BY: KABRENA ROBINSON
It is not often that you come across an occasion in Toronto where black mothers are able to gather in one space to connect and share their cultural experiences. Where the day is not only filled with enlightenment and laughter but tears; whether from joy or empathy towards shared black experiences. The Black Moms Connection Conference provided all that and more.
The conference facilitated a safe space for black mothers and women within the community to engage in conversations on issues such as race, sexuality, health, and financing. The day long event featured a series of panel discussions aimed at encouraging and empowering mothers to increase the emotional and financial well-being of their black families in return placing a positive impact on the larger black community.
The lack of diverse spaces to facilitate conversations for marginalized groups online was the motivation behind the initiative.
It all started in 2015 when Tanya Hayles, a single black mother living in Toronto, took to online platforms seeking advice on things like the right sunscreen to use for her son’s skin or what hair products would be ideal for him. To her dismay, she found that there weren’t many online platforms to provide these answers. This gave birth to the idea to form a Facebook group to catalyze the demand.
“I think it is really important to have spaces for black women online where we can let down our hair and have honest and raw and real conversations whether we need it or not,” said Hayles.
“I knew that some of the conversations that we have whether it’s the statistics on black kids and suspensions and expulsions, how to handle microaggressions and those kinds of things we wouldn’t be able to have those conversations anywhere else”.
According to Hayles, the Facebook group grew from a small number of 400 followers to now almost reaching 8,000. What started as an online social space for black moms like Hayles in Canada, now serves black moms from as far as Japan to Australia, Nigeria, and the Caribbean.
With the success of the online platform, Hayles found it important to have the conversations around black motherhood transcend the online space to in person discussions. With that goal, the group hosted their inaugural Black Moms Connection Conference on August 13th.
The event hosted inside the Bathurst Centre welcomed black moms, entrepreneurs, community leaders and other members of the community for a day packed with informative and engaging panel discussions and seminars encouraging black women to “learn, share and connect”.
“The conference is just a first step to say okay these are the kinds of tools and resources that we are trying to provide to black women in order to help them better their families and better the black community at least and the city of Toronto at large,” said Hayles.
Discussions ranged from the topic of education and financial literacy, special needs, wellness and mental health to issues relating to black women in workspaces and matters of love, sex, and relationships. Parliamentary Secretary Celina Caesar-Chavannes and journalist Nam Kiwanuka were two of the featured speakers among the vast range of black successful and notable women joining in panel discussions at the conference.
Attendee Denise Dacosta a parent and journalist living in Toronto says that she was happy to finally see an initiative of this sort in Canada.
“Having grown up in the GTA we were always looking south for an identity for Canadian black women and I felt our identity has always been different than an American black identity,” she said. “My children are adults. This would be good material to me 15-20 years ago but it’s really a full circle moment for me to see it come together and I think it will grow.”
The event was also an avenue for black business owners to showcase their products and services and to interact with members of the community.
Organizer Tanya Hayles says she hopes the event will be the first of an annual ongoing event. She added that she is looking forward to having further discussions within the group for moms within the LGBTQ community.
“I know that’s already a very tenuous topic in the black community as a whole but we have to acknowledge that all black lives matter including our LGBTQ sisters,” she said.