February 5, 2020 marked the first annual Resilience Through Adversity workshop organized by the Equity and Diversity Office at UTM as a Black History Month event. The event was hosted in partnership with the UTM Career Centre, the Centre for Student Engagement, and Connections & Conversations, and was intended to be an interactive workshop where Black youth could receive advice from experienced Black professionals regarding how to handle racism in professional settings. The event also offered opportunities to network with professionals and learn strategies to combat “racialized micro-aggressions in the workplace and academia.”
The evening began with an opening address that consisted of a land acknowledgement, a shout-out to all the organizers, and the singing of the Black national anthem. There was then an empowering speech given by Jodie Glean-Mitchell. Mitchell, who is in the process of completing a Ph.D. in education at York University, currently serves as the director of the Antiracism and Cultural Diversity office at the University of Toronto. She quickly established a sense of community in the room by referring to the event as a “family meeting.” Her speech discussed how to deconstruct the definition of racism, source resilience, and encourage restorative practices.
As Mitchell stated, racism is a “system of beliefs.” Conventionally, the systemic nature of racism is perceived as institutions, laws, and policies. However, as Mitchell argued, the intuitions, laws, and policies were born from a belief system that race is hierarchical and that some races are superior to others. If systems which perpetuate racism, such as the judicial system, are difficult to infiltrate, then the belief system from which they came is even harder to overthrow. Mitchell also talked about resilience, which she said most is a trait that most assume develops over time. Mitchell however argued that “we are born resilient.” Therefore, countering adversity requires those who face it to channel their innate resilience. One of those restorative practices, she advised, is “knowing your worth” and then ensuring others honor it—a statement which evoked applause from the crowd.
Following Mitchell’s speech were the breakout sessions. Attendees were assigned to different tables, with a facilitator at each table. The facilitators were UTM coordinators, bank managers, and other Black professionals, all of whom were candid in sharing their past experiences. The facilitators asked students to describe their harshest encounters with racism and then shared their own. Upon being asked why they were willing to share their personal experiences, a facilitator, who wishes to remain anonymous, emphasized the importance of addressing topics which “are the elephant[s] in the room” as it assigns “tangibility to [the issues] instead of making them seem so ambiguous.” Martina Douglas, the program coordinator at the Equity and Diversity Office, championed the interactive structure of the event and the formation of small groups since “sometimes folks are not really comfortable with sharing” in large groups and the Black community has “become so accustomed to … having folks lecture to them.”
A recurring theme throughout the event was recognizing the discomfort Black people feel towards calling out microaggressions and discrimination. It was clear that racist behaviour targeted towards Black individuals is often kept private. However, Mitchell, Douglas, and the other facilitators implored Black students to refuse to surrender to discrimination regardless of any possible repercussions. All in all, the Resiliency through Adversity event was a safe space for attendees to share their past experiences and learn about how to combat racism prevalent in the workforce and academia.