Friday, December 18, 2020

Hubs in Regent Park – the Daniels Spectrum

In the first of these series, Jamelia explores various hubs available to young people in Regent Park.

On September 2012, the Daniel’s Spectrum opened up its doors to the public. Located in the heart of Regent Park, on 585 Dundas Street East, the building was designed specifically as an arts hub, and it shows. The outside building d├ęcor is illuminated with vibrant colours and a digital display, symbolizing that there is something bold going on inside.

To get more insight into this boldness, I had a conversation with Jermyn Creed, the Community Manager of the Daniels Spectrum, about the role it plays in the community and the broader city.

According to Jermyn, Daniels Spectrum is an important part of the Regent Park community because it gives low-income residents of Regent Park access to a wide variety of arts programming that normally would be out of their reach. The building not only gives youth a place to hang out after school but also offers opportunities for children and youth to get involved in visual arts, dance, theatre, poetry, music and film.

One example of the centre’s creative programming is the Ada Slaight Mentorship Program. This program annually connects youth interested in the arts with professional artists – people who are making a living off their art. Jermyn believes that this program dissolves the misconception of the “starving artist” syndrome. “Programs like these are important because it tells youth that they should not be afraid to go after their passions, contrary to popular belief,” says Jermyn.

Daniels Spectrum is not only open to residents of the Regent Park community, its programming is available to people from all over the city, and even the world through hosting events such as film screenings, music concerts and festivals, theatre performances, conferences and weddings.

If you are starving for the arts – the Daniels Spectrum is the place to be. 

Watch Video:


By Jamelia Parnell

Jamelia is a youth journalist with the FOCUS Media Arts Centre.

Friday, December 11, 2020

Youth Activism in An Adult World

Throughout history, the youth have always been at the forefront of activism, boldly demanding change. Today’s youth, Generation Z, is just as passionate in taking a stand as those who stood before. In today’s time, we have passionate, articulate activists such as Greta Thunberg, Emma Gonzalez, and Amariyanna Copeny. Due to the capabilities of social media, the youth also can create a tightly knit online community. This is especially beneficial when it comes to activism, as plans for action, and calls for support are easily shared to many people. However, outside of the social media bubble, the outlook of youth is often criticized and mocked by adults. The main contradictions fall under youthful naivety, or the lack of education. Through speaking out for climate change, Greta Thunberg has been wrongfully ridiculed by President Trump, amongst many others twice or triple her age. This response from so-called leaders breeds frustration, especially as this generation is the one that will be most impacted by the issues that they speak out about. These perspectives of today’s youth must be challenged, instead of stifled. Instead of looking to humiliate, social media posts should create respectful and thoughtful conversations. As this generation will inevitably inherit the planet, why should they not have a say in what state they will inherit it in?

Backlash against youth activism is found within both the physical world, and what lies within our phone and computer screens. Regardless of the source, the message is clear: stay silent. Though someone can easily post a picture in support of a cause, another can just as easily make an ignorant or hostile comment. Though anger should not be deterred for the sake of a comfortable conversation, the anonymity of social media can enable extreme toxicity to fester, to the point where the receiver of these comments feels physically unsafe. It is difficult to realize what is merely a threat on the internet, and what is a threat in real life. With society’s integration of technology in every aspect of life, the online world has molded into the physical. For example, those who have been attending the BLM protests have been urged not to take photos of other protestors. Past activists have been identified and tracked down from social media pages, then hurt (and killed) due their support of BLM. This danger may not be entirely commonplace, but it is real.

There are also society's own biases that make it challenging for, not only activists, but everyday people, to speak out against inequality. The stereotype of the “angry black man/woman” is especially relevant, as it twists an individual’s rightful anger into an “overreaction.” Those in opposition turn the problem against the individual, questioning their composure and mocking their lack of articulation, instead of evaluating the cause of anger in the first place. This is dehumanizing, as it condemns a whole person into a single characteristic, while allowing everyone else to continue about their lives. In our defensiveness, we, as a society, consistently do not address the problem. Those who speak out are discouraged, and we do not move forward.


As Gen Z is born in a different time, they are bound to have different perspectives. It is time that these perspectives, with all its complexities, contradictions, and shortcomings, are embraced and integrated within conversations. Those born of past generations must do its part to create challenged thinkers instead of attempting to train simple, obedient students. This generation already has a clear understanding of our harsh realities, as it quite literally grew up with tragedy. From terrorist attacks, to school shootings, to greedy politics, there is a distrust that society’s leaders truly have our best intentions in mind. However, instead of growing cynical and turning their backs on this world, the youth attempt to better it. Therefore, it is only right that we do not turn our backs on them.

Written by
Minerva Navasca

Youth Journalist
FOCUS Media Arts Centre

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Introduction to new MP for Toronto Centre MARCI IEN

Born in St. Jamestown, the newly elected Liberal MP, reflects on her core beliefs and lived experiences.

In this episode of Regent Park TV, reporter Dimitrije Martinovic, introduces Regent Park and Toronto Centre to their new Member of Parliament. On September 17, 2020, Marci Ien was announced as the Liberal candidate for the by-election to the 43rd Canadian Parliament for Toronto Centre, following the resignation of Bill Morneau. Marci won the by-election on October 26, 2020, defeating Green Party of Canada leader Annamie Paul and NDP candidate Brian Chang.

Marci Ien is a Black Canadian of Trinidadian descent. Ien graduated with a degree in radio and television arts from Ryerson University in 1991. She began her journalism career at CHCH-TV in Hamilton, Ontario in 1991 as a news writer and general assignment reporter. In 1995 she began reporting from Queen's Park in Toronto, with her reports appearing both on CHCH's local news and on WIC's national newscast Canada Tonight. In 1997 she moved to CTV as a reporter for CTV Atlantic, covering major stories including the crash of Swissair Flight 111 off Peggy's Cove, Nova Scotia. In 1995, Ien won a Radio Television Digital News Association Award for her news serial Journey to Freedom, a look at the Underground Railroad. In 2008, she was the recipient of the Black Business and Professional Association Harry Jerome Award in the media category. In 2014, she was granted the Planet Africa Award for excellence in media. In 2015, Ien garnered a Canadian Screen Award nomination in the Best Host category for her work on Canada AM. In 2016, she was honored with an African Canadian Achievement Award for her journalistic achievements.

