to interact with program participants and hear about their journeys. The protagonist in those stories are always the program participants, and they celebrate who they are, and their resilience. Seeing the different reactions of people to their own stories is most memorable for me. Whether a story makes someone feel validated, respected, celebrated – or supports a refugee claimant’s claim (LGBTQ+ refugee claimants must prove their sexual orientation or gender identity to be successful in their claim as a refugee based on their sexuality) is inspiring and heart-warming. When you are not in the frontline role it is tough to see the impact of your work directly. But when a story impacts someone, it reminds me that at the end of the day, I am not only serving an organization, but I am serving the people the organization serves.

So in short, believing in the organization’s mandate and seeing my role contribute to that, directly or indirectly, is what keeps me going.

Soofia has over 15 years of experience in Marketing and Creative Communications. She has worked for UNICEF and USAID in Pakistan before immigrating to Canada. She has been an active gender-rights activist in Pakistan, passionate about creating awareness for positive change through writing and visual arts. Soofia has a deep- rooted passion for change. Her two true loves are photography and writing.

Liaba is a student completing a double major in Theatre Studies and Geography. She enjoys overindulging in caffeine, watching horror movies, and avoiding her actual homework at all costs. In the future, she wants to be a filmmaker.

Thaila aka Vegas has been tattooing for almost 8 years. She continues to grow as an artist and works to creatively find ways to incorporate social justice and liberation in her work while advocating for disenfranchised communities and engaging with people that align with her identity. To check out more of her artwork, add her on Instagram @vegas. ink

Trauma-Informed Healthcare

wallpaper of different flowers and plants

By Hazelle Palmer

Health care is such an intricate part of everything that we do and I’ve always noticed how health care institutions interact with different populations and different communities, genders, people of different orientation, racialized groups… But some of those interactions are so systemically driven and in many ways very oppressive. I want to see that health care reflects what I think we all deserve, which is health care that is responsive to our needs, and that every individual needs to be a partner in their own health care.

Sherbourne has built a unique space which allows folks to feel comfortable and safe when receiving care. Being able to relate to experiences is really important. We hire staff who have similar lived experience, to exemplify the importance of culturally competent care. We highlight our focus on anti-racism, anti-oppression as being something that we do with all staff upon their hiring here. Being able to live those principles in the work that we do and how we do the work is so important.

At Sherbourne, we have quite a range of programs that speak to these different experiences of (lesbian-gay-bisexual-trans-queer) LGBTQ communities and I think we’re starting now to do more around Indigenous and 2-Spirit communities, but I think that we have really tried to look at and create space for (Black, Indigenous, People of Colour) BIPOC youth and for LGBT youth; and overall we’ve tried to address the issues of homelessness and substance use. We’ve looked at trying to create places where people can just meet because social connection is so important. We’ve created forums where we can listen and engage with folks to get a sense of how we can improve what we’re doing already.

We’ve also been an advocate. For example, through our province-wide Rainbow Health Ontario program, we underline the importance of Human Rights and the areas that we feel still are discriminatory or infringe on the rights of people from the LGBTQ communities… We are also training doctors across the province to be able to provide competent care. Access everywhere is important.

Looking to the future, Sherbourne is beginning to focus more on marginalized populations including BIPOC populations, and the intersections they face. We understand that people can be dealing with sexual orientation but also dealing with substance use, they may also be homeless, they may be a newcomer to Canada, they may be dealing with other forms of discrimination …  or trauma that deeply affects their ability to achieve health and wellness. We have staff teams who deal with under-housed folks and those experiencing homelessness, (lesbian-gay-bisexual-trans-2 spirit-queer) LGBT2SQ, as well as newcomers to Canada, but mental health and trauma were key areas that really stood out as impacting every community.

At Sherbourne, we acknowledge the significance of trauma and so with our new mental health framework we’ve embedded trauma-informed approaches. It’s really acknowledging that many of us in some way have experienced trauma. And while that trauma differs along a continuum, when we hear stories about people’s experiences with stigma, discrimination, substance use, or even the conditions that make them have to leave home early, or the abuse they’ve suffered in their life which may result in PTSD, it tells us that trauma is really a significant factor in people’s lives.

I strongly believe that we, all have our own resilience. And organizations like Sherbourne are there to empower, to help people to find that resilience in themselves. What’s challenging about intersectionality is that the burden of all the issues we deal with is so great, that it can feel so overwhelming. … Sometimes we think about some of the systemic things that we can’t control, whether it’s within politics, whether it’s the justice system, policing, all of the things that make it really so overwhelming and so discouraging but on the other hand I always am so admiring of −, I’m a queer person myself −, I’m admiring of our communities because we’ve gone through so much, and yet we continue on. And that’s true of people who are from BIPOC communities who are also dealing with issues around race and discrimination and stigma every single day and yet we march on. And we know from our history and social justice movements that we are stronger together.

