Black History Month Kerin John

GO Transit Celebrates Black History

Published: Mar 9, 2023

The diversity within the Greater Golden Horseshoe is its greatest strength! We’re proud to serve a region that represents so many different cultures, and we are thrilled to celebrate the contributions that local Black people have made to all of our communities and society as a whole.

Black History Month 2023 - Journey To Equity

Our theme for Black History Month 2023 is Journey To Equity. This year, we reflect on the progress that has been made towards racial equity, and we focus on the future and the work that still needs to be done as we continue on this journey.

This month, we’re highlighting Black individuals within the Greater Toronto area who are strong leaders in the Journey to Equality in their respective industries. We recognize the importance of having Black leaders in all community sectors in order to further equality, equitable access, and understanding the specific needs within the Black community.

The journey of a thousand miles might begin with a single step, but these people from the Black community are taking long strides and working to reach the destination of equity as soon as possible.

Cheyenne Sundance - Micro Farming & Growers

Equitable access to nutrient-dense foods is a fundamental step on the Journey to Equity. Cheyenne Sundance wanted to find a way to put the power of growing food directly into the hands of historically marginalized communities, so she founded Sundance Harvest, an urban farm near Downsview Park that focuses on food justice.

With a firm belief that unpaid internships are exploitative to the workers and a gatekeeper for those who can’t afford to work for free, Sundance created Growing In The Margins. Growing In The Margins is a free 12-week mentorship program for low-income youth in marginalized communities (BIPOC, 2SLGBTQIA+, and youth with disabilities). The program teaches youth the skills to grow food and how they can pursue careers in the agricultural space.

Cheyenne is a fierce advocate for eliminating the barriers that prevent Black and other marginalized individuals from becoming farmers. Her past experiences showed her the inherent racial bias within the farming industry.

In an interview with Now Toronto, Sundance pointed out that, “Oftentimes BIPOC farmers are turned away [from farmer’s markets in Toronto] because they’re told their presence would be stealing customers from more established white farmers.”

Cheyenne has proved herself to be an example to all marginalized young people that farming can and should be an option for everyone. She has expanded Sundance Harvest from one farm to three in just a few years, and almost half of the participants of Growing In The Margins are now working in the urban agriculture industry. She is committed to her role as an educator and facilitates programs for community organizations on food security.

The Ontario Living Wage Network recently certified Sundance Harvest as a living wage employer. You can support this fantastic business, and enjoy delicious produce, by signing up for the Sundance Harvest CSA!

Greg and Coleen Birkett - Education

Creating an inclusive educational experience is crucial to the Journey to Equity. Currently, there is a lack of Black representation in the curriculum, but siblings Greg and Coleen Birkett are tackling this issue head-on.

The Birketts are both teachers for the Toronto District School Board and they are committed to making Black History an integrated part of the daily curriculum. While Black History Month is a great opportunity to highlight achievements and significant events in the history of the Black community, Greg and Coleen Birkett stress that it is also vital to ensure that the complete story of Canada’s history is taught year-round — and the Black community is part of that history.

When speaking with the National Observer, Greg Birkett pointed out that Black men fought in the War of 1812 and both World Wars, yet that’s generally not mentioned when those historical events are taught to young people in school. The Birketts want to change this and ensure that all students learn about the role of the Black community within Canadian history, and especially that Black students see themselves and their experiences represented in the daily curriculum and become more engaged in their education.

The Birkett duo recognizes that part of the problem is that many teachers are not familiar with Black history in Canada themselves, and so they feel uncomfortable trying to teach it. To overcome this barrier, the Birkett siblings partnered with Nelson Education to create the webinar series See Us, Learn Us: Teaching About the Black Canadian Experience. The series aims “to provide educators and administrators with the historical foundation to address and unpack the current realities of the Black Canadian experience.”

In an interview with CBC Canada, Greg Birkett said, “If Black history is a common thread from kindergarten through Grade 12, students understand that it's just a part of the Canadian narrative. It's just a part of our fabric and who we are."

Metrolinx is excited to be creating an opportunity for the Birkett teachers to take students to visit historical sites along our transit routes and explain their historical significance within the framework of the Black experience.

Taylor Lindsay-Noel - BBPA Selectee

Taylor Lindsay-Noel was a 14-year-old Canadian National Gymnast, with her eyes set on representing Canada in the Olympics, when an accident during training left her paralyzed from the neck down. It was a life-altering event, but when gymnastics was no longer an option, Taylor found other interests and didn’t lose any of her motivation.

After completing university, she created a podcast called “Tea Time with Tay”, during which she would chat with influencers over tea. Unable to secure a big-name tea sponsor for the show, Lindsay-Noel decided to try creating her own blend of tea and Cup of Té was born.

Per her business Instagram account, Taylor describes Cup of Té as “Luxe loose leaf teas curated from across the globe & delivered to you.” The shift to more online shopping during the pandemic, and the increased focus on supporting Black-owned businesses as part of the Black Lives Matter movement, both helped bring attention to Cup of Té. But when Taylor’s business was included on Oprah’s Favourite Things List in 2020, Cup of Té’s popularity exploded.

In addition to running Cup of Té, Taylor Lindsay-Noel is also a motivational speaker, a disability advocate, a council member of the Premier’s Council on Equality of Opportunity, and the 2021 BBPA Young Entrepreneur Award Winner!

Kerin John - Business

It started as a desire to focus more of her own spending on supporting Black-owned businesses. In an interview with the Toronto Star, Kerin John said, “I realized, as a consumer, I wasn’t putting enough dollars into my own community.” She also found that it wasn’t easy to search online for local Black-owned businesses — so she set out to change that.

First, John started an Instagram account called Black Owned Toronto, and featured local Black-owned businesses. It served as an online directory that made it simple for anyone to find out where to shop and support Black business owners. When the Black Lives Matter movement took off, following the death of George Floyd, John’s Instagram account went viral.

Now, Black Owned TO is an online store that makes it accessible for more people to buy from Black-owned businesses in the GTA and across Canada. Many small businesses struggled to survive during the pandemic, and John’s virtual store made it possible for local Black-owned businesses to easily venture into the online marketplace.

Kerin has also opened a storefront location in the Scarborough Town Centre for those who want to shop local and in-person. Businesses can book their own pop up events in the Black Owned Toronto space.

This month, Black Owned Toronto will have a pop up shop in Union Station. We’re excited that many of our riders will have the opportunity to easily access and support John’s business.

Continuing the Journey To Equity

As an organization, GO Transit is committed to participating in the Journey to Equity, and we strive to make transit accessible to everyone with our extensive network and our affordable fare options.

However, we know that the Journey to Equity is ongoing, and we continue to listen, learn, and look for ways to reach this destination together.