It was while Marci Ien was still a professional broadcaster (CHCH-TV in Hamilton and on CTV’s The Social and Canada AM 1991 - 2020) that the idea of moving to politics slowly began to dawn her. Being a woman of colour gave her reportage a unique perspective and platform to both comment on what was happening, and to help shape an image of a positive and successful person of colour operating in the public spere. 

Marci Ien’s entry into politics is precipitated by the vacancy left by the resignation of Bill Morneau (17 August 2020) the previous Liberal Member of Parliament for the riding of Toronto Centre. Born in St. Jamestown, the character of the downtown east side was all too familiar to Marci, and she knew that this was a community she could represent. In the recent interview she did with RPTV News, Marci Ien described the neighbourhood as, “diverse in every single way … there is socio-economic diversity, race, origin, ethnicity … but I would call it eclectic, diverse, beautiful.”

As the new MP for the riding Toronto Centre (which includes Moss Park, Regent Park, Cabbage Town, Church-Wellesley Village, and St. Jamestown), Marci Ien is keenly aware that the coronavirus pandemic has drawn out the systemic inequalities that underscore the lives of many low-income people, indigenous people, immigrants, homeless people and people living with mental health and substance abuse issues. Attending to these matters Marci intends to continue listening to what her constituents are saying to her, to pool the resources of many of the already existing social service providers, and to better channel initiatives that might be coming from Federal, Provincial, and Municipal coffers to the hard-hit neighbourhoods of the area.

In today’s political landscape The Black Lives Matter Movement has become a pivotal point for politicians to contend with, as a woman of colour and now MP, Marci Ien has a long history of dedication to challenging the representation of Black people in the public roles. She lists her own thirty-year career in journalism and its many firsts, such as the first Black woman to co-host a national morning show. And furthermore, it is her lived experience as a Black woman that motivates her to keep the concerns of race front and center at all times.

Written by
Dimitrije Martinovic

FOCUS Media Arts Centre

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

Wednesday, October 28, 2020


Place naming, de-commemoration, commemoration and a more truthful rendering of the past, present and future.

Dundas Street cuts across an immense swath of neighbourhoods including the community of Regent Park, as it circumnavigates the eastern and western boundaries of Toronto. Beginning in the east end at Kingston Rd. and working its way westward, Dundas Street travels through The Beach, Leslieville, Riverside, Regent Park, Cabbagetown South, ChinaTown, Alexandra Park, Trinity Bellwoods, Little Portugal, Brockton Village, the Junction Triangle, Lambton, Chestnut Hills, Islington, Summerville, Appelwood Heights, Mississauga Valley, and to Erindale at its western edge where it becomes Hwy 5. Each of these neighbourhoods has a distinct cultural vibe and demographic make-up, urban, residential, commercial, suburban and in some case semi-industrial, each locale a mix of rich identities and histories that begs out to be confirmed and celebrated.

So, when Andrew Lochhead, an ally of the Black Lives Matters Movement and a Toronto artist, envisioned the idea of petitioning the City of Toronto to rename Dundas Street, he could not have known that his idea would resonate with so many people, in fact his idea garnered 15,000 signatures in just a short period of time.

The issue with Dundas Street is that it commemorates Henry Dundas, the 1st Viscount of Melville, and a significant political figure in Great Britain during the late 1700s and early 1800s. Among the positions he held during his career are Lord Advocate, President of the Board of Control of the East India Company, Minister of War, Secretary of State for War, and First Lord of the Admiralty. Henry Dundas opposed the abolishment of African slavery and his position as an influential politician is credited for delaying the abolishment of slavery for 15 years during which time it is estimated that approximately 600,000 more Africans passed into slavery.

It is also important, despite his name and memory been celebrated in numerous public places across Canada, Henry Dundas never set foot in Canada.

Why name matters? Toponomantics is the study of names, and historically the naming of places has been associated with the founding of that place, for instance; New Castle, Los Angeles, Novi Grad. Historians may deduce from these names social or cultural aspects that refer to past occupations by different people who have settled in that place including the languages spoken there and other temporally definitive characteristics. Most often what has happened in terms of place names is that with every successive intrusion of new people in a given area, meant that there was some sort of displacement that occurred there – such as a conquest or political over-throw. And so, the naming and renaming of places has always consisted of the notion of “de-commemoration” on the one hand, while on the other hand it celebrated a new “commemoration” that supplanted the previous event/person/place.

Among Indigenous peoples, place names for example serve as mnemonic devices, conveying information and knowledge about the land that combines both the spiritual and environmental characteristics of a place. Place names may contain ‘ways of being’, reminding travelers of seasonal resources or they may recall moral teachings. The Aboriginal people of Australia have a belief system known as “songline” or “dream track” according to which a person may travel safely across the land by following a path once traveled by sacred ancestors (handed down through song and ritual), the “songline” would have information about landmarks, waterholes, and other critical survival features.

With the colonization of the Americas, Africa, Asia, and Australia by Europeans, the traditional associations with place names were lost. In Canada, this has meant that most places have names rooted in French and English cultures and histories – past monarchs, religious saints, famous personages, and memorable places in Europe.

Fortunately, there are numerous initiatives across Canada dedicated to restoring the long history of Indigenous place names, like the Ogimaa Mikana Project that seeks to restore Anishinaabemowin place-names to the streets, avenues, roads, paths, and trails of Gichi Kiiwenging (Toronto).

