Reflecting on York’s new anti-Black racism framework and draft action plan

Vari Hall

On Feb. 24, York University released Addressing Anti-Black Racism: A Framework on Black Inclusion and the accompanying Draft Action Plan on Black Inclusion – For Further Consultation, two documents that will guide the University’s approach to combatting anti-Black racism, both on and off our campuses. The following Q-and-A offers reflections from Kairi Williams, associate director, Alumni Events, Division of Advancement and a member of the President’s Advisory Council on Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI). York community members are invited to provide feedback on these documents and attend the virtual town hall on Thursday, March 18.

Kairi Williams
Kairi Williams

Q: Last year, the deeply troubling police murders of unarmed Black people, including George Floyd, sparked mass protests and calls for strong actions to address anti-Black racism. Everyone processed this differently. How are you feeling today?

A: I feel a sense of clarity. Before last year’s events my engagement with anti-Black racism was almost exclusively with my family and friends who are Black. After George Floyd’s death I engaged in uncomfortable, challenging anti-Black racism work with friends and colleagues who don’t identify as Black. That clarity is a source of strength and focus.

I feel concern about the inevitable backlash to the initiatives in response to the strong calls to action against anti-Black racism. There are people who have been committed to this work for a lifetime, those who are just beginning and those who fear and oppose the work. We know from history much danger fear can provoke.

I feel continued and absolute empathy for the family and friends of those killed.

Q: Why do you think York University needs an Anti-Black Racism Framework and Action Plan?

A: Because anti-Black racism exists at York and ending it is our responsibility. In addition, the Framework and Action Plan are required in order to achieve the goals in the university academic plan and will allow us to demonstrate to other institutions how addressing anti-Black racism is done.

Q: How have you and other faculty members/students/staff members been able to help shape the Anti-Black Racism Framework and Action Plan during York’s consultation with Black community members?

A: I was so honoured to be offered the opportunity to be the divisional appointee for Advancement to the President’s EDI Council. Since joining, I’ve learned so much about this work, the institution and contributed input on how alumni and donors could align and support the objectives of the plan. 

Q: York has made a series of action-oriented commitments to address anti-Black Racism in its ABR Framework and Action Plan. Which of these commitments speak to you the most? Why?

A: All of the commitments are solid and those that speak most to me are the ones I can see myself and my division contributing to. Specifically, there are opportunities to involve the York U Alumni Board and recently formed York U Black Alumni Network to drive the plan’s objectives on representation, community engagement and decision making and accountability. In addition, the Advancement Division could contribute to the knowledge creation commitment in the form of events and scholarships.

Q: There have been a lot of commitments made to address anti-Black racism across the world, nation, locally and here at York University. Are you optimistic that this time is different?

A: Yes, I’m optimistic because “the toothpaste is out of the tube” – a witless expression but one of the best phrases I have heard to describe the change that has happened from within so many of us. In my case, for example, there is no going back to only talking to Black and racialized friends and family about racist experiences. I’m influencing my community and everyone has influence on the people around them. That influence along with organizations like ours that are redeveloping policies and plans all point towards progress. So, I’m optimistic and realistic because change takes a lifetime.

Q: Do you think York University’s Anti-Black Racism Framework and Action Plan addresses the issues at York?

A: Yes.

Q: What do you think is missing from the Anti-Black Racism Framework and Action Plan that would help make it more effective?

A: A single, big, bold vision like … we are going to eliminate anti-Black racism at York forever. Despite how unattainable that vision is, it could contribute to our ability to think big and overcome barriers.

Q: Reflecting on your experience in helping to shape the Anti-Black Racism Framework and Action Plan, what, from a personal viewpoint, has resonated the most for you?

A: The framework’s list of seven understandings has resonated with me. Specifically, “White supremacy is the root of anti-Black racism” and “Black liberation and Indigenous resurgence are different but inextricably linked.” I don’t recall seeing anti-racist/anti-oppression content articulated quite like this in any workplace in my career. From my perspective, it’s the clear, concise call-out about what this work is.