Before the discussion about City support for a community sports and mentoring group veered off into a dialogue about systemic racism, Shak Edwards of Shak’s World briefed city council about her organization and the local groups wanting to partner with it, including the Barrie Police Service.
Edwards is hoping to secure $42,000 in funding from the City to operate a community centre at 59-A Maple Avenue, the site of the former Barrie Youth Centre. At the Aug. 17 council meeting, Mayor Jeff Lehman introduced a motion to provide the funding, foregoing the usual process that includes a staff report with details, analysis, and options for council to consider and debate.
“The process is unusual and I apologize that the motion … had to come forward in this way, but there really wasn’t any choice because of our timing. This opportunity presented itself after the final meeting of the spring session. Ms Edwards has the opportunity to run her camps this year, and that is why we are in the unusual position (of deciding) whether we would support them through a direct motion,” said Lehman.
Council won’t meet again until September, but the majority of councillors expressed unease about providing the funding without going through the regular process.
Despite the mayor’s misgivings about waiting, council eventually adopted a new motion calling on staff to meet with Shak’s World, a local non-profit, to identify opportunities, including the leasing of 59-A Maple Avenue, and report back to general committee in September.
As presented to council, if approved the funding (for a year’s operation) would help set up the location as the Shak’s World Community Centre, a hub for programming that could include a Canadian Mental Health Association (CHMA) drop-in site, a junior police academy, a Black youth night with the Barrie Police Service, a junior NBA program, a scholarly elite tutoring service, Shak’s World’S basketball program, and a Youth Haven community-integration program.
“The junior police academy is something that the Barrie police and Shak’s World have worked (on) together over the past few weeks, and Barrie police would like to teach the youth of Simcoe County what it means to be a police officer … and they would like the opportunity to learn from youth in this community what they experience when they are dealing with the police,” Edwards told council.
“We have the Barrie police also wanting to do a Black youth night with marginalized youth of Simcoe County; that would be ages 13-18 in collaboration with the police. They are hoping to fund this program and spend more time with the marginalized youth in this community.
A program hub at 59-A Maple could open the door to Raptors becoming a community partner: Edwards
Edwards continued that her group could begin the programs immediately once they had a secure space.
“Having a hub for all of (these programs) would be incredible,” she said, allowing for the hosting of different workshops, and different topics for parents and children. It would also open the door for the Raptors to become an official community partner.
“We are hoping with this space that we could bring them into the community as a larger community partner.”
Shak’s World’s mission, she said, is to bring awareness to youth mental health through sports, mentorship, and community. Its principles are respect, integrity, discipline, and accountability. Edwards is the founder and president of the ‘stay humble and kind world.’ She was raised in Innisfil, graduating from Alcona Glen Elementary and Nantyr Shores Secondary.
“So I have a really good idea of how all of the systems work for youth in Simcoe County, especially marginalized youth.”
Her background in the area is extensive, and includes being a CTV Barrie athlete of the week and a youth mentor for the Innisfil Community Church. Her path eventually led to college where she studied psychology and behavioural science and “learned about the connection between sport and mental health.”
After her studies, she returned to Innisfil to launch its first recreational basketball program, in partnership with the township.
“We have evolved from coaching. When I started coaching, I was 14 and coached house league and summer camps. I went on to college and began facilitating my own summer camps … where I learned a little bit of the background and also … becoming a role model and mentor for kids.”
She later started Elite Academy Basketball “where we trained athletes here in Barrie to strengthen their minds and bodies, as well as showcase the talent that we have (locally). They did not have the same opportunity here as in the GTA when it came to basketball.”
What came out of that, she added, was a recognition that many families were concerned about mental health.
“In 2017, we held our very first youth mental health awareness basketball tournament, that we hold annually here in Barrie, and the proceeds from that go to the Canadian Mental Health Association to further their programming … something that we have noted is that the mental health concerns in our community are on the rise (and) we are hoping that we can fill the gap and give youth better access to local supports.”
The space on Maple Avenue, said Edwards, already has a basketball court, facilities for mentorship and classrooms, and offers “the opportunity to do so much and bring so many different organizations together and give our youth a chance.” Its ongoing financial plan includes community rentals, workshops/clinics, camps, grants, and community supports.
Although clearly impressed with both Edwards and her concept, council felt uncomfortable moving forward without first getting a staff report.
