NORTH PERTH – Soon, support for members of the local BIPOC community may be visible on lawns across North Perth. The idea was raised during book studies hosted by members of Trinity United Church and Atwood United Church.
“It’s an ongoing issue that people who are part of the BIPOC community live with,” said Sarah Bruer. “Particularly this summer, the incident with George Floyd just caught the world’s attention – at least the attention of white people who haven’t been listening very well for a long time.”
Bruer moved to North Perth in the summer with her partner. They saw coverage of the Black Lives Matter parade in Listowel shortly after they arrived and thought “Oh great, this is a wonderful place to live.”
Before she moved to the area, Bruer had been running a book study on Austin Channing Brown in response to George Floyd’s death by police in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
“I decided to read the Austin Channing Brown book I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness,” she said. “I invited some friends to do that with me and had a group of about 30 online who read that book with me. It gave us the chance to talk about the issue of racism and the reality of white privilege.”
When exploring options for a book study last fall, I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness was one of the options presented and that was the choice most people were interested in. So an online study group with about 20 different people from several different local churches read the book and began an ongoing discussion about racism.
“In that book, the author had done some public speaking and after her talk, she would have people come up to her and confess things they had said or things they had done that had been racist,” said Jodi Town. “At first, she would listen to their confessions and console them… she basically said it was OK and she was beginning to feel that was exhausting which kind of was the underlying premise of her whole book, is that white people are exhausting.”
The message the study group took from the book was – what are you going to do about it? “Based on that question… we as a group decided that we did want to do something about what had happened at the Perth County council meeting,” she said.
“One night, I think it was week five of a six-week book study, we watched the video and we went off into small groups to talk about the reading for the week,” said Bruer. “When we came back together it became clear (all three groups) had talked about the article that had been in the paper that week around county council and Mayor Todd Kasenberg just not having his motion seconded.”
People started talking about the local racism issues they remembered and the Confederate flag that flies in Poole.
“Incidents that people know of because their friends or their family members are people in the community who live racialized lives and so we responded, there was a desire to respond,” she said.
Kasenberg and Eilish Brennan, organizer of a petition in response to county council’s lack of action, were invited to the study group.
“We extended our study group for an extra week and we spent one night just talking through with them, hearing from Todd his perspective on what had happened and hearing from Eilish her experience with the petition,” said Bruer. “At the end of that conversation, the question came up – so now what?”
The group members were torn. Bruer said they love this area but they didn’t want to live in an area that seemed intolerant.
“We also want other people to love living here as well and so one of the ideas that came up was the sign,” she said.
Bruer said she brought forward the idea because she had a friend who did a similar campaign in Saskatoon.
Last spring her friend made some Black Lives Matter and Indigenous Lives Matter signs for her community. Bruer told a story of how because of those signs, an Indigenous man who needed help had known her friend’s house was likely a safe place to go when he was having troubles one day.
“That was kind of where the idea was already in my head,” she said. “I think those of us who live with white privilege, which I think is what is going on with a bunch of the county councillors, just don’t have any awareness of that reality for others.”
Bruer said one of the reasons they want to do this campaign is to counter the message that the BIPOC community heard from the county council and the harm which was done.
“Just to say that there are people here who value diversity truly and see the gifts that non-white people bring to our community,” she said.
According to Town, the decision was made to show they value diversity and they believe Black Lives Matter, Indigenous Lives Matter and People of Colour Lives Matter.
“We realized it’s a small step but we wanted to do something fairly quickly,” said Town. “We realize it is not the first small step in our community. Eilish Brennan and her friends led and organized the walk last June. So we just want to keep moving forward and keep the momentum going.”
“One more point to add is that our schools in North Perth and many of our workplaces in North Perth have committed to being a Community of Character, and Inclusion is one of those character traits so I think that’s what we need to strive for in our workplaces, in our schools and our community,” said Town.
Bruer said the signs have been ordered and she hopes they will be available for residents to display soon.
Colin Burrowes is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter with the Listowel Banner. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.