The Congress of Black Women of Canada (CBWC), Ajax/Pickering chapter committee continues to meet and plan future events despite COVID-19.
CBWC is a community-based organization, serving Black women and their families, since 1973, and was chaired and organized by Kathleen (Kay) Livingstone.
CBWC was developed under the Canadian Negro Women’s Association in 1951, which was located in Toronto and also founded by Livingstone.
CBWC started as a large national chapter organization in Vancouver, B.C. and was separated to be available in more cities and towns. There is still a chapter in Manitoba, and some presence in Vancouver, however, Ontario has the most chapters in the organization.
Loris Thomas, regional representative of the eight chapters across Ontario, has been part of the Mississauga chapter for about 20 years.
“My responsibilities [are] to coordinate activities amongst the chapters… find the commonality with the chapters and ensure that we’re operating as one accord… while working with the mission and division of Kay Livingstone,” says Thomas.
Ajax/Pickering became a chapter in 1996 and since then, the committee has volunteered its time to plan free health and financial advice for adults, and Caribbean cultural programs, and scholarships for children.
“The types of programs we deliver, change every year, but that’s always a staple,” says Kira Ross, vice-president of the Ajax/Pickering chapter.
Ross has been with the Congress for about a decade and after a few years, she was nominated to be the vice-president.
“There was support there and confidence… it’s amazing,” says Ross.
The chapter recently wrapped up its ‘Online/Computer Training for Seniors,’ in late October through Zoom.
“That helps them learn a bit about computer, technology, internet, how to do things online… a lot of them just got email addresses through the program,” says Ross.
The chapter had success at hosting this virtual event due to government grants offered for seniors’ programs.
“Doing things virtually really cuts down the cost [with] renting and things like that,” says Ross.
“We also have some iPads donated from the Pickering library as well and we were able to deliver those to the seniors… that’s what they used as their technology [for the program].”
Although Ross didn’t participate in this program, she says it will benefit seniors to learn how to navigate technology through COVID-19 and feel confident using email to connect with other family members.
“We [had] 100 per cent attendance rate, they showed up every week for the entire hour… they seem to be very grateful,” says Ross. Due to the success of the program, they are planning another session soon.
The chapter also managed to partner up with the Pickering library and have a discussion forum on anti-Black racism through Zoom.
Because of COVID-19, some events at the chapter had to be cancelled such as a fundraising dance and bus trip and their annual scholarship awards and brunch.
“That was part of their overall vision for the [Ajax/Pickering] chapter to provide scholarships along with other things they deliver,” says Ross.
The candidates would fill out the application and the Congress members shortlist them and are looked at based on grades, and if they are attending post-secondary in the fall. This can be a mature student or someone finishing high school, but they must identify as Black.
“[We] have a 15 to 20-minute interview with the potential awardees,” says Thomas.
Congress members have a meeting to decide who will win the scholarships.
“The scholarship awards help[s] families be able to, alleviate some of the financial pressure that post-secondary education pose,” says Ross.
CBWC has been able to select three winners for this year’s scholarship awards.
The congress is planning other events for the upcoming months.
“We do plan to offer some mental health workshops starting around February or March and we’re going to be starting out with a survey to the community,” says Thomas.
Adds Ross: “When I think us just reaching out to [the] community, at large is benefiting the black woman.”