The project of colonizing the new world brought with it another feature that from its earliest beginnings, due to the development of plantation estates and the lack of an indentured work force large enough to do the work, the implementation of slaves becomes the method by which large-scale resource extraction begins to fund the Colonial Empires of Portugal, Spain, France, Holland, and Great Britain. Much has been written on the subject of slavery and the impact of Europeans on Africans, but there is some fundamental knowledge that needs to be addressed regarding the psychology of slavery. Torrance T. Stephens a professor at Clark Atlanta University, Department of Psychology, had this say on the subject:

“Since the main reason for slavery was an economic one, it was essential for Europeans to develop a rationale in support of slavery, which resulted in an attached stigma to African people in the colonies. The logic was based on the view that Africans were sav age and not human and that it was the duty of whites to make Africans worthwhile. Thus, the legal discrimination of African preceded and led to a status of physical and psychological inferiority being attached to slaves in the American South. This attitude may have best been evinced in the disposition of the people involved with slavery at all levels.”

These racial attitudes which were the by-product of slavery from then on become intrenched in the institutional fabric of the United States. It is same these attitudes of racial superiority that are mirrored in the treatment of Native Peoples, allowing Europeans to omit and cast aside the history of both Africans and Indigenous populations – privileging the ensuing years as a Whites only history.

Fortunately, there are numerous initiatives across Canada dedicated to restoring the long history of Indigenous place names, like the Ogimaa Mikana Project that seeks to restore Anishinaabemowin place-names to the streets, avenues, roads, paths, and trails of Gichi Kiiwenging (Toronto). Andrew Lochhead’s petition has also garnered the support of Toronto City Council and as a result, the City has initiated a review of its policies related to renaming and a public consultation process.

It is not that the renaming of streets, avenues, roads, paths, and trails means that suddenly the one historical record will be rendered more important than another, but rather, it will mean that the history that has been omitted will have an equal place, one also worthy of commemoration.

Here in Regent Park, we might take a page of from Andrew and these discussions of naming and renaming public spaces, and along with Dundas Street, reconsider renaming Regent Park. Why should the area bear the name of a dead English monarch, why note instead give it a name that truly evokes the history of its past, present and future?

Reference: Psychology Of Slavery, Torrance T Stephens.

Written by
Dimitrije Martinovic

FOCUS Media Arts Centre

You can watch the full interview here:

Thursday, October 1, 2020

Understanding the Revitalization Working Group

The Revitalization Working Group, also known as the Revit Working Group or RWG for short, is a committee of Regent Park residents who works with Toronto Community Housing (TCHC) in the development of an engagement strategy for phrases 4 & 5 Request For Proposals (RFP) process. The group is made up of 3 TCHC tenant council members, 3 Regent Park Neighbourhood Association (RPNA) members and 6 community members who aren't involved in either those groups.

The purposes of the Revite Working Group is to 1) understand and prioritize issues related to the revitalization of Regent ParK 2) be informed through lessons learned and 3) create a space for stakeholders to work together and report back to the community on their work.

According to a recent August 6, 2020, presentation by Revit Group member, Daniel Amin, the group has had two initial priorities. The first was a development of a fair transparent process for community members to be engaged in the phase 4 & 5 Requests For Proposals to select a developer partner. This work included three pillars of engagement for the request for proposals process. The first pillar was to help the community understand the RFP and ensure that residents were informed about the process. The second pillar was to create questions for the developer presentation involving working with residents to develop a set of questions that were asked of the potential developer partners at the presentation. Lastly, the third pillar was to score the developers at the presentation, whereupon residents had the chance to score each developer opponent based on how they responded to the community's vision for the revitalization of Regent Park.

A total of 227 residents attended the developer presentation last October, 2019. Those that attended, scored the presentations. These scores were incorporated into the overall score for each proposal and will help TCHC determine the shortlisted proponents for phases 4 & 5.

Finally, the other key priority for the working group, which is also the current focus, is the development of a fair process for the selection of an organization or multiple organizations that would use potential community space in phases 4 & 5. So this work is just beginning and they'll be more to say in this in the future.

By Tyrone Maclean-Wilson

Tyrone is a staff member of the FOCUS Media Arts Centre

The Toronto Rent Bank

Neighbourhood Information Post is a not-for-profit organization located in the Toronto Public Library on Parliament and Gerrard in the Regent Park area. The Neighbourhood Information Post (NIP) serves low-income individuals and households living in the Downtown East Toronto. One of the services that NIP delivers in partnership with the City of Toronto is the Rent Bank.

The Rent Bank provides zero-interest loans for people in need of assistance in paying for rent, including those facing evictions, and new renters needing first and last months’ rent. Neighbourhood Information Post provides an array of different services, but the Rent Bank is one of their most widely accessible yet underutilized programs. Despite their grassroots word-of-mouth advertisement, the Rent Bank is rarely mentioned in conversations surrounding Housing Assistance programs in Toronto.

In recent months due to the global pandemic, there has been a rise in applicants to the Rent Bank, as many people have suffered a loss of income. Due to Bill 184, which makes it easier for landlords to obtain evictions, the Rent Bank is predicting more residents facing evictions will be applying, alongside the increase in applicants who have suffered a loss of income due to the Covid Pandemic. In past years, the use of the Rent Bank by residents of Regent Park was very low due to eligibility restrictions preventing tenants already receiving subsidized housing from applying. However, this number is rising as a result of the increase of condos and other market rent home renters in Regent Park who are struggling to pay their rent. All of these converging issues have made the Rent Bank an even higher necessity, resulting in a $2 million grant from the City of Toronto.

 The Rent Bank program first started at Neighbourhood Information Post in 1999. With Municipal Governmental assistance, they provide loans to approximately 100 families each month. While Neighbourhood Information Post hosts the Rent Bank specifically to residents in the Regent Park and downtown Toronto area, Toronto Rent Bank is a joint collaboration between six other agencies across neighbourhoods in Toronto. The Rent Bank has few requirements for eligibility: applicants must be living in the city of Toronto, or, if they are moving, their new residence must be located in Toronto. Applicants cannot be Social Assistance clients, their household should be within low-income guidelines and be paying market-level rent.

