A group of experts hoping to tackle some of the barriers to health education and access for those in Toronto’s Black community held a free health and wellness fair in the city’s Regent Park neighborhood Saturday.
The fair, hosted by the Black Scientists’ Task Force (BSTF), aims to strengthen overall health by encouraging people to regularly monitor their health, help break down barriers to accessing care and raise awareness of high-risk diseases for the group.
“COVID-19 was a source of huge losses for Black communities. We saw lost lives and diminished health, loss of jobs, lost opportunities, lost relationships and lost time,” said BSTF co-chair Dr. David Burt.
“We need to move beyond this level of vulnerability.”
Part of the event, a Black healthcare symposium, offered free massages, health checks, access to chiropractors, a COVID-19 vaccine clinic and access to different health booths for high-risk diseases in the Black community such as cancer and sickle cell.
It also offered race equity workshops on topics among which were food security, economic equity, structural barriers for Black health and primary health care.
“Housing, food security and education and community-level activism can actually help to reduce some of the systemic effects that impact our health ultimately,” said Burt.
BSTF co-chair Dr. Candice Todd said initiatives like these are crucial to building trust in a community that has some mistrust toward health care.
“There are conversations that you can have with a practitioner who is from the same background or looks like you that other practitioners might not understand,” Todd said.
Todd said the task force projects that one in three Black women may be diagnosed with cancer, with one in five expected to be terminal.
Count. Chris Moise and new chair of the Toronto Board of Public Health said he hopes the city can direct more funding to address all of the social determinants of health that disproportionately affect the Black community.
“We as Black people need to make sure that our mental health as well as our physical health is addressed and taken care of,” Moise said.
“Representation matters. I don’t think we’ve ever had a black person in the chair of public health. So hopefully me being the front-facing of the board will help people to actually address some of these issues.”
Toronto Major John Tory was among those in attendance Saturday. He said he was “committed” to continue to learn about the health impact on marginalized groups and allocating resources to those who need it.
“It’s not one-time learning, it’s continuous learning,” Tory said.
“We need these partnerships with communities but also other levels of government to deliver solutions to these communities that have been historically marginalized.”
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.