'I believe there is a readiness': Oro-Medonte woman brings message of racial equality to the world

·3 min read

Black lives mattered in 1812 when the ‘Coloured Corps’ fought alongside the British army to save Canada from an American takeover.

Fast forward 174 years to 2021 where local residents will do virtually anything to ensure the rights of all people are acknowledged.

Manon Heran of Diverse Voices Unite is a white, Catholic school teacher of 21 years who took it upon herself to spread the word about diversity in the classroom starting in 2007.

Asked why she is celebrating racial diversity during the COVID-19 pandemic when it might be easier to wait until people can physically join her, Heran said she believes the timing is right.

“Because I believe there is a readiness. In 2007, I don’t think people were really ready to dig deep into the bias of the present and then Black Lives Matter happened in 2020 and it was so eye-opening for so many people globally,” Heran said.

With a YouTube documentary-style video of performers airing Feb. 15 at 10 a.m. on Peteypanther YouTube, as well as a Rogers/Facebook live event scheduled for Feb. 24 at 6 p.m., Heran is taking her message of racial equality to the world – virtually.

Although she hasn’t let the pandemic slow her down, it has put a halt to expanding the grounds of the African Oro Church, said Oro-Medonte Mayor Harry Hughes.

With a little “push,” Hughes said he was able to help convince neighbours to donate land surrounding the National Historic Site on Line 3 – originally the Oro African Methodist Episcopal Church built in 1847 – to expand the Oro church’s property to five acres to add on a parking lot.

“It’s been pointed out that if you make a building an artifact, it will disappear as far as knowledge is concerned. Unless you make it a functional church or functional building and you have events around that, the whole story will disappear over time,” he said.

A historian and former educator himself, Hughes explained the significance of the church to Oro and to the Black community.

“The Blacks themselves really regard that church as being hallowed ground. Whenever the Blacks come along to visit that church and a number of them want to be in the church as a same cultural group, they feel a connection to their ancestors when they’re in there,” he said. “That’s a significant aspect of the church and all the other things that are connected.”

Historically, Black lives mattered to the community and to Canada, he said. Between 1819 and 1826, the British offered 25 plots of land to Black settlers, 11 of whom were former soldiers in the War of 1812.

“When you look at what’s happening in the United States right now this whole notion of the strength of racial diversity and acceptance and working together, it matters,” Hughes said. “This is the first place that we know of in the world where land grants were given to Blacks regardless of ethnic background.”

For more information on the Oro African Church, visit https://www.historicplaces.ca/en/rep-reg/place-lieu.aspx?id=12100

Cheryl Browne, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Barrie Advance