Since the pandemic reached Toronto in March, there has been many changes to the application process at the Rent Bank. In efforts to minimize social interaction, in-person meetings and signed forms are no longer being used. Instead, there is a main hotline- (416)-397-7368- that will direct you to neighbourhood branches and local Rent Banks that will assist further in the application process. The rest of the application process is completed entirely on-phone and online. Any loans given past February 2020 are given a repayment deferral of up to a year, which greatly helps applicants that have joined due to job loss. The lowest repayment rate is currently $25/month, and the highest loans are $4000/up to 3 months rent.

Toronto Rent Bank and Neighbourhood Information Post have made several long-term changes to continue helping local residents in need, with preventing evictions and homelessness being their priority. For more information, go to their website at

All information was found on Neighbourhood Information Post’s website and through an interview with Toronto Rent Bank Program Leader Maja Bryon. To see a full interview with Maja Bryon and learn more about the Toronto Rent Bank, check out the RPTV youtube channel below.

By Nate Gurarie

(Nate is a summer journalist with the FOCUS Media Arts Centre) 

 You can watch the interview here:

Monday, September 21, 2020

International Overdose Awareness Day In Moss Park

Finding strength and solidarity in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.

The coronavirus pandemic has wreaked havoc in every sector of society. However, it is in the closely-knit downtown core of large urban centers that fabric of daily life has become even more exacerbated.

In Toronto’s downtown east side neighbourhood of Moss Park, a community typically described as occupying east of Jarvis Street to Parliament street, and south of Queen street to Dundas street, coping with the pandemic has been particularly challenging. This is because Moss Park not only comprises of public housing complexes, but also a number of low-income rental units, rooming houses and several homeless shelters all of which contribute to the housing needs of the city’s most vulnerable people, including a significant population of people struggling with poverty, addictions and mental health.

For those living in poverty and struggling with mental health and addictions, finding the support to negotiate these circumstances maybe difficult at the best of times, but with a pandemic all around, life has become lot more challenging. Started as a tent run by volunteers, the Moss Park Overdose Prevention Site as been operating since August 2017 in an effort to prevent a rash of overdose deaths largely from fentanyl and contaminated drugs. At the Moss Park site people can use drugs under the supervision of a staff or volunteer who checks for signs of overdose and infection. They also monitor those using drugs and offer clean supplies.

The Moss Park Overdose Prevention site is just a small part of the needed response to the crisis.

In Toronto the stream of overdose victims (27 suspected fatal opioid overdoses – reported by CBC Aug 21, 2020) has reached its own pandemic proportions. In response there have been a number Government investments in Overdose Prevention Sites (OPS) beginning in 2017, and safe injection sites, and most recently the first safe drug supply program. The safe drug supply is an initiative intended to circumvent the influx of tainted street drugs that are causing the current raft of overdoses. Part of a wider view on the issue of illicit drug use, the safe drug supply program is an extension of the harm reduction approach, which seeks to reduce the harms associated with the criminalization of drug use.

The notion of providing officially sanctioned drugs to existing of drug uses is deeply contentious on all sides of the argument. Historically, the therapeutic ingestion of various substances (drugs like marijuana, opium, and other hallucinogenic) has a long history with humankind, and certainly along the way it has also been a problematic one for many societies. However, it is not until the modern era that we have an escalation of the domestic consumption of (illicit) narcotics and stimulants. Decoupled as it were from religious ritual and healing purposes, psychoactive substances and the addictions that have arisen from their use and abuse, have located the etiology of addiction within a set of debates that struggles to rationalize whether or not to view the dilemma as a ‘sin’ or ‘disease?’ Is it that the individual is to blame because of some moral or psychological deficiency, or is society to blame because it lacks the requisite foundation to support a healthy and positive environment for all its citizens?

So while this latest attempt to reduce the harms associated with the criminalization of drug use is seen by some as a another step into societal ruin (by make more drugs available to more people), and others as a more humane alternative to the punitive philosophy of incarceration, there are still others who claim that the safe supply program does not do enough. At a recent event staged in Toronto’s Allen Gardens to commemorate the International Overdose Awareness Day, where various organizations such as Street Health, Council Fire Native Cultural Centre, and others gathered along with members of the community to bring awareness and show solidarity with people who are dealing with addictions and mental health issues, RPTV met with Sarah Elisabeth a member of the Toronto Harm Reduction Alliance.

In Sara’s opinion, the safe drug supply program has the wrong approach, “while providing pharmaceutical grade opioids, the drugs themselves are limited both in the substance that they offer, in the caseload that they can take on, and a lot of these programs are pilot programs, so they are not permanently funded. And so while they are definitely a step forward, they’re just a drop in the bucket to the solution for the overdose crisis. Another part of the solution would be decriminalization; because these programs are really centered around opioids and they don’t include other drugs that might be contaminated, or other people who use drugs need a safe supply as well, and so safe supply programs are great, but we need is decriminalization to kind of help across the board to ensure that everybody has access to a safe supply of drugs.”


Written by
Dimitrije Martinovic

FOCUS Media Arts Centre

To watch the video check out the link below:

Sunday, September 20, 2020

The Connection between Racism and the Origins of Policing

In an effort to deter violent crime, police forces across North America heavily rely upon a strategy of highly visible and aggressive patrolling of low-income neighbourhoods often populated by people of colour. In Toronto, the Toronto Police Services called this strategy TAVIS (Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy). In Regent Park and other communities these patrols resulted in allegations of carding, racial profiling and police conflicts with community residents and visitors who were stopped by police and asked to confirm their resident status or state the reasons for their visits to the area.

In Toronto, the 10-year TAVIS officially ended in 2016, in favour of community policing (where officers are embedded in the community and get to know residents to help identify perpetrators of crime). As we witness the wave of Black Lives Matter protests and outrage over the killing of George Floyd and others by police, many are beginning to critically reflect upon the relationship between racism, colonialism, white supremacy and policing. In this intriguing conversation, U of T historian and academic Max Mishler argues that the practice of over policing communities of color is not only a normal function of systemic racism but is inherent in the reasons why policing itself was founded.

