Sylvia Welsh (L) and Dianne Barham
Sylvia Welsh (L) and Dianne Barham, co-chairs of the Black Legacy Committee, speaking at last year's UHN Black History Month event. (Photo: BLC at UHN)

Becoming a mother changed Sylvia Welsh's perspective on being a Black woman.

"When my son was a baby he was cute to the average onlooker, but by the time he turned 13, as a Black male, he was perceived as a threat to society," she says. "I started to realize that we were experiencing life in opposite ways.

"As a Black woman, I go unnoticed and my voice unheard, and as Black male he is hyper-scrutinized," says Sylvia, Manager and Architect, with UHN's Digital Telecom.

Sylvia, who is also co-chair of the Black Legacy Committee (BLC) at UHN, says this dichotomy of the Black experience is not just in the community, but in the workplace, too.

Dianne Barham, the other co-chair of the BLC, remembers attending a meeting where everyone at the table was introduced except for her. A six-foot tall Black woman with long dreadlocks, she is hard to miss. And yet, she was. 

"I just sat there feeling so insignificant and embarrassed," says Dianne, UHN Talent Management, Human Resources.

She was made to feel smaller, lesser than.

"As a Black individual your identity can often be characterized as not being good enough," says Dianne, who has worked at UHN for almost a decade. "What the Black Legacy Committee is doing is creating a space to validate people, to amplify their value."

The BLC at UHN is an employee resource group – to its members, to its community and to the organization as a whole. Despite challenges, pushback, and roadblocks, the Committee continues to evolve and working toward a better work environment, healthcare setting and world.

For Sylvia, at UHN since 1989, the BLC helped her find her voice to do with race.

"Through the BLC, I am not afraid to speak up anymore because the committee makes me feel more confident knowing I'm not alone," she says.

'It's been UHN's journey as much as it has been ours'

"The BLC is this emerging place where people laugh, there's a sense of knowing, and more importantly, there's a sense of safety," says Jacqueline Silvera,Diversity and Mediation Services at UHN.

Formerly known as the Black History Month Committee, the BLC underwent a rebranding in 2016.

"The group has grown and evolved and has enabled the organization to understand Black presence, Black experience, Black identity," Jacqueline says. "That's why it has rebranded itself from the BHM Committee to the BLC – leaving, inspiring  and evolving something for all."

"It's been UHN's journey as much as it has been ours."

Over the past year, the world has seen a surge in activity in response to anti-Black racism. Often overlooked is the fact that this work has been ongoing for a long time. 

"It has been a long journey," says Sylvia. "There's now recognition that the work, which was started even just a year ago, did not have the Black voice at the table.

"As we move forward, UHN is acknowledging and we work to do a course correction."

As an internal committee, the BLC has also become a working group for the organization, looking at the work that has been done and making sure that the Black voice was included.

When engaging in working group activities, Sylvia often asks whether Black people were at the table. When gathering feedback and doing research.Often, the answer is no, and the group works with the BLC to change that.

Moving forward 

There is still much work to be done and the BLC is ready to ensure that Black representation exists in a valuable and authentic way.

Following the development of UHN's 2019-23 Strategic Plan – which was created using feedback from patients and TeamUHN – an emerging priority was "Empower and invest in a diverse TeamUHN."  Last year, UHN publicly denounced Anti-Black racism, racism and all forms of discrimination at UHN.

Last month, UHN launched its Anti-Racism and Anti-Black Racism policy, guided by Jacqueline. 

"The policy gives language to the experience that is often not understood in the corporate setting, not often heard, validated or legitimized," says Jacqueline. "The policy is now creating a whole currency of language which is going to challenge the very way we speak about and address race."

This year's Black History Month theme "The Future is Now" is a chance to celebrate and acknowledge the transformative work that Black Canadians and their communities are doing now. 

"We are mothers, some of us grandmothers, so this isn't just about our work," Dianne, Jacqueline and Sylvia say in a joint statement. "This is about our lives.

"This is about creating that legacy for new employees when they arrive, creating that space, that ability for them to be confident, seen, hired, for them to make their contribution. We are creating that legacy and that's the reason we are called Black Legacy Committee."

We honour and thank the members of the BLC for their invaluable contributions.

Some of the active Black Legacy Committee members include: Alicia Jones, Wenzie Ng, Vanessa Gayle, Sylvia Welsh, Ingrid Garrick, , Dianne Barham, Natasha Thompson, Jacqueline Silvera,Marion Brooks, Lashone Harris, Joe Healy, Jasmine James, Assata McKenzie, Richard Rollox, Nicole Sandison, Sinthu Srikanthan, Tanya Williams, Derrick Edwards.

This year, the Black Legacy Committeeis partnering with the Ontario Black History Society (OBHS) to celebrateBlack History Month. Here is a list of upcoming events:

Speaker Series:

Thursday, Feb. 18 at 7 p.m.(Black Heritage Sites)

Registration is required:  Part 2 - OBHS Black History Month Speaker Series

Feb 23 at 7 p.m. (Storytellers)

Registration is required: Part 3 - OBHS Black History Month Speaker Series

The Black Legacy Committee through the partnership with OBHS will be selecting a Canada Post stamp to unveil to mark the end of BHM 2021.

#ShareTheirStory RellaBlackHistory Foundation

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