“There’s just no question that we should be doing everything we can to bring her and her programming into our community. I will say in defence of the 59-A Maple space, that was the Barrie Youth Centre. It was a City of Barrie facility, fit out as a gym by the City, and from that investment … we now have the opportunity to use (the site) again for a youth centre, but this time geared towards the needs, in particular, of the Black community in Barrie,” said Lehman.
“Every week she is delayed is a missed opportunity … the core work that Shak’s World does is a need in our community and an opportunity for us to get behind this incredibly inspiring young member of our community.”
Ward 9 councillor Sergio Morales wondered if other City facilities, including recreation centres, could meet the needs of Shak’s World. Edwards replied that she has approached recreation centres in the past to try and partner with them, but “they just don’t see where my program is helpful, and I think it’s a community-based program that’s trying to fight a root cause as opposed to a recreation program.”
Securing their own location will provide the opportunity to fully provide services, said Edwards, and also give youth, especially marginalized youth, the opportunity to find resources, mentoring, and other needs all in one space.
“Being someone who grew up in Simcoe County, I know what it is like to be marginalized and not (have) access to resources or where to find those resources. I think and I believe that the community would believe that this is an important place to have just so people don’t have to go searching … they can go to one space for mental health, community, mentorship (and more),” she said.
She asked council to consider what Barrie will be like in five years, saying a program like Shak’s World will be important as the city grows and becomes more diversified. “This space is going to be needed. We should have it now, not when they get here.”
Aylwin ‘disappointed and saddened’ by decision, talks of systemic racism
Council took a break and went into planning committee, where they discussed the proposed development for the old fairgrounds/racetrack site. Ward 2 councillor Keenan Aylwin spoke when council resumed. He said he was “disappointed and saddened” by council’s decision not to support the original motion and grant the funding to Shak’s World.
“But I think this is also a great learning opportunity for all of us about the broader issues … at the forefront of some of the big conversations happening in our city and around the world,” he continued.
“Systemic racism, what is that? We know of individual racism, when someone is hateful to another or holds hateful views, but what is systemic racism? Systemic racism is racism that is pervasive throughout a system, so that could be a corporation, it could be a schooling system, it could be a municipal government, and sometimes these forms of systemic racism aren’t readily obvious to those looking in, especially those who are privileged by the system …”
At that point Morales jumped in with an objection.
“Point of order Mayor Lehman, the member of council is implying that council is racist to Shak. This is ridiculous.”
The mayor responded by saying he “didn’t hear the member of council accuse council of being racist. I understand … that remarks are starting to be targeted at council and not the motion on the floor, so councillor Aylwin you are addressing an incredibly important issue, so please go ahead, but please address the motion on the floor.”
Aylwin continued by saying Shak’s World is reputable, has a strong track record in the community, with strong partners, and that there is an immediate need for its programming. He also questioned council’s rationale in approving $42,000 for temporary parking signage to discourage congestion along the waterfront, but not a similar amount for Shak’s World.
“I hope all of us can do some thinking around the table about what systemic racism is and how it plays out in our lives, and how we all might be responsible for it. I know I sound like I am lecturing but this is what these conversations are about. They are uncomfortable, they are difficult. I hope we would take a good hard look at what we are doing tonight, and ask why we feel comfortable delaying this until mid-September when there is a need right now.”
Ward 6 councillor Natalie Harris responded by saying she doesn’t think that anyone on council disagrees that there is systemic racism “and I don’t think that anyone on council is not interested genuinely in pursuing this program.” It was her understanding, she said, that council was going to see the presentation, and the motion to approve the funding was presented around 6:30 the night of the meeting.
“We didn’t have any time to even consider that this was going to be a motion on the floor … but it’s a motion without notice that absolutely deserves due process,” she said.
“And I don’t think it is in the same category as funding the parking signs that we needed for topics surrounding the beaches that we’ve had all summer long. I feel mad, actually, that this implies that we have a problem with this program when we are literally just wanting time to have some answers to questions that we have that are valid. It has nothing to with whether we agree or disagree with the topic of systemic racism.”
Ward 4 councillor Barry Ward added that process is important.
“I’d like to point out that we gave out about $100,000 in arts grants this year and we require a lot of (details). Some of these groups are asking for $1,000, and we are asking them to provide us with (a lot of information).”
The matter is expected to come back to council in September. See the full discussion here.