A year later, building community to challenge systemic racism

By Jennifer Grant

When George Floyd was murdered by police one year ago, it brought the realities of anti-Black racism into stark focus for many people. However, for those of us in the Black community, his death was another tragic reminder of the perils many of us face and the failure of systems to address the legacy of systemic racism. 

At the time, I had white friends call me in disbelief about what had happened. But I did not have the energy for the conversations, I was frustrated, fatigued, and frankly I was angry. These conversations were not new to me, I had been having them for years. My community had been having them for decades, and these were not conversations whispered in corners. So many of us had been yelling loudly that these systemic injustices were happening, that they were violent, they were life altering, they were real, and we needed change…now.  

Jennifer Grant

A year later, as I begin a new role as Director of Anti-Racism, Equity and Human Rights Services at George Brown College, I find myself thinking more about how we create real and substantive change in the systems that surround us and how we do that…now. I, like many others watched the trial of the former police officer who murdered George Floyd, and though I found myself exhaling when the guilty verdict was read, it did not feel like justice, though I knew it was progress. It did not feel like transformation, though I knew there had been change, and this too left me thinking. As leaders, how do we address this tension between the urgent need for transformation and the incrementalism of meaningful change? How do we respond to the outcry for action and avoid being irresponsibly reactive? How can we be thoughtful, purposeful, and immediate?  

At George Brown, we are on a journey that requires us to reckon with these questions. We have made commitments to ensuring anti-racism work is a strategic priority. Our strategy focuses on increasing awareness and understanding of anti-racism, building systems and structures to challenge racism, and increasing representation and engagement of Black, Indigenous, and racialized employees and students. These commitments require bold and sustainable actions. We know this change is urgent and yet we also know implementation takes time. I believe that one important remedy to this tension is building community. By establishing an Anti-Racism and Equity Advisory Committee that represents employees and students we ensure that we remain accountable to our community and that our efforts are guided by and rooted in their needs and priorities.  

But for systemic change to occur, to create a truly anti-racist organization, we need more than relationships. We need everyone’s participation and action.

Each of us must see ourselves as agents of change. Each of us must wrestle with questions, learn more, do more. At George Brown, we recognize that there is a strong relationship between our knowledge and actions. Prioritizing training and education, particularly within leadership assures that our change efforts are grounded in anti-racist principles and frameworks. We not only want to do the right things, but we also want to do those things right. 

This past year has been a difficult one. So much of what we have seen and experienced has revealed the cost of systemic racism. It is a cost that we can no longer bear. However, this past year has also created momentum towards change like I have not seen in my lifetime. I believe this is an opportunity for us to come together, to truly join in this work. I believe if we do, the change we so desperately need will come. In the spirit of community, I invite you to join me on this journey.  

Read more on George Brown College's Thought Leadership blog.

As Director of Anti-Racism, Equity and Human Rights Services at George Brown College, Jennifer Grant is supporting the delivery of the college’s anti-racism efforts, as well as the crucial work of our Anti-Racism and Equity Advisory Committee.