May 12, 2021
HIV emerged more than three decades ago and has been a persistent threat to Black communities in Toronto. In the late 80s, the Black AIDS Project was launched at the AIDS Committee of Toronto. Following this the Black Coalition for AIDS Prevention steering committee was formed. Its objective was focused on generating awareness through education on the transmission and prevention of HIV within the Black community through a culturally specific and sensitive manner. The project grew exponentially attracting a fulltime project manager and a part-time support and outreach worker.
Black CAP received funding with Harambee as the sponsoring agency in August of 1989 and hired a project coordinator and an administrative assistant. Black CAP’s first home was located within Harambee’s office on McCall Street. The position of Education Coordinator was added in 1990 and the Support Coordinator in 1991. These four positions created a foundation for the organization’s fulfillment of its mandate of education and supporting the diverse Black communities on HIV/AIDS.
From the inception, the organization realized that in order to place HIV on the Black communities’ agenda, it was necessary to integrate HIV in both health and social spheres within the community. It was also clear that to foster support for the work, the organization had to work in collaboration with other AIDS Service Organizations (ASOs) as well as participate on a local, provincial and national level around advocacy, education and support. Additionally, the linkages of Black communities in Toronto to Black communities overseas made it necessary for the agency to play a role around HIV/AIDS internationally.
Between 1989 and 1991, the agency worked towards making the above vision a reality by securing the funding base from the federal, provincial and municipal governments. This was necessary as it enabled us to strengthen the agency with core positions. During this time most of the work was done on a local level – courting Black community agencies and groups to provide education such as workshops, info tables, developing materials and of course, Caribana. During these years most of the volunteers were friends and family members of staff and board members.
In 1991, a major shift occurred when the organization became incorporated in March, and in June of that year a Board of Directors was formed from the original Steering Committee of the Project. The organization was then ready to step out on its own and in October of that year the agency moved to the location on Parliament Street. Towards the end of 1991, the agency participated in three innovative initiatives by providing placements for AIDS Workers from Trinidad and South Africa and producing the film, Survivors. We also joined the Ontario AIDS Network and the Canadian AIDS Society.
By 1993, there was also a significant shift in the agency as the North York, Volunteer and Fundraising Coordinator positions were added to the organization. We also began a 2-year outreach project, the Access project within five regions in southern Ontario. These positions were necessary, as the demand for education from the North York region had increased significantly. The agency was also attracting more individuals who were interested in volunteering, hence the need for a pool of skilled volunteers. Also during this time most of the service users were sexually active gay men. The majority of the support was provided in hospitals, in homes and in public areas such as a coffee shops. Also most clients saw the Support Department as a location for support before dying. Indeed, during those years, we lost a lot of service users as there were as many as 10 deaths per year.
The following year, 1994, the founding Executive Director Douglas Stewart moved on and new Executive Director Dionne A. Falconer was hired from within the organization. During the next two and a half years the organization focused on fortifying its principles by developing policies such as the Personnel, Confidentiality, Conflict of Interest and the EFA policy. The by-laws were also strengthened to better reflect the philosophy of the organization. Also during those years, the Lime and the Men2gether outreach programs began. In addition, the organization continued its international work by supporting HIV/AIDS initiatives in Guyana and Jamaica. Further, there were numerous local, provincial and national initiatives. As 1994 closed we were well on our way to placing HIV/AIDS on the community’s agenda. In the spring of 1995, the staff and board gathered to create the Vision 2000 document. A critical component of the vision was to find a new location. This became a reality in mid-1997 and there was a feeling when the agency moved that we were not just physically changing locations but rather, we were moving towards 2000 and beyond.
Between 2001 and 2004 the agency went through a number of changes including changes in leadership and staffing. During this time staff such as Lena Soje and Malston Anderson worked hard to maintain Black CAP’s role in Toronto’s HIV/AIDS sector. In 2005, Black CAP entered a new strategic alliance with Africans in Partnership Against AIDS (APAA) and African Community Health Services (ACHS). This partnership, called Muungano (Swahili for ‘Working Together’), led to better coordinated services in Toronto’s African and Caribbean communities.
