Organizers behind a new activity centre slated to open this weekend hope to bring community members together, no matter their race.
The Blacks For All Races (BFAR) Activity Centre, located in the Barrie by the Bay building at 80 Bradford St., Suites 127 and 134, is celebrating its official grand opening Saturday, Sept. 24 beginning at 4 p.m.
Daniel Abiodun, one of five BFAR executive members tasked with finding ways to promote the Black culture as inclusive and while enriching other races with their cultural heritage, said the centre is meant to be a place that will help empower the Black community while also bringing together people of all races and backgrounds.
“We have been trying to come up with a community initiative that would speak to empowering the Black people in the community," he said. "While we are doing that, we also want to be able to use the opportunity to reach out to other races and the whole community and then try and showcase our culture, all in a bid to ensure everybody is getting along in the best way possible.”
Abiodun said the impetus for creating BFAR began in 2018 after the death of Olando Brown, who died in police custody following his June 22, 2018 arrest. The Special Investigations Unit (SIU) determined Brown died due to an airway obstruction after ingesting two drug-filled, "golf ball-sized" plastic bags that he had attempted to swallow during a search at the former Barrie police headquarters on Sperling Drive.
“The Black community came together because the facts leading up to that event led to some distrust, so we thought it would be good and fundamental to come back and see how we can improve relationships between the Black community and Barrie police,” Abiodun told BarrieToday. “There was a rally that a lot of people came out for and after the rally, we came up with a lot of ideas of how we can empower the Black community and help with the delivery of social services, help with employment related issues, that sort of thing.
"We decided the best way to be able to do this was to have an activity centre," he added.
The centre is open to all members of the community, said Abiodun, adding the goal is for the space for people to come together and socialize while creating the opportunity for a better community. The project is also meant as a way to empower Black people while also using it as an avenue to bring all races together under one roof.
The centre will be open Tuesdays and Fridays from 3-7 p.m., and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
The primary address in Suite 127, Abiodun's paralegal office, will also provide advice and support to community members experiencing racial injustice arising from systemic and institutionalized racism, discrimination, harassment, preferential and differential treatments, biases in all areas of employment, housing, health care, constitutional rights, Human Rights Code violation matters, etc.
Officials says the secondary address, in Suite 134, features 15 computer workstations and free wifi, which will be accessible at no cost to members of the Black community to interact, socialize, gather information, conduct job searches, housing searches or apply to schools.
The secondary address will also have after-school programs designed to coach and support school-aged children of Black descent along with their friends from other cultures. The Activity Centre will also cater to the needs of Black immigrants, international students and other newcomers to the Simcoe County area or who may be new to Canada and are of black descent.
Abiodun told BarrieToday the Activity Centre was able to secure a government grant to help cover the cost of purchasing some of the equipment.
“The government is in support of us and that’s the beautiful thing," he said. "There’s no way we’d have all of this without the government grant. After the death of George Floyd in Minnesota in 2020, the federal government came up with this fund that was directed mainly to empower the Black community. Our organization applied and were vetted and now with that grant we can do a lot of good.”
BFAR members say they are looking forward to Saturday’s grand opening and welcoming the community to come check out the centre.
“This is just about empowering people as much as we can. This program is not limited. That’s why we are called Black Community For All Races… (because) we are not limiting our programs for just Blacks. It’s an encompassing program. My kids have a lot of friends who are Caucasian and they are going to be bringing them to the Activity Centre.
"We want to have a forum where all the cultures can intermingle and be in a peaceful, loving environment — that’s our goal.”