Policing was first brought officially to Canada in 1830s by the British and French who at the time were in the process of colonizing Canada. So what role did the police play in the colonization of Canada? Well in order to colonize a place it is necessary to establish either control over, and/or extermination of, the indigenous people who are there. With the help of the police a system was created that could detain, imprison, and remove indigenous people all under the guise of enforcing the laws, which were written by the colonizers. This in turn allowed for Canada to be founded as a nation under white European domination.

In the early years of Canada becoming a nation the colonizers had firmly occupied the eastern parts of it, however out west many indigenous communities had not yet been forced off their land. That was soon to change when in 1873 Prime Minister John A. Macdonald created the North-West Mounted Police (NWMP). Unlike the traditional police the NWMP was much more militarized and in effect acted as both the law makers and the law enforces. During this time the NWMP forced indigenous people off their land to make way for the Canadian Pacific Railway which was being built at the time so that white settlers could travel west. We can see then that the NWMP was essentially created with a goal, even if it was not explicitly stated, of clearing the land of indigenous people for the purposes of establishing white communities.

In 1920 the NWMP, and the Dominion Police Force (DPF), which had been set up to protect government operations, were merged to form the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). The RCMP has a colourful history of poor treatment of indigenous people. In recent years many Canadians have been taught about residential schools, which were boarding school for indigenous kids meant to erase their culture and “help” them integrate with “normal” society. In reality residential schools were places of terrible abuse and violence. However, it is not widely taught the role the RCMP had in the round up and forceful removal of kids from their family and homes to send to these horrific institutions. Once again the police system in Canada was used to promote whiteness and support the erosion of indigenous people and culture.

The origins of racism in the police isn’t just related to the oppression and murder of indigenous people either. Around this same time slavery was ending, having been officially abolished in Canada in1834. However, with the end of slavery came an uneasiness about black people who would no longer be so directly controlled by wealthy white colonizers. Given this new context colonizers sought out a system that would allow them to continue their control of these newly freed black people. Enter the system of police that had already shown the ability to dominate and exert control over indigenous people. Black people at the time were believed to be naturally stupid, lazy, degenerates and many white people believed that without white interference black people would revert back to their ‘natural’ state and criminality would run rampant. In fact, a lot of white people felt that laws and punishments to control black people was a way of doing them a favour so they would not unleash their ‘inner demons’.

It’s not surprising then that any expression of freedom or liberation on the part of black people was seen as suspicious. The government turned to police forces who were used to investigate expressions of black autonomy and re-establish control under the guise of protecting black people from themselves and in turn eliminating any criminality that was sure to follow. Although much has changed since the 1800s its easy to see that the same stereotypes of black people still hold up today. As Robin Maynard points out in her excellent book Policing Black Lives, as recently as the 1980s the Montreal Police used pictures of black men when conducting their shooting target practice. And closer to home a new 2020 report (A Disparate Impact) by the Ontario Human Rights Commission reveals troubling statistics about anti-Black racism in the Toronto Police. For example, even though African Canadians make up only 8.8% of Toronto’s population they represented almost four in 10 (38%) people involved in cannabis charges, despite conviction rates and many studies showing that they use cannabis at similar rates to White people; even more tragic is that black Canadians accounted for 25% of police shootings and police sexual assault in the city.

While slavery and colonization have long since ended in Canada it is clear that present day policing continues to echo many of the same historical themes that oppressed indigenous and black people back in the day. Police forces continue to play a role in protecting the interests of rich, white Canadians by attempting, often intentionally and perhaps sometimes subconsciously, to control and suppress indigenous and black people. There can be no doubt we have a long way to go before we have a fair, just and equal society with a police force that matches those values as well.

In this video, U of T historian and academic Max Mishler discusses the origins of racism in policing.

Written by

Volunteer Journalist
FOCUS Media Arts Centre

To watch the video, checkout the link below:


Saturday, September 19, 2020

The impact of Covid-19 on 611 Purple Factory Barbershop

611 Purple Factory is a barbershop that is located in the Regent Park area, at 611 Dundas Street East, right across for the Pam McConnell Aquatic Centre. The shop’s area of service focuses on the hair cuts, shape ups, fading and more. The shop is owned by Martin Ferreira.

Barbershops, unfortunately, is one of the non-essential services ordered to close as part of Ontario Premiere Doug Ford’s announcement on Tuesday March 23, 2020, that all non-essential store and services would be ordered to close, in an attempt to slow down the spread of Covid-19.

The closure has caused a lot of hardship for small business owners like Martin. Yet, despite the closure and loss of revenue, Martin took the news in stride and was even positive about it. According to Martin, this was his first summer break in over ten years. Most summers, “we just cut hair stand inside and watch the seasons change through the windows. This summer I was able to enjoy the outdoors and have fun,” said Martin.

When the news came that non-essential businesses including barbershops were finally able to reopen, Martin did not know until his clients started to contact him to open. Nevertheless, Martin did not wait; he took it upon himself to clean and sanitize. He also called in a cleaning crew to assist and stayed in his shop till the wee hours of the morning before opening day, to properly prepare. As part of the new normal, mask wearing & hand sanitization is required and he only takes clients by appointment only which allows him to put limits on how many people are in the shop at any one time.

Martin was surprised to see how many big company’s and franchise’s closing down due to the pandemic considering all the money these businesses make. Martin believes that you have to hustle to run a business and that it is important to be relentless and have the right attitude.

When asked why he started a business in Regent Park, Martin replied, “I didn’t choose Regent Park…Regent Park chose me”.

Martin’s relationship with Regent goes way back, much prior to the start of the redevelopment. “I had friends and family here and I am blessed and honoured to be here”. Martin believes that Regent Park is a historical neighbourhood with a rich heritage and culture. The history is very deep and a lot of people don’t know about it even people who moved into the area from other parts of the city. “I feel the need to educate them. This is not just another Starbucks, I am part of this heritage,” says Martin.

For all of Martin’s reminisces about the neighbourhood Martin insists that, “the past is the past and it ain’t coming back”. Instead Martin hopes that the 611 Purple Factory will contribute to the future of the neighbourhood. Even if it is just conversations with young people or condo owners in the Barber’s chair at the 611 Purple Factory.

