It’s been just over a year since the murder of George Floyd – an unarmed black man who died at the hands of a police officer on May 25, 2020, in Minnesota. I think it’s important to note this event because the graphic nature of the video captured by a teenaged girl triggered the global outrage, protest and passion that fueled many conversations and actions over the past year. It led to the creation of many Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) roles at major organizations, and pledges to support black-owned businesses. In fact, it led to the startup of the Whitby Chamber of Commerce Diversity Equity and Inclusion Committee and many others like it.
My hope is that we keep the same energy for years to come – the outrage at anti-black racism, the anger about the despicable state of race relations in the world, and the passion and commitment to do something about it.
Whitby Chamber of Commerce CEO, Natalie Prychitko, reached out to me and several other business and community leaders to see if we would be interested in being a part of a DEI committee. The idea being that the Chamber needed to better reflect the diverse nature of local business leaders, their employees and the community at large – providing useful resources to its membership in a fast-changing social environment.
I agreed to join the committee with the condition that it had to make a difference rather than simply check a box. Natalie agreed that we would absolutely be focused on action, and she has stayed true to her word. Now as Chair of the DEI committee, I too share in this responsibility.
Over the past year we’ve built a team of dedicated volunteer committee members who hail from a wide range of backgrounds, identities, work experiences and lived experiences. Our committee members have given many hours of their time to help build a solid DEI foundation for the Chamber for years to come.
The purpose of the committee is to be a catalyst in our business community, fostering and institutionalizing policies, practices and strategies to support and accelerate DEI goals within it. We’ve built a workplan that has articulated action items that support our efforts to better recognize, support, celebrate and amplify the voices of underrepresented groups in the Whitby business community.
Perhaps our biggest achievement to date has been the hosting of the Chamber’s first-ever Black History Month event in February 2021 which attracted speakers and guests from across Canada. Due to the recommendation of the DEI committee and the inaugural event’s success, the BHM event has been elevated to one of the Chamber’s signature events which means greater exposure, attention and sponsorship opportunities.
While we believe this is a strong start, there’s so much more to do. I want to thank Natalie for inviting me to be a part of the DEI committee and I’d like to thank our amazing group of volunteers for their time, knowledge and willingness to give of themselves. While I’ve shared my work and lived experiences as a part of this journey, I can honestly say I’ve gained so much more from the incredible team of smart, driven, fun and passionate people on our DEI committee.
I would encourage anyone to get involved however you can, whether you’re at school, work or play – systemic racism, homophobia, inequity and lack of representation permeate all aspects of life. You can make a difference within your own sphere of influence.
Diversity is a gift that allows us to enrich our lives, and to learn about people and experiences that are different from our own. It’s an important time to listen, particularly to people who haven’t had a platform or voice in the past because of who they are or where they’re from. Perhaps just as important is unlearning many of our ways of thinking, including the language we use, recognizing that many of the structures in place were borne out of systemic racism, sexism and homophobia. Unlearning isn’t easy – it will take practice and it can feel overwhelming. But keep trying, keep listening, keep learning and keep growing.
Tricia Williams, Managing Partner & Client Success Leader, geekspeak Commerce and Diversity Equity and Inclusion Committee, Chair