Hazelle is a seasoned senior executive with more than 18 years experience in the non-profit sector.  Before becoming the CEO of Sherbourne Health, she was Executive Director of the AIDS Committee of Toronto (ACT) and previously Executive Director of Planned Parenthood of Toronto. Hazelle holds a Master’s Certificate in Health Care Management as well as a Bachelor of Arts in Communications from Carleton University.

Black Mental Health & Self Determined Futures

by Louise Boileau

A friend went to a youth shelter when it was cold. He was in distress, having a mental health crisis. He was told firmly to leave, or else they would call the police.

In July 2015, police arrived at subsidized housing unit at Eglinton West and Gilbert Ave, and murdered Andrew Loku within 20 seconds of seeing him. His house was a block up the street from Horizons for Youth, a shelter where my friend was living at the time.

The question has come to my mind helplessly many times: Where does a Black person in a mental health crisis go when they need help?

Left Illustration by Eli WiPe 

There is no safe place to go in this city when experiencing crisis where a black person will not be treated as a threat; including in one’s own home, be that a shelter or a private residence. It is a tired fact and one that requires urgent attention, that Black youth are treated as a problem in Toronto, on many institutional levels.

If reproductive justice is the ability to raise children in a community that is free from violence, it must also encompass mental health, and our ability to receive culturally relevant supports without being isolated or removed from the community, whether it be by child welfare, push out from school, incarceration or institutionalization.

 In the school system, Black youth experiencing anxiety, depression and trauma (which can manifest in many ways), are often summarized as having behavioural issues and are discarded. Expulsions as early as grade one show the incredible reach of anti-Blackness – that a child could be considered not worthy of an education and so lacking in hope for their potential that they should be isolated from their peers and “expelled” from opportunity. The treatment of Black students, and the problematization of Blackness at early ages is consistent with Black overrepresentation in the criminal system.

 Although Black communities represent 3% of the general population in Canada, we represent 9% of the prison population. People with mental health challenges are overwhelmingly filtered into the prison system. So, the chances of a Black person with mental health challenges spending timae in prison at some point in their life is extremely high. Furthermore, mental health challenges such as psychosis and paranoia are so extremely stigmatized, those who experience these symptoms are ostracized and isolated especially when they are most in need of support.

A Punitive Model Across The Board

When you begin to look at the methods of management in the education system, prison and hospital systems, the approach to Black students, youth and adults are very coordinated.

It seems that each uses a punitive approach to trauma, where Black people are being punished, ostracized and further traumatized for needing support, expressing anxiety, depression or distress, even though we are experiencing some of these things as a direct result of the hostile environment we are in.

In psychiatric hospitals in Ontario, there seems to be a chronic issue of overuse of force and restraints. On paper, restraints are meant to be used as a last resort measure. For those who are unfamiliar, to place someone in restraints is to secure them to a bed using straps. First, however, the person is forcibly sedated, sometimes by as many as 8 people (as a friend recounted), and then have their pants brought down so that they can be injected with a sedative in the buttocks. Then they are transported to a bed, and secured with the restraints for an unspecified period of time. A friend recounts being placed back in restraints whenever a nurse who didn’t like them would come back on shift. When she left her shift, they would be released. This is against standard protocol which dictates that restraints are to be used only in extreme situations, where staff either fear the “patient” will harm themselves or somebody else. So their discretion on using restraints lies on their perception of whether or not the “patient” is a threat. It is unreasonable to assume that anti-Blackness never plays a role in their decisions.

Placing a person in isolation is another approach, on paper, used to maintain “patient” or worker safety. However, I have also known it to be used in reaction to something a “worker didn’t like” about a patient, where the patient was then placed in isolation for a period of weeks, and was disallowed from contacting family or advocates. The use of isolation has drastic negative mental health impacts on any person, as has been documented in relation to the use of solitary confinement in prison and remand centres, where most of Canada’s imprisoned population are kept awaiting trial.

Remand facilities receive no resources or training in terms of caring for a person undergoing mental health challenges. Their primary go to, for the “safety” of the person imprisoned (the inmate), is to place them in solitary confinement. Furthermore, people are often denied their right to healthcare, medications or otherwise while in remand. The numbers and demographics of solitary confinement in Canada’s prisons and remand centres is not publicized, similar to the numbers and demographics of deaths inside both prisons and psychiatric institutions.

