Saturday, November 28, 2020

Regent Park Town Hall on Confronting Anti-Black Racism on Daniels Construction Sites

The following is a summary of the November 24, 2020, Regent Park Town Hall on Confronting Anti-Black Racism on Daniels Construction Site as reported by Adonis Huggins, staff member of the FOCUS Media Arts Centre. The entire Town Hall Meeting can be viewed on the Regent Park TV YouTube Channel or click this link:

In the week following a hate crime incident at DuEast Condominiums’ Construction Site on June 26th 2020, the Regent Park Neighbourhood Association (RPNA) reached out to The Daniels Corporation (Daniels) requesting information on Daniels' response to the incident. In response to this request, Daniels prepared a comprehensive Report outlining the steps it is taking not only to address the hate crime incident but also confront systemic racism in the construction industry more broadly. The report was released in a Town Hall co-hosted by RPNA and Daniels on November 24, 2020. Daniels and RPNA were joined by Carpenters Union Local 27, LIUNA Local 183, RESCON - Ontario’s leading association of residential builders, Toronto City Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam and others. The following is a summarized report of the meeting.

In the hours following the June 26, 2020, discovery of a hate noose on a Daniels construction site, President & CEO Mitchell Cohen released a public statement. Cohen was unequivocal in his condemnation of the incident as a hate crime, an act of harassment and racism targeted at the Black community. He also confirmed that there was a zero tolerance for racism, prejudice and hate within the Daniel’s organization as a whole.

In addition to Cohen's statement, Daniels filed a report with police and fully cooperated with their investigations including providing access to security cameras and records of personnel on site. Daniels also initiated its own internal workplace violence investigation including interviews with supervisors and workers on site in an effort to identify the person or persons responsible. Unfortunately, investigators to date have been unable to identify the person or persons who tied the noose. Daniels is partnering with Crime Stoppers to launch an awareness campaign in hopes that an anonymous witness to the crime will come forward with information to aid the investigation. Daniels has not ruled out the possibility of offering a financial award for tips that lead to the arrest of a suspect.

In following up to this immediate response, Daniels organized a series of all workers meetings held on each of the organization's construction sites across the GTA starting with the Regent Park site where the noose was found. These meetings began on the Monday June 29, 2020 and included senior management of Daniels team, construction site management, representatives of partnering construction unions and associations as well as all the workers on the site. No one was allowed to go to their work area without first participating in the meetings. In total over 900 workers attended. As far as the content of these meetings goes, Daniels reiterated their disgust over the incident and reinforced their zero policy for racism at its construction sites and within the organization. Furthermore, it was announced that anyone found of committing a hate crime would not only be reported to the police and fired from the organization, but would be removed from their associated union making it difficult to work in the industry. Anyone with information about the hate crime was also encouraged to come forward.

According to Toronto Police Superintendent, Peter Moreira, at 51 Division, over 20 similar hate crime incidents have taken place on other construction sites around the GTA since the discovery of a noose at the Daniels site. Acknowledging the need to address the systemic nature of racism, senior executives of Daniels attended a meeting with the Mayor's Office and senior construction industry leaders to discuss incidents and prevention policies.

As part of this work Daniels industry initiatives include: signing the BlackNorth Initiative pledge, which includes commitments to diversifying the workplace and senior management (Daniels currently has no Black representatives on its executive team and admits it needs to do better in this regard); and working with Daniels’ trades, contractors and consultants to better design and implement anti-racism policies and creating a requirement for these groups to have a diversity and inclusion policy prior to working on Daniels construction sites.

Internally Daniels is also:

  • working on an additional anti-racism policy separate from their Workplace Violence Policy;

  • has initiated an employee survey that will include demographics to identify employee concerns;

  • reviewing its hiring policies to better identify and outreach to visible minority and indigenous candidates;

  • continuing its efforts to identify, hire, offer apprenticeships and train local residents in partnership with TCHC, and construction unions;

  • implementing diversity and inclusion and bias training;

  • implement a site signage policy around all its construction sites informing workers of Daniel's zero tolerance policy for racism;

  • and procurement of local artwork that prioritizes the representation of members of the Black community to be displayed in lobby of the condominium building where the hate crime took place;

Other follow up actions from the meeting were:

  • the need for Daniels and other leaders in the construction trades to work collectively with government around industry wide anti-racism policies;

  • the need for Daniels to better collaborate with contractors and sub-contractors to ensure that they have progressive hiring and anti-racism policies in place prior to working with Daniels;

  • the need for Daniels to conduct better data collection and tracking of the 195 Regent Park residents hired through the Local Labour Initiative and 179 youth that participated in training and employment programs in Regent Pari including demographic data, and duration of employment.