By Gaelle Kosi with contribution by Adonis Huggins

(Gaelle Kosi is a summer journalist with the Focus Media Arts Centre).

To watch the interview, click here:

Friday, September 18, 2020

The impact of Covid-19 on Supreme Cut Barbershop

Supreme cut is a barbershop located in the Regent Park area on 432 Dundas Street east, near parliament and Dundas. Their area of focus is hair cutting, lineups, shape ups & men’s care. The shop is owned by black business owner Flory Wembolwa.

Flory Wembolwa was forced to close his shop after Premiere Doug Ford announcement on Tuesday March 23, 2020, that all non-essential store and services would be ordered to close as of Tuesday March 24th, to slow down the spread of Covid-19. 


Flory took the time off that he had to plan ahead until the shop opened up again. He learned at an incredibly young age to always prepare and save for “rainy days.” Flory tell us that it is part of the Congolese culture to always have something aside like an emergency insurance. As a result of this attitude, Flory has no sympathy for businesses that had to close down due to the COVID 19 closure. In Flory’ words, “if you don’t have enough money to pay three months rent, you shouldn’t be in business.”

When Flory received the news that non-essential businesses including barbershops were finally able to reopen, Flory was ready to get back to work. He took all the safety precautions he needed to take to ensure that his shop was clean and safe. Not only for clients but also for employees. He made sure to enforce social distancing between barbers. Supreme is already an appointment-based shop.

He also questioned why his business was not considered a non-essential business because people need these services. Maintaining a decent hair cut is important in your work and how you present yourself. “Would you leave your house to go to work without clean and decent clothes? Why would you do so without a well maintain hair cut?” argues Flory. He also added, “we do more than what you think,” and argues there should be a union for barbers. When a pandemic like this happens there is no one to advocate for our needs and there is nothing for us.”

Flory has also reduced his own hours to take care of himself and works by appointment so as not to stay in the shop for too many hours at a time.

By Gaelle Kosi

(Gaelle Kosi is a summer journalist with the Focus Media Arts Centre).

Watch the full interview here:

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

The impact of Covid-19 on the Dundas Beauty Hair Salon

Dundas Beauty is a hair salon that is located in the Regent Park area, at 442 Dundas Street East, close to Parliament and Dundas. Their area of service focuses on the versatility of hair including braiding, weaving, wigs, hair dyeing and more. The shop is co-owned by black business owner, Theresa Betou.


Theresa was forced to close her shop shortly after Premiere Doug Ford announcement on Tuesday March 23, 2020, that all non-essential store and services would be ordered to close as of Tuesday March 24th, in an attempt to slow down the spread of Covid-19.

Hair salons and barbershops have everything to do with neck up and prior to Covid-19, few people would ever think that they would see a time when you would not be allowed to get a hair cut because it is unsafe. Unfortunately, hair cutting requires close client contact and touching the heads of clients and as a result is considered an easy way for the coronavirus to spread.

The closure that was only supposed to last 14 days ended up being about 3 months. This has caused a lot of hardships for small shop owners. Shops like Theresa’s relies on the income she receives from customers to not only pay the rent of the business but also to pay for her personal rent and expenses. Not having clients means no money for the rent of her shop, for her employees or for her own personal expenses. Yet she still has to fulfill payments to the landlords even though the space is not being used.

At one point, Theresa and her partner, were considering selling the business and was receiving offers to do so. Instead they decided to wait and see what would happen. Luckily their landlord was understanding so Theresa was able to work out an agreement to pay what they could as well as to pay increments.

For some of the shop employees who relied on the shop’s income, Theresa allowed them to make their own decision to open up their homes to cut the hair of loyal customers, but she didn’t feel that was safe especially if they had families, and she chose not to do that.

When the news came that non-essential businesses including hair salons were finally able to reopen, Theresa was caught off guard. Despite people calling for hair appointments, Theresa needed two weeks to top up on products and sanitize the store. Safety is important to Theresa and not only is mask wearing was required she only takes clients by appointment only which enables her to put limits on how many people are in the shop at any one time. This is still difficult because the shop also sells shampoos and other hair products in which people normally can walk in from the street to purchase. As Theresa says, “it is a little tough right now but we will just need to take some time to readjust to the new normal then we can figure out a way how business can be improved while staying safe”.

For Theresa, one big take away from this pandemic is making sure that she puts her and her employee’s health first and business second.

“We used to be open to all hours of the night, right up to 1 am to meet the needs of our customers. Staff also often had to limit their lunch breaks. Now we only take certain amount of appointments per day and stress the importance of taking care of our selves first,” says Theresa.

This led me to the opinion that perhaps the new normal, at least for shops like Dundas Beauty, won’t be so bad after all.

By Gaelle Kosi with contribution by Adonis Huggins

(Gaelle Kosi is a summer journalist with the Focus Media Arts Centre).

Check out of the video below to watch the full interview:

Monday, September 14, 2020

Opening and Sustaining A Hair Salon Business - Advice from Three Business Owners in Regent Park

When it comes to starting a hair salon, even if you have the styling skills, launching a business can be a challenging process. As with any burgeoning industry, competition is fierce and there is no place in the market for mediocre. You will need to find a niche for your business, keep up-to-date with grooming trends, source new products, motivate your staff and socialize with your customers. 

Yet there is plenty of opportunities. The Canadian hair and nail industry is valued at $4.2 billion per year. Men and women of all ages enjoy looking their best, and hair salons cater to that.

Whether you’ve just graduated with your cosmetology degree or hair-styling certificate or you’re just ready to open your own business, it’s important to consider the cost of opening a hair salon. The cost of opening your own salon is around $60,000 for a basic setup, but it can go up to $500,000 or even more. No matter how much you invest in your new business, you'll want to do everything you can to ensure your salon's success. 