A Picture of The Mental Health System in Ontario

The mental health system in Ontario is a network of services and institutions, that follow two models intended to work together. The first is the the community based model which is meant to allow people access to support while staying within their communities. and The second is the institutional or medical model, which includes both inpatient and outpatient programs such as CAMH. The community model of mental health services is relatively new and certainly not perfect. Many services are rarely accessed by youth of colour, or and present services are often not culturally relevant.

Only two services in Toronto, that I am aware of, provide services focused on racialized people, and there is only one that provides counselling specifically for Black people in all of Canada. Across Boundaries, and The Substance Abuse Program for African Canadian and Caribbean Youth (SAPACCY) which runs as a program out of CAMH.

The SAPACCY program began in 1996 from community concerns over the amount of Black youth incarcerated for drug related crimes. It was proposed to the ministry and then amalgamated into the CAMH Queen and Shaw location. The SAPACCY program, due to lack of allocated resources is currently hanging on by a thread with only one counsellor with an unusually large caseload, and an even larger waitlist. The waitlist includes only those people who qualified for the services because they are in the catchment area. CAMH recently received a donation of $100 million. It appears they are determined to allocate these funds entirely towards “high-risk” research and the hiring of “top scientists,” in the midst of our current housing and resource crisis. What they intend to research, and how this is suppose to help anyone, I am unsure.

Toronto Police Services & The Mental Health System

The mental health system in Ontario maintains a tight relationship with Toronto Police Services (TPS). The Mobile Crisis Intervention Team (MCIT), which is intended to respond to mental health crisis, is a partnership between Toronto Police Services and participating hospitals. The team is a mental health nurse and a police officer (who may or may not be trained by the TPS in mental health awareness). To what extent they receive any training on de-escalation is entirely unclear. The Mobile Crisis team is only available between the hours of 6am and 11pm. TPS is usually the first point of contact for people undergoing mental health crisis. Police officers may bring the detained person to a hospital, where they will be kept for anywhere from an hour to several weeks if admitted. Or they may be charged with an offence and placed in remand.

To call the police in the case of a crisis, is to risk the death of yourself, your family member or friend. But this is the only option presented in a mental health related emergency. Even if a person calls the MCIT, they are still calling the police. There is little assurance that this is in anyway a safer option. At the many times I have made a list in my head of the greatest risk to my family members’ life, police interactions was always the one I feared most.

 The only route made available to access mental health care in crisis is the trauma of police services, and the trauma of psychiatric institutionalization. If we must cope with the pain inflicted on us by those systems that we are asked to call supports than we have very few options at all within the current structure of mental health care.

Community-Led & Self Determined Futures

Because of shame and exhaustion it is often difficult to seek out community or support services. Although we must teach ourselves how to navigate systems and how to survive, there is little space to share these tools with each other.

Intercepting the Pipeline to Prison is a project, lead by Black youth, to address the intersection of mental health, anti-Blackness and criminalization. It is a project created to share survival skills and strategies and to document our experiences. We have developed workshops in three streams: Youth Justice and Advocacy, Family and Community and Creative Solutions. The workshops provide skill building on safety tools for interactions with police, getting access to advocates while in remand, daily self care and coping methods, discussing mental health in our families, the ways we do support and advocate in our families and communities and how to strengthen them, and designing the kind of supports that we would like to see gain funding. In these community conversations we will have the opportunity to pool our knowledge and skills and create take-away resources for each other. The workshops are written from a lived experience perspective, with supports from our organizational mentors such as Legal Swipe. The Project also includes a short documentary interviewing Black youth on their experiences surviving, accessing services, living and creating.

We are creating spaces where we are able to talk about things we have never felt safe bringing up in mental health care spaces, institutional or otherwise: Anti-Blackness as we see and feel it in the mental health system, Caribbean perspectives on mental health, spiritual affliction, “pray it away” and stigma in the Church, spiritual or religious supports that we need, how the option of medication can be complicated by medical trauma, self-determination and the need for supports where people look you in the eye and understand you beyond the idea that you are an impossible problem.

 We believe it is within the community; friends, family, partners and chosen family that long-term support for mental health come from. And any service or support that a person seeks along the way should strengthen their chosen support circle.

 There are many directions to work in and issues to tackle; prison reform and abolition, deinstitutionalization, and the creation of Black-focused mental health supports that strengthen the community. There are conversations and actions happening now in regards to Anti-Blackness in the Peel Board lead by community, the scrapping of the SRO program (s/o to the many people who worked tirelessly for that), the Black Youth Action Plan, and the 10 year health accord that will see $1.9 billion allocated to mental health initiatives in Ontario over the next decade.

