Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Black History in Metro Vancouver - Joe Fortes. Overcoming Systemic Racism.

Joe Fortes. Source: Wikipedia

Yesterday, I posted about my experiences with racism growing up in BC, and how there is systemic racism in our province. One of the points that I noted was the razing of Hogan’s Alley which was a Black neighbourhood in Vancouver.

One person left a comment on my page stating that they did not know about this history. Black people have been in Metro Vancouver throughout its colonial history.

If you’ve been to English Bay, you might have seen the name Joe Fortes.

The following experts are from The History of Metropolitan Vancouver:

Seraphim “Joe” Fortes arrived in Vancouver [in 1885], aged about 20 (he was Barbados-born), as a crewman aboard the Robert Kerr. He jumped ship to settle here and, being an excellent swimmer, began to teach local people, especially kids.

[On February 4th, 1922], Joe Fortes, celebrated English Bay lifeguard, died, aged about 57. His funeral at Holy Rosary Cathedral was the most heavily attended in Vancouver history to that time, with thousands outside the packed church. A small fact about Joe that stays with you: he had, for all his life, one small well-thumbed book by his bed, apparently the only book he ever read: The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis… Credited with more than 100 rescues, in 1986 Fortes will be named “Citizen of the Century” by the Vancouver Historical Society.

The "Joe" Fortes Memorial Fountain is in Alexandra Park near English Bay. A branch of the Vancouver Public Library is named in his honour.

To learn more about Joe Fortes, read his entry on Wikipedia.

Systemic racism is when policies and practices are entrenched in institutions like government, police services, schools, and workplaces that lead to groups of people being disadvantaged. This is different than individual racism.

This is how one of Vancouver’s most celebrated persons could be Black while at the same time the City of Vancouver could move forward with bulldozing a Black neighbourhood.

It is important to identify and eliminate these policies.

A good example of how to identify and eliminate these policies is happening at the Metro Vancouver Regional District as it updates the Regional Growth Strategy. This strategy contains biased polices which is why it is now going through a thorough review as part of the “Social Equity in Regional Growth Management” initiative.

Government policies are written by people, and we all have our own internal biases. By have these policies reviewed through a social equity lens, we can identify and reduce these biases.

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