BY: JELANI GRANT
To celebrate inclusion within the community, the York Region Police held their 13th annual multicultural festival with the theme ‘Diversity includes Me’ for this year’s International Day For The Elimination Of Racial Discrimination.
The free event was held at the Markham Event Centre and for the first time, the parking space was filled to capacity and guests were instructed to use buildings in the surrounding area to park, a testament to the event’s growth. While York residents mingled with YRP, the York Regional Police Youth Band and steel pan performers, Amara Howell and Mekhi Rutherford, opened the stage and brought the crowd to life.
The Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, Honourable Ahmed Hussen spoke during the festivities, encouraging the audience to recognize the existence of racism while challenging any instances of racism, as a way of fighting discrimination. Also in attendance was Markham-Unionville MPP Michael Chan, York Region Chief of Police Eric Joliffe, Citizenship Judge Albert Wong, York Regional Police Services Board Chair Frank Scarpitta and Inspector Ricky Veerappan, who acted as Master of Ceremonies for the afternoon.
A cleansing smoke ritual and traditional dance piece used to purify the body and remove negative energy was performed by the Biindigen Healing and Arts First Nations group. The Northern Legs Southern Fists performed a lion dance, a traditional dance in Chinese culture where performers mimic the movements of a lion.
Other performers demonstrating York Region’s diversity included Artistic Studio Productions singer Charlie Webb, Brazilian dancers Tropicana Queens, Jewish singer Honey Novick, Karen Jewels, and a dance performance by the Greek Orthodox Community of Markham. The Tabriz Ensemble performed an Azerbaijani Dance, which is a type of dance that aims to show the characteristics of the Azerbaijani nation in Iran. The Paromita Kar group performed an Arabic dance piece followed by the Lao Association who demonstrated their culture with traditional, vibrantly coloured Southeast Asian garbs. Rhythm Umurisho Toronto closed the afternoon, as they normally do, with vibrant and bellowing African drum beats.
After all of the performances ended, different booths began serving a culturally diverse variety of snacks and dishes to guests Chicken balls, sweet and sour sauce, mini-patties and other pastries.
As a literal illustration to York Region’s efforts towards being more inclusive, volunteers asked guests to hold up a sign saying, “Diversity includes me”, with a space cut out in the middle for their faces.
Just outside of the hall were two booths offering opportunities to be engaged with the YRP. There were dozens of booths offering a variety of services from Jamaica National to Sandgate, an organization that works to provide women, in abusive situations, and their children with shelter and information that will lead to a better life. The YRP set stations across the hall for guests to register as volunteers towards any of their future causes as well as prevention awareness training sessions.
The International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination began in 1966 as a response to a horrendous incident that occurred during one of the apartheid demonstrations. The day is celebrated every year on March 21 to remember the 69 people, who were peacefully protesting the apartheid “pass laws”, killed by South African police in 1960.
The YRP Over the last 14 years, the YRP have commemorated the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination alongside the multicultural community of York. While celebrating the municipality’s diversity, the YRP holds this annual festival in hopes that it is a step towards the elimination of racism.