Towards Understanding and Acceptance
Unite Against Hate is helping locals learn Black history 365 days a year.
Celeste Percy-Bearegard, February 06, 2023 // Brantford, Ontario Amanda Mersereau, co-founder of Unite Against Hate. Photo credit Geoff Fitzgerald.
DISCLAIMER: THOUGH AMANDA MERSEREAU AND CHRIS GEORGE ARE ALSO THE PUBLISHERS OF BTOWN, THE BTOWN CONTRIBUTORS UNANIMOUSLY VOTED THAT THE STORY OF UNITE AGAINST HATE IS AN IMPORTANT ONE TO TELL. WE ARE GRATEFUL FOR THEIR SUPPORT AND THE CARE THEY TOOK INTO CRAFTING THIS ARTICLE.
Amanda Mersereau and Sarah Clarke are “nerding out” over their research findings. “We were so excited when we found this,” says Amanda, of their discovery that Brantford local, Blanche Williams, was the first Black woman accepted to attend University of Toronto lectures.
“That was just by chance. That was literally typing ‘Brantford’ in a Black History Newspaper Archive, and that popped up,” says Sarah. “It's incredibly inspiring,” Amanda adds, “She was a high school student at Brantford Collegiate Institute (BCI), and I've recently learned that BCI used to be where Central Public School is. So my kids currently attend school on the exact coordinates where Blanche Williams would have attended school!”
Amanda Mersereau and Sarah Clarke work together researching Brantford's Black History. Photo credit Geoff Fitzgerald.
After hearing Sarah, a local North American Historic Archaeologist, speak at a virtual town hall, Amanda thought, “She sounds like someone I want to talk to!” Sarah, who began researching Brantford Black History around 2008, adds, “The fact that I was able to actually do something with some of the research [I had], and have it go somewhere and help something – it’s awesome, because I'm going to just nerd away anyway!”
Moved by the murder of George Floyd, Amanda started Unite Against Hate (UAH) in June of 2020, along with Chris George. “There's nothing [else] here in Brantford that really has this focus,” she says. “We didn't really know exactly how we were going to reach the community, and it just kind of ended up being through the lens of education, which I think is a very important first step towards understanding and acceptance.”
Combing through the work of local historians, like Ruth Lefler and Heather Ibbotson, newspaper archives, and the web, they’ve built their findings into interactive education modules for youth, which connect to Grand Erie District School Board’s current curriculum in multiple subject areas, and will be distributed through local schools. (They’re also available as a free PDF download on the UAH site!)
Some of the projects Unite Against Hate has been involved in. Staff photos plus photo credit Geoff Fitzgerald.
While Black History curricula typically focuses on well-known international figures like Martin Luther King Jr., the UAH initiatives spotlight, “What's right around you,” says Amanda. Sarah likens it to when her daughter’s school announced they were supporting the Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Fund for the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. “That's fantastic!” Sarah responded, “But what about the Residential School that is right in our community? You have survivors that live in the community.”
It’s not the first time UAH materials have been used as learning tools in schools – previous curriculum included their call-to-action video, featuring local Black business-owners, a tie-in to the growing Black-Owned Business List on their website. UAH collaborator, Angel Panag, initially connected with Amanda to add a friend’s business to the list. “I remember seeing their content and feeling both shock and pure joy at the fact that a local campaign like UAH existed - and wanted to know what I could do to help out,” he says.
Since then, Angel’s involvement has included helping to tell stories of local historical Black figures, as well as advocacy, like successfully campaigning for the reinstatement of the “Bunnell’s Landing” sign (stolen many years ago and until then, never replaced), that commemorated the local Black community in Cainsville.
“We can focus on the problems, or we can recognize the problems and work on creating solutions - and that’s exactly what Amanda did with this,” he says, “I hope that we can help make Brantford a safe and happy place for all people to live in, regardless of who they are or where they come from.”
To help with this, UAH provides a space on their website, where folks can anonymously report a hate crime, for data-collection purposes. “We're trying to track to see what neighbourhoods there are the most incidents in, and our plan is to present it to people who can make change, such as council and school boards, [because] a lot of them are actually happening in schools,” says Amanda.
Unite Against Hate has many events planned throughout February for Black History Month. Photo credit Geoff Fitzgerald.
It’s why something like the “Black Lives Matter” billboard at 330 West St., designed by UAH and funded by an anonymous donor, is an important beacon in our city. “I've had people come to me saying, ‘I moved to this city because I saw that billboard,’” says Amanda – although it hasn’t all been positive response. “We’ve been cyber harassed,” says Amanda, “About the billboard, about everything,” which Sarah points out, “Shows where further education and work needs to be done.”
For folks wanting to educate themselves on the Black experience, young writer Destiny Pitters’ thoughtful and informative articles on the UAH site are an excellent place to start. Or, consider borrowing a book from UAH’s Social Justice Library, a growing collection of works about local, national and international Black history, “As well as titles by my Black heroes,” says Amanda, who continues to add new educational offerings to UAH.
“Hope for our collective future is in the hands, hearts and minds of our youth,” she says, “It's our responsibility to equip them with the skills and knowledge to continue down the path towards an equitable and just world.”
As part of their programming for Black History Month, Unite Against Hate has invited Tracy Cain, the descendant of some of the earliest freedom-seekers in Brantford(!), and Kojo Damptey, who co-chaired the Hamilton Center for Civic inclusion, to speak on February 10, in partnership with Laurier University.
The following evening they’re presenting a concert featuring Burner, Ashlee Schatze and a “Super Huge Secret Band” at Two Doors Down.
For more information about the first Speaker Series Event or Concert, follow Unite Against Hate on Instagram HERE and Facebook HERE. To view and learn more about Unite Against Hate resources, visit their website HERE.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Celeste Percy-Beauregard’s first form of storytelling was as an actor, and her eager curiosity and interest in a variety of subjects led her to writing. Her work has appeared in Toronto Star and Today’s Parent, and she is enjoying exploring Brantford and learning about the people and places that make it such a special city.
ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPHER
Geoff Fitzgerald is an award winning freelance photographer, second season beekeeper, passionate pet dad to an Olde English Bulldogge, two cats and two rats. With an incredible drive and desire for compelling stories and intimate portraits he focuses his skills mainly on the editorial and advertising/commercial world of photography.