In this article we talk to three hair salon business owners about the challenges of starting and sustaining a business in Regent Park. The businesses are Dundas Beauty (with Theresa Betou), Supreme Cut (with Flory Wembolwa) and 611 Purple Factory (with Martin Ferreira).

Theresa Beto of Dundas Beauty

Theresa Beto is the owner of the Dundas Beauty located at 442 Dundas Street East in the Regent Park area, around Parliament and Dundas. Theresa, along with her mother, have been in the hair styling business for some time. Their first shop, which was located by Gerrard and Sumach street, opened in 2007. Later they relocated the shop to Sherbourne street for a year or two. After selling the store and taking a break to focus on her family, Theresa opened Dundas Beauty in 2019. Dundas beauty is an African braiding, weaving, styling and beauty supply store. When asked what was the career path that helped them to open the business, Theresa said that her mother really just started learning the braiding skill in Africa and began teaching her four daughters, who began practicing on each other and their friends. This led Theresa into watching Youtube videos and taking some classes in hair and esthetics. Once she took the classes, Theresa realized that doing hair was what she loved so she spoke to her husband about her goal of going into business with her mother and he was ready to support her. They started off by purchasing discounted packs of weave in bulk at other salons. They would stock up little by little and store it in the basement of their house. It took them quite a while before they realized that they had enough merchandise to open a shop.

When asked why they opened up the beauty salon in Regent Park, Theresa mentioned that there were not enough salons doing hair black hair in the downtown area of Toronto.

Some of the challenges they face while opening a business was mainly money, “having a salon in downtown Toronto is so much more expensive than having it in the outskirts like Scarborough.” said Theresa.

Some on going challenges that they are experiencing right now are that a lot of people are learning how to do braids and have learned how to maintain their own hair. Also increasing number of people are going natural which makes it hard for them to sell hair products.

Flory Wembolwa of Supreme Cut

It has been three years since Flory Wembolwa, owner of Supreme Cut, opened his doors in Regent Park. Supreme Cut is located at 432 Dundas street east (close to Parliament and Dundas). Flory himself grew up in Regent Park and experienced the changes that have happened in the neighbourhood through out the years. When I asked him, what were some challenges that he faced while he was starting his business? He mentioned that just growing up in Regent Park was a challenge, so to open up his business he was expecting challenges. From a very young age Flory learned that there will always be “rainy days” so be prepared to have them!

Flory started cutting hair at home at a young age. His friends trusted him & supported him which lead him into building his clientele by work of mouth. Then he started working at a Regent Park barbershop called Lisa’s. While he was working at Lisa’s, he learned more skills which lead to an opportunity to work at Miami Fades, a Toronto hair styling chain of shops. The same year he worked at a Miami Fades shop in Yorkville, was also the year that he opened his shop in 2017.

When asked what he would do differently with what he knows now? Flory answered, “unfortunately it is to choose a different location from Regent Park”. When asked why? He said, “for personal reasons.”

Flory’s advice to young adults when they want to enter the business is to be ready to challenge yourself and do your research as if its school.

“When you tap into your gift or skill it becomes school you have to wake up on time and make it a routine,” says Flory.

Flory’s goal is to not just expand his shop but expand his team to different parts of the world and that when he walks in to his shops that he feels the same kind of energy that he created when he first started his business from his home.

When I asked what it was like being a young Black entrepreneur? Flory said it was frustrating, due to what Black people experience daily. Flory believes you have to be ready for what the world has to give -both the negative and the positive. For Flory - life, family and friends, inspires him to be better.

Perhaps reflecting on Regent Park, Flory encourages the people he grew up around, to open their minds, because when he grew up people around him were close minded to a lot of ideas due to lack of knowledge. He encourages everyone around him to think bigger on what you could do and be. Flory chose to open up his shop in Regent Park for the culture and for his people, to inspire young people and show what is possible. Flory says that he never had anyone to look up to business wise. Growing up he thought that drug dealers and gangster were a big thing to look up to, because growing up in Regent Park you never saw Black owned businesses and a black businessman. Flory is an example of what one could be when you open your mind and believe in yourself.

Martin Ferreira of 611 Purple Factory

We touched based with owner of 611 Purple Factory, Martin Ferreira, on how a fairly young entrepreneur opened up a barbershop located right in the heart of Regent Park, on 611 Dundas Street East, across the street from Aquatic Centre.

Martin Ferreira started cutting hair at an incredibly young age of 15 years. After shaving his own long hair, Martin learned that he could cut his own hair and afford to keep his hair short and neat. Then his older brother purchased hair clippers and he began to cut hair for his family and friends, eventually charging them for his time.

Martin’s plans for opening up a business began when he went to school for Advertising. Martin had no interest in taking a corporate position. “I did not care to make Coca Cola more money .. I don’t think they needed my help.” say’s Martin. If he were going to pursue something, he was going to pursue something for himself and something that would not have to conform to workplace “politics.” Initially Martin thought he would open a barbershop supply store. However, while he was studying, he was still cutting hair and earning some money. By the time he successfully finished the program and graduated, Martin knew he wanted to cut hair professionally and see where it would take him.

When asked what he would do differently if he knew what he knows now about the business industry, he mentioned that a piece of advice that he would give himself or to anyone is to trust your vibes or in other words trust your intuitions. Also, to observe the people around you. “Unfortunately, not all people will have your best interest at heart,” said Martin. Another word of advice is that you have to be willing to put a lot of hard work into your craft. Martin used to be alone at his shop when he first opened cutting hair until 2:30 – 3:00am! Martin’s aspirations for his barbershop is to grow and build, and also to have more influence outside of the shop. He would love to be in a position where he could offer more than just a haircut.

When asked what a piece of advice that you would give to a person wanting to be in the industry? He answered by saying, “you got to love it. If you don’t love it don’t bother … it is going to test your heart in time and if you don’t love it, it will show.” You also have to be able to deal with people. Barbers are also like therapist he said. You have to learn how to not carry customers emotional weight when speaking to them on personal issues. Martin believes that the barber business is a game of reliability and customer service is key. You will have to be willing to be a thousand hours in it.

