UW presents: Inspiring Black flourishing in Waterloo Region and beyond


About 40 people attended “Inspiring Black Flourishing in Waterloo Region and Beyond,” a UW event held at the Kitchener Public Library on Tuesday, Feb. 13. The event featured an introduction to three speakers – UW swimming varsity head coach Jacky Beckford Henriques, UW undergraduate student Darren Baine, and UW PhD candidate Aaron Francis. This was followed by a panel discussion and an audience question-and-answer period. The event was moderated by Josette Lafleur, a journalist at Kitchener-Waterloo CBC.

Each speaker presented an initiative they are involved in that aims to address barriers to Black flourishing or create opportunities for it.

Henriques is a co-founder of the Alliance, a group within the athletics department at UW aimed at establishing positive changes for the university through recognition of, education towards, and action against racism. Baine is a founder of the Young Eye Initiative, a non-profit organization that aims to improve the livelihood of children in Uganda, focusing on marginalized youth and early childhood care and education. Francis is the curator of Vintage Black Canada, a creative project and digital archive that shares images of Black communities in Canada (with a focus on Kitchener-Waterloo) throughout the decades.

During the panel discussion, speakers were asked how different organizations, such as media outlets and local businesses, can support Black flourishing within the Waterloo Region.

Francis noted that the first article he was ever featured in was www.byblacks.com, and that his mentors over the years have been Black women. “I was on CBC yesterday, and that went really, really well,” he said. “I was disappointed in how long it took to be invited initially, seeing as how much attention I was getting outside of our hometown.

“To go back to [the] question… to what can be done, I think bringing more Black people in the room, making decisions, calling the shots, and contributing to the stories and the narratives… and it can’t always just be during Black History Month,” he said.

Henriques said she would like to see more of [her] people represented in the media. She added that she enjoys seeing photos of Black athletes and academics around campus. “If I don’t see myself or somebody who looks like me up there, then I don’t feel part of it, and I think that sense of belonging is really important.”

Baine noted it is essential to involve the Black community in the stories being told, along with media organizations in general. “Not just cook up things that they think are right and put them out there,” he said.

The panel was asked how local businesses can support Black entrepreneurship and contribute to economic growth. “I’m not going to say the obvious answer, which is to finance different initiatives,” said Baine, which drew laughter from the audience.

He said it is important for entrepreneurs to get out there and network with people who are willing to mentor, support, coach, and eventually sponsor. “I think you can’t just expect these businesses to come out and give you money.”

Henriques pointed to the Canadian Caribbean Association’s LiftOff Black Entrepreneurship Program, based in the Waterloo Region. The 12-month program, funded by the federal government, provides Black entrepreneurs with access to one-on-one coaching, mentorship, business support and pitch opportunities.