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Community patrols return after vandalism, threats at GBHS

From phone lines cut to human feces left at the door of Heritage Hall, vandals seem to be back in full force after a brief quiet period throughout the pandemic, say Guelph Black Heritage Society officials
20220324 Guelph Black Heritage Society Heritage Hall RV
Guelph Black Heritage Society president Denise Francis, left, stands with executive director Kween outside Heritage Hall. File photo

Vandalism has always been an ongoing concern for the Guelph Black Heritage Society (GBHS), though it became more frequent during the height of the Black Lives Matter movement as the organization began to garner more attention.

Things seemed to quiet down over the course of the pandemic, but now, from phone lines cut to human feces left at the door of Heritage Hall, the vandals seem to be back in full force.

“The Guelph Black Heritage Society does a lot of work trying to educate our community on anti-Black racism, spreading social initiative awareness. With a lot of love, and also change, can come a lot of hate,” said Kween, executive director of the GBHS. 

“With that, we are unfortunately a target because of the hate that exists around Black bodies. That racism is just so heavily prevalent, even here in Guelph.”

As someone whose goal is to protect Black members of the Guelph community, Kween said she was especially hurt to learn of an incident in June where a member of the GBHS was threatened with a knife. 

They’ve also been met with a lot of cyber bullying, like threatening emails, social media message – “you name it.” 

Kween said they don’t always feel like they can reach out to the Guelph police, and so haven’t reported any of the incidents. Instead, they’re leaning on the community for protection and support – in more ways than one.  

Since security cameras don’t stop the vandalism, they’re hoping community members banding together will. 

Incidents like these prompted them to reinstate their community patrol group, which first launched in 2020, which regularly checks on the hall throughout the day and night.  

The decision to increase protection through community volunteers rather than hired security stems from the fact that policing and security “has never been a safety net” for Black community members. 

“We've always leaned on each other, as back as far as the Underground Railroad. That's always been our method of support and design,” Kween said. “And as well as you want people you can trust, that you know really are invested and will show up at the building when they say they will.

“I'm just really so thankful for our volunteers and for folks who have been reaching out asking how they can help because it means the world to us. We're really struggling – we're just a baby non-profit that looks big. So we could use the help.”

Kween encourages those who live nearby to walk by when they’re in the area to check in on the hall and GBHS members. 

“(It) really makes a big difference for us,” she said. 

But they’re also hoping the community will work on addressing some of the social issues that could be contributing to some of the less targeted vandalism, like discarded needles – the housing crisis, the mental health crisis, the food crisis.  

Although the vandalism and threats make the work “more tiring and exhausting,” they don’t deter her from doing the work. 

“This tells me even more that the work needs to be added into our educational system right at the beginning. We start talking with our children, we start talking with our communities, we start making a more diverse community of conversation and education … so that we can all feel safe in this community.” 

If you’d like to get involved with the community patrol, you can reach out to Kween at guelphblackheritage@gmail.com