In 2005, the agency became the trustee of the African Caribbean Council on HIV/AIDS in Ontario (ACCHO). ACCHO provides leadership in the response to HIV/AIDS in African, Caribbean and Black communities in Ontario. They are a provincial coalition of organizations and individuals committed to HIV prevention, education, advocacy, research, treatment, care and support for African, Caribbean and Black communities.
In 2006, under the leadership of the Board Chair, Angela Robinson, and the current Executive Director, Shannon Ryan, the agency began a period of stabilization, growth and renewed energy with the adoption of a new Strategic Plan. The plan identified a number of new roles for the agency and created a foundation for future growth. This plan was later updated by the 2007/2008 Board and a number of directions were revised to include a broader public role for Black CAP and a growing focus on fundraising.
Between 2006 and 2008, Black CAP experienced an explosion of new programming and services and the staff team and budget grew to all time high levels. Over this time Black CAP more than doubled its budget and tripled its staff team. New programming included the award winning Mate Masie Kwanzaa Yoga Youth program which combined… We also launched two groundbreaking prevention campaigns such as the ‘One Night, Your Choice’ campaign meant to address risk among young Black women and the ‘Think!’ campaign, a campaign focused on risk for Black MSM. Both campaigns were promoted city-wide in spaces such as the TTC subway, bus shelters and national publications.
In early 2009, we launched new settlement programming for both HIV positive and LGBTQ newcomers to Canada with funding from Citizenship and Immigration Canada. This program played an important role in welcoming PHA and LGBTQ refugees from Africa and the Caribbean as they fled violence, persecution, homophobia and stigma in their countries of origin. In 2009, we also launched the groundbreaking Many Men, Many Voices (3MV) program …
In mid-2010, thanks to funding from the Counselling Foundation of Canada we initiated our Kazi Employment Program. Kazi provides employment and education counseling/supports for PHAs and LGBT newcomers who are seeking employment or wish to go back to school.
In 2010, Black CAP and ACCHO moved to a much larger space on Victoria St. This space allowed us to expand our program capacity, host large groups, hold partnership meetings and support programming delivered by community partners. In 2011, we launched a new strategic plan that would guide the agency’s work until 2015. The plan included four key directions including: 1) Solidify our Base, 2)
Enhance our Visibility, 3) Invest in Meaningful Involvement of PHAs and Equity and 4) Diversify and Increase Our Revenues. In 2011, we also launched a new and groundbreaking city-wide harm reduction program in2011. This program expanded our commitment to harm reduction with the distribution of safe injection and inhalation equipment and a commitment to building the capacity of other organizations working with Black substance users.
Between 2011 and 2012 we significantly strengthened our volunteer program and increased community and corporate engagement in the agency. This included an expansion of our volunteer core skills training, a focus on volunteer recruitment, and placement across the agency.
In 2013, we expanded our settlement programming with funding from the Provincial Newcomer Settlement Program. The new Refugee Settlement Program was developed to address growing demand from LGBTQ refugees from Africa and the Caribbean.
In 2013, we collaborated with the Toronto Circle of Care to implement new support programming specifically for HIV positive Black women. Through this program we launched a new Women’s Support Program that provided support services delivered by and for Black women living with HIV. We also launched the Women’s Peer Support Program in collaboration with the Toronto People with AIDS Foundation and PASAN. This program engaged HIV positive women to deliver peer-based services to other HIV positive women. Finally, Black CAP collaborated with PASAN to deliver a monthly drop-in program for trans women.
We hope to build on this success in the coming years as we reflect on our history and plan and shape our future. The challenges continues and the needs within our community … We need your help and we need you to get involved in the fight as a donor or volunteer.