To view the full Report entitled, “Report Back to the Regent Park Community” please visit the following link:

Written by
Adonis Huggins

FOCUS Media Arts Centre

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Regent Park Does The Monster Mash

The Monster Mash, a cultural mash-up, a cultural breakdown, a cultural icon of inclusivity.

Regent Park in Toronto’s downtown east side is known for many things; however, it is the lingering and often misleading stereotype of being “one of the poorest neighbourhoods,” that shapes most people’s perspective of this area. Despite this misperceived backdrop of despair, the area has always maintained an unshakeable sense of community with generations of families calling the area home. Demographically the area has changed substantially, from a predominantly working class and low-income Irish composition during the early 1900s, to a multi-cultural and multi-ethnic make-up brought on by changes in Canadian Immigration policies from the 1960s and 1970s.

Today the make-up in Regent Park (based on ethnicity) consists of the following: Aboriginal 1.52%, Black13.64%, Recent Immigrant 6.06%, White 13.64%, South Asian 19.70%, African 45.45%, Southeast Asian 12.12%, Hispanic 3.03%, West Indian 1.52%, and Arab 3.03%. These figure help to distinguish shifts in the cultural landscape that suggest long-standing Euro-centric traditions, like Halloween, are almost destined to experience a certain amount of bifurcation or hybridity if they are to continue. And it is precisely at this point that cultural traditions become all the more interesting.

“The Monster Mash” a song by Bobby Pickett and the Crypt-Kickers, at first glance sits firmly entrenched in the Anglo-European tradition of Halloween, but does that bare out under closer scrutiny? Written in the early 1960s, in a period in American musical history that was heavily influenced the black musical traditions of “gospel, jump blues, boogie, rhythm and blue, and country music” (Christ-Janer, Albert, Charles W. Hughes, and Carleton Sprague Smith, American Hymns Old and New (New York: Columbia University Press, 1980), p. 364, ISBN 0-231-03458-X). The Monster Mash, in fact, owes as much to the musical styles of Dee Dee Sharp and other performers such James Brown, Carlton“King”Coleman, and Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs, all whom recorded some version of the Mashed Potato (a song very similar in structure to The Monster Mash). And so, from the beginning, The Monster Mash, is a product of hybridity. One trend interacting with another, creating an offspring that is the mix of both.

Therefore, embracing The Monster Mash dance and the traditions of Halloween, becomes for newcomers an avenue for integration – the term Mash itself refers to a mix, or a melange – an appropriate metaphor for the mix of cultures and traditions that underpins all celebrations, be they religious, political, or secular.

Integration and inclusion are at the heart of what the Friends of Regent Park, a community-based organisation made-up of people that work together to support green space, cultural, and recreational activities in Regent Park is all about. And this year, as the coronavirus pandemic disrupts our social fabric, the Friends of Regent Park organized a virtual Halloween celebration. A mash-up of old and new, they mixed, pumpkin carving video tutorials, with pumpkin recipes that incorporate Asian flavours, and last of all that icon of the Halloween tradition, The Monster Mash Dance, presented by three members of Square Circle (a Regent Park non-profit) dedicated to engaging, educating and empowering youth through the use of Social Circus and creative arts.

In a short video, Jacob, Zahra, and Bayle, breakdown and breakout the unique dance moves (The Frankenstein, The Mash, The Crank, The Wolf, and The Rip) that make the song so mesmerizingly appealing. While Jacob and Zahra perform standing up, Bayle offers a version of the movements sitting down, demonstrating, how someone with mobility issues need not feel excluded.

The Monster Mash, a cultural mash-up, a cultural breakdown, a cultural icon of inclusivity.

You can watch the video below:

Written by
Dimitrije Martinovic

FOCUS Media Arts Centre

The Friends of Regent Park Carve Pumpkins

Regent Park is a community of communities. Demographically the area has changed substantially, from a predominantly working class and low-income Irish composition during the early 1900s, to a multi-cultural and multi-ethnic make-up brought on by changes in Canadian Immigration policies from the 1960s and 1970s. The shifts in the cultural landscape suggests that long-standing Euro-centric traditions, like Halloween would steadily be in decline, especially in a multi-ethnic community such as Regent Park. Halloween, however, remains one of the most celebrated days of the year and thanks to the Friends of Regent Park, will continue to be a fun filled custom in the Regent Park community in spite of Covid-19.

Halloween is observed annually on the night of 31 of October. The celebration, marking the division between the light and dark halves of the year, when the boundary between the living and dead was believed to be at its thinnest, is believed to have originated primarily as a Celtic tradition. In pre-Christian times, may people believed that spirits from the underworld and ghosts of dead people could visit the world of the living. These beliefs were brought to Canada by Scottish and Irish immigrants.