 It is a very important time to document our experiences, demand resources, and lead solutions as we connect the conversations on Anti-Blackness to mental health and the criminal system.

 If you are interested in getting involved in the project as a youth, mentor, interviewee, creative collaborator, researcher etc., or you have questions or comments, please feel free to get in touch by email at interceptingthepipeline@gmail.com or by phone at 647-207-9376. We are also interested in Indigenous community collaboration on the project.


Lou Boileau
Lou Boileau is a mental health advocate and writer of creative non-fiction and short stories. She works in the areas of youth work and food justice. She is based out of Tkaronto. Her work in mental health and advocacy is from lived experience, and family support caregiving.

Eli Wipe
Eli is queer artist residing in Toronto. They are an aspiring illustrator and writer. You can contact them at piscesprincx@gmail.com. Check out their bigcartel: piscesprincx, or their instagram, twitter and tumblr by the same names

Transformative Communities

A Conversation with Tina Reynolds

By: Savannah Clarke

Tina Reynolds was in Guelph on February 24th to speak on a Transformative Justice panel to explore the work that herself and other Black women are doing in their communities to keep each other safe, to resist police violence, and build alternatives to prisons. She took some time to sit down with our interviewer Savannah and share some knowledge.

Savannah: Can you start off with your name and some background on what you do and who you are?

Tina: My name is Tina Reynolds and I am a social worker, a junk-lecturer, I live in Brooklyn, New York. I teach at York College in New York City in the behavioural science department and I’ve been doing that for ten years. I have experienced being in prison and I have been an activist and advocate for over twenty years. Advocating for women, children and families and specifically changing the perception of women as they’ve been impacted by the criminal justice system

S: So what is the importance of meaningful relationships in the work that you do?

T: In 2004, we started an organization called Women on the Rise Telling Her Story (WORTH). One of the things that we did for our first strategic meeting was to make an agreement amongst ourselves that our relationships as women who have been impacted by the criminal justice system mattered and had to be put first. That we were stepping out and doing something that was very unique. We were collaborating with our sisters whom we had left behind. Within our own lives we were making a way for them to be able to have some stability once they returned. So, our relationships in establishing those conversations moved towards a co-creative, inclusive, collaborative vision of the organization and the way at which we would do our advocacy work. We knew many people working within the human services and criminal justice services. Some of us had gone back to school and received our degrees. We saw that the resources that were most valuable were ourselves and that we could actually leverage some opportunities for our sisters coming home through our positions in the work that we were doing. The relationships we established in these organizations and amongst ourselves became really important and vital in us assisting women and being there as a resource for when they came home. So relationships are really important.

S: It sounds like it sort of builds the foundation for your organization?

T: Absolutely. We built a foundation and moved through our relationships differently. We’ve all had our experiences that were different from our prison experiences. Within those prison experiences that we had, we came with our own individual passion around the impact and effects of our own prison experience. WORTH was never a mono-issue organization. We always held up and offered opportunities for women and saw that there was an need for dignity and for understanding for how every women served their time and how it is that they came home and what it was that impacted them the most and what drove them to do this work from a passionate place. Usually it was an issue that impacted them terribly during their incarceration that they fought really hard and adamantly for when they came home.

S: Earlier you mentioned your sisters and doing work for those that have been left behind, how do center the voices of those who have been most marginalized in our communities? More specifically from your perspective on working with women in prisons.

T: The organization is called Women on the Rise Telling Her story. It’s our her-story, it’s our linage, our story. Our stories are so important and they can mean different things for different people. What we’ve done with centering our stories is allow ourselves to be seen as experts and to see ourselves in dignity. We’ve been able to see ourselves as women who have had the prison experience and most importantly are not those experiences that we’ve had. We’ve taken our experiences, shaped and molded them to be shared with other people in ways that could be used for presentations, literature, journals, books and poetry. We make sure that we are in the centre of that and how we get that place is an understanding that it is necessary to be fully self-expressed. Full self-expression comes about in many different ways. We’ve centered our voices through full self expression, the dignity offered through others and it’s putting the story in the center.

When we use to open up our office in the morning, we would come in and the first thing we did was sit around a table that was in the middle of the kitchen, in our office in Manhattan. Now our office in is Queens but that Manhattan office was so special to the needs that we had as women. There were times when would come in and we would sit around the table and debrief from the day before of our organizing efforts or whatever it was that we were working on. Often times we didn’t start working until after noon because we just had the need to be in conversation, to hear each others voices and opinions. To find out about what mattered, our children, our challenges and barriers. From one issue to the next, we committed ourselves to doing better and dedicate ourselves to the issue and what is of our passion. They were really great times.