When asked why he started a business in Regent Park, Martin replied, “I didn’t choose Regent Park…Regent Park chose me”.

Martin’s relationship with Regent goes way back, much prior to the start of the redevelopment. “I had friends and family here and I am blessed and honoured to be here”. Martin believes that Regent Park is a historical neighbourhood with a rich heritage and culture. The history is very deep and a lot of people don’t know about it even people who moved into the area from other parts of the city. “I feel the need to educate them. This is not just another Starbucks, I am part of this heritage,” says Martin. Martin hopes that the 611 Purple Factory will contribute to the future of the neighbourhood. Even if it is just conversations with young people or condo owners about the history of Regent Park, while they are in the Barber’s chair at the 611 Purple Factory.

From my conversations with Theresa, Flory and Martin, owning and operating a business comes with a lot of challenges. Challenges like, closing your business due to the Covid-19 pandemic, that are often unexpected. However, these Regent Park business owners, have shown that when you have a passion, drive and willing to put in hard work, you could be successful.

By Gaelle Kosi in collaboration with Adonis Huggins

(Gaelle Kosi is a summer journalist with the FOCUS Media Arts Centre. Adonis is a staff member of the FOCUS Media Arts Centre).


 lick the link below to watch the video:

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Ethno-racial Data Collection and the Future of Community Wellness

Ontario’s Ministry of the Solicitor General has allocated 200 million dollars for the years 2019 to 2022, in support of the Community Safety and Well-Being Strategy. A key part of this updated strategy is the idea that,

“…the majority of investments, time and resources should be spent on developing and/or enhancing social development, prevention and risk intervention strategies to reduce the number of individuals, families and communities that reach the point of requiring an incident response. Developing strategies that are preventative as opposed to reactive will ensure efficiency, effectiveness and sustainability of safety and well-being service delivery across Ontario.”

And so you would think this would mean investing most of that funding into community organizations and preventative health strategies. Yet approximately 99% of the 2019 budget went to police forces (Toronto Police Services received $55.4 million on top of their budget of over 1.06 billion). This is one recent example of how a reallocating of police funding could better be spent to help communities, in this case, in the words of the government itself. This idea of reallocating funding where police services have failed to aid community wellness, is at the centre of the “Defund the Police” movement.

Another recent example of funding for community health and wellness being allocated to furthering the police budget is in response to Josh Matlow and Kristyn Wong-Tam’s motion to Defund the Police by 10% along with a series of other community-based demands. The result (in terms of funding) was 50 Million dollars from the City of Toronto allocated to police for bodycams over the next 10 years.

Cheryl Prescod (Executive Director of the Black Creek Community Health Centre) weighed in on the connection between race, health and bloated police funding. These highly interrelated topics, has been widely brought to the mainstream media’s attention in large part thanks to the Black Lives Matter movement. Remarking on the movement’s response to initial criticisms leveled against them for organizing street protests during a COVID pandemic, Cheryl argues that their perspective is, “I’m not going to die of COVID. I’m going to die of racism,” says Prescod. “That’s much more of a threat to me than even COVID.”

Prescod and Paulos Gebreyesus (Regent Park Community Health Centre Executive Director) are two members of a Coalition of Black Health Leaders of the Alliance for Healthier Communities. The Alliance put out a statement further elaborating on the interconnections between health, policing and race.

“‘Good health’ is a product of access, social, cultural and economic factors. Similarly, structural and systemic inequalities are contributors to poor health outcomes.”

“Research continues to validate what our communities know from lived experience; the continuing legacy of anti-Black racism means that Black people experience disproportionately higher rates of poverty, poorer health outcomes and we are overrepresented in the criminal justice system.”

In a later statement, these Black Health Leaders in Toronto made the following suggestion (among others related to ethno-racial data collection):

“[We therefore demand] the collection and use of socio-demographic and race-based data in health and social services now as relates to COVID-19, and more expansively to inform overall health system planning and resource allocation.”

Cheryl explained to me that, “when COVID started [the Black Health Leader’s Coalition of the Alliance for Healthier Communities] were reading [the data] about people in the U.S. who are poor, black, Latino, living in shelters, living in precarious situations-- these were the people hardest hit and dying from COVID. We [have long known] that the same things are happening in our communities.”

Some of the figures from those American COVID-19 race-based statistics are as follows:

“Nationally, African-American deaths from COVID-19 are nearly two times greater than would be expected based on their share of the population. In four states, the rate is three or more times greater.”

“In 42 states plus Washington D.C., Hispanics/Latinos make up a greater share of confirmed cases than their share of the population. In eight states, it's more than four times greater.”

The city of Toronto itself has begun collecting race-based data (in part, in response to pressure from activists in Toronto fighting for health equity) and put out a statement on the City of Toronto website stating:

“There is growing evidence that racialized populations and low-income groups are more at risk of COVID-19. The reasons for this are unclear but could include; Existing health disparities linked to social and economic factors ; Stress caused by racism and other forms of discrimination; Challenges in participating in the public health response to COVID-19, including difficulties in limiting COVID-19 exposure because of being an essential worker, and difficulties in physical distancing because of overcrowding; [and finally], Inequitable access to health care and social services”

The City’s findings identified that Arab, Middle eastern, West Asian, Black, Latin American, South Asian, Indo Caribbean and South East Asians are overrepresented in the data in terms of the rate of COVID-19 cases among specific ethno-racial groups versus the overall COVID-19 rate for Toronto.

Whether or not one agrees with a full abolition of policing in Canada or a 50% redistribution of the 1.2 billion dollar gross operating budget for 2020 (plus part of the grants such as the 199 million dollars from the Ontario’s Ministry of the Solicitor General and the City of Toronto’s 50 million dollars for bodycams), or you don’t think the police budget should change at all, one thing is clear. Prevention, risk intervention and generally avoiding violent incident policing responses, are the way of the future, and nowhere is that of more urgent import than in racialized communities like Black Creek and Regent Park.

By Fabio Heredia-Caslins

(Fabio is a journalist with the FOCUS Media Arts Centre)