One of the most popular customs of Halloween is the jack-o-lantern. A jack-o-lantern is commonly a candle-light lit, carved pumpkin that usually sits on a window still or porch during the evenings of the Halloween season. Despite its popularity, few people know of the origins of the jack-o-lantern and would be surprised to hear that originally turnips not pumpkins were used. Pumpkins are native to North America and at the time did not exist in Ireland. The original jack-o-lanterns were hollowed-out turnips, beets or potatoes, carved to show a demonic face and lit from the inside by a candle. These vegetables were placed in a window or doorstep to frighten away evil spirits.

The term jack-o-lantern is derived from the myth of Stingy Jack, which is believed to have originated in the 17th century. According to Irish folklore, Stingy Jack was a drunkard and a cheat who was refused entry into heaven, because he was a miser, and hell, because he played tricks on the devil. Stingy Jack was condemned to roam the dimension between the living and the dead until Judgement Day with only an ember from hell to light his way. Jack kept the ember in a carved-out turnip as a lantern and thus was known as Jack of the lantern, or Jack-o-Lantern.

As years went by, the religious and spooky history behind pumpkin carvings has been forgotten, and the making of a jack-o-lantern is now consider a secular activity to bring families closer together. It’s for this reason that Friends of Regent Park have made a concerted effort to explore safe, fun ways that families in Regent Park can celebrate Halloween even in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. As part of the Halloween celebration this year, Friends of Regent Park gave away 50 free pumpkins to community members and worked with Regent Park TV to present this free Jack-o-lantern pumpkin carving workshop, as a way of engaging newcomer families in this Halloween tradition.

Friends of Regent Park is a community-based organization made-up of people that work together to support green space, cultural, and recreational activities in Regent Park.

By: Adonis Huggins with contribution by Jamelia Parnell

(Adonis is a staff member while Jamelia is a youth journalist with the FOCUS Media Arts Centre)

Centre for Social Innovation to end CSI - Regent Park’s Co-sharing Facility

CSI is pivoting from a co-sharing facility to a community support and development model.

On Monday October 26, 2020, after eight years of occupancy, the Centre for Social Innovation (CSI) announced that they are ceasing operations of CSI – Regent Park. Established in 2012, on the third floor of the Daniels Spectrum building in Regent Park, the CSI co-sharing workspace, is sadly closing its doors.

Although CSI has not publicly indicated the actual reasons behind the closure, it is speculated that the cost recovery model for operating the Regent Park facility was not working, and the operating expenses was significantly exceeding the revenues. The closure of the facility due to COVID-19, combined to make a bad situation, only worse.

Since its inception in 2004, the Centre for Social Innovation’s vision of facilitating co-sharing spaces that put “people and planet first” has grown to include over 3000 members generating a combined annual revenue of $270 M. The idea of “co-sharing” or “co-working” means that people, not-for-profits or companies, co-habit a neutral work space while working on different projects, but through sharing the same amenities (including meeting rooms, lounge areas, kitchens, washrooms, printers, private offices, shared offices, and work desks) they are able to keep overhead cost down - for a developing or fledgling start-up, this arrangement holds a lot of promise.

Until the recently announced closure of the Regent Park facility, CSI operated three locations in Toronto, including one at 192 Spadina, and one at 720 Bathurst. Additionally, in 2012, CSI opened a new branch in New York City.

In Regent Park, CSI has partnered with social mission driven businesses and not-for-profits like Square Circle, Green Thumbs Growing Kids, Tastelig, Youth Empowering Parents, Peace Builders, African Women Acting, Dare Arts, Visions of Science, INTENT, Interiors by Art of Living Inc., Due Good, Canada World Youth, Career Skills Incubator, the FOCUS Media Arts Centre and many others. It is estimated that 150 different groups called CSI-Regent Park home.

Now, as the facility in at the Daniels Spectrum building is closing down CSI’s commitment to its members and the neighbourhood is far from over.

Over the next six months CSI will work with the existing 150 co-working members at Regent Park to consolidated them into the two other buildings on Spadina and the Annex.

Additionally, CSI will continue its presence in Regent Park. As Denise Souedian-O’Leary (Community Manager-CSI Regent Park) puts it, CSI is pivoting from a co-sharing facility to a community support and development model.

Over the next three to five years, CSI will preserve its involvement in Regent Park by maintaining Denise Souedian-O’Leary in the role of a community resource – connecting and strengthening partnerships with residents, grassroots groups, organizations and stakeholders to ensure that for example, the work of the Social Development Plans continues. CSI will also continue their community development project known as the Everyone Everyday Project – a project that aims to engage residents in variety of DIY activities that focus on the betterment of the community.

Click the link below to watch the full video:


Written by
Dimitrije Martinovic

FOCUS Media Arts Centre