S: So, you mentioned earlier that you own your experiences and that you get to shape and decide how they are used. How do you work to change the narrative of how people see prisons in our communities?

T: For myself, I think that the narrative of prisons had to change from a place where I felt like I was being rescued when I sought out resources after prison. The idea that I had was that prisons were a place of punishments and that notion stands today. It is within our society that we rely on this particular environment to punish people, rehabilitate people and a place where it is politically entangled within various things in our society. It is part of a system that takes the freedom away from people. [However], it is also part of a system that takes the freedom and life of those that are in our communities. It makes [people in our communities] bound to that particular system. If there is a person they love within, they cannot live their lives as if it does not exist. The prison narrative, for me, is looking at it from the context of what has been done to brown and black people throughout our history.This is an environment, a place and a space specifically for those same things to happen under the guise of punishing because someone has committed a crime. Often times the idea of crime is one where there has not been a crime committed at all. There has been more of an issue of criminalizing of people. So, when we think about the things people do and the reason why they were arrested for things that they do is because we have not held our systems of the way in which we are policed, the department of corrections and other systems that prohibit us from being full human beings – have not been held accountable. We have not asked them questions, taken lead or held our power. As long as we continue to not take our power we have a narrative where we feel it is necessary to have prisons within our community and within our lives. I believe in prison abolition. I think there is a way for us to end incarceration. I believe there are ways for us to heal and have difficult conversations. I believe that there are people who commit crimes and I think we should have equality around that. If the rules bend for one, we have to understand that they are stronger and more stringent than the other. So we have those two paradoxes to look at. The conversation around punishment is more important in our society, I think, then the narrative of prisons and what they stand for.

S: What are some challenges that you’ve faced in the work that you do and how did you overcome these challenges?

Tina: The challenge of the work is being at peace with women. Working with women, for me, was the biggest challenge. It was one that I did with joy and I still do with joy. It is that humility that needs to be full and in the center. It is checking ones’ self and your intention. It’s the debriefing and being able to listen to others. As well as, truly being inclusive. It is being able to apologize, rededicate and recommit yourself to being a stand for what it is that you are doing and for those that you are doing it with. Knowing that you need to be a good follower as well as a good leader.

S: My final questions is, do you have any advice for our generation when working on this movement? We’ve talked a lot about exchange of knowledge, how do we build this movement that is intergenerational?

Tina: When I first started college, I always thought about the intergenerational impact of mass incarceration. Now I know that there is an intergenerational impact of mass criminalization of a people, on black lives specifically. When I first heard of #blacklivesmatter, I thought about how it was that all lives mattered and I was excluding myself again. [This is because] Inside, around the trauma that I’ve experienced it’s always been about exclusion of self and inclusion of others and not looking at myself, specifically as a black woman, as my life mattering. I’ve had to take that on in many instances that I’ve had to do this activism work where I’ve had this internalized fear. So, the intergenerational aspect of moving this movement forward, because it’s not a new movement, is including all black and brown people. It is the inclusion of all black lives. It’s the inclusion of all women, trans and queer women. It’s the inclusion of all folks that have been oppressed and dehumanized. It’s the inclusion of trans folks, queer folks, youth and their voices. It’s the inclusion of having folks being able to create and imagine, what it might look like that’s different. It is not being ashamed of what it is you’ve done as a person [ but instead] having it propel you to be fearless of the shame and the guilt. And to understand, especially young folks, that these conversations are happening with all people. Showing up in different spaces is not something that is thought about or planned…it’s happening. The universe is answering and offering. It is creating a space for these conversations, meetings and connections to be made because it’s really important. A friend of mine has always said to me what is very integral to activism are the three C’s. They are to have clarity, remain capable, and maintain compassion. So, the three C’s, for me, are those things. To be really clear and to sit down and be still and to think about what it is that I need to do next and how it is that I’m transforming… as well as other things are transforming around me. Being patient, loving, kind, consistent, available, flexible, a person that is listening, a person that is hearing and involved. Just being.


Tina Reynolds
Tina Reynolds is Co-Founder and Chair of Women on the Rise Telling HerStory (WORTH). WORTH is an association of formerly and currently incarcerated women who have been empowered by their own experiences while involved in the criminal justice system and beyond.  Reynolds has received a Master in Social Work from Hunter College and is currently an adjunct professor at York, CUNY in the Behavioral Sciences Department teaching “Impact of Incarceration on Families, Communities and Children” and Human Development.