After attending numerous anti-Black racism rallies in Toronto in recent months, Akil Heywood says he noticed one thing missing from the events: an absence of the Caribbean community.
"I know the numbers of the Caribbean community that we have in the GTA," said Heywood, who is the leader of the band Atlantic Mas at the Toronto's Caribbean Carnival, previously called Caribana.
Bands refer to groups that design, create and sell the vibrant costumes seen in the carnival's annual parade, which has been cancelled this year due to COVID-19.
So in absence of an event that would make the community's presence known, Heywood set about organizing a rally, calling for enhanced racism education within police forces and workplaces.
"We need accountability," Heywood said.
"We live in a very multicultural city ... this conversation is something that needs to be had."
That rally took place on Saturday around 11 a.m., when protesters congregated on Queen Street in front of Toronto City Hall and marched along a big loop through downtown streets, making their way to University Avenue then going north to Bloor Street, east to Yonge Street, and then heading back to their original meeting point.
Caribbean community has long history of resistance
The Caribbean community, Heywood says, has a long history of protest, resistance, and social movements.
Popular Caribbean music genres — including soca, calypso, and reggae — have elements of social and political resistance embedded in their song lyrics.
And that music was playing throughout Saturday's rally.
"The history of that music is in protest, whether it be protest against current politics, whether it be protest against violence," Heywood said.
"Some of that music gives a lot of people healing."
'Racism thrives not only on the police force'
Heywood said participants of Saturday's event are demanding concrete steps when it comes to dismantling anti-Black racism.
While people have called for a cut to the Toronto police budget — a motion that was put forward, and rejected, during a city council meeting — protesters at Saturday's event say racism isn't an issue that solely needs to be tackled within the force.
They're also calling for enhanced anti-racism education within organizations, governments, schools and workplaces, as well as within the Toronto Police Service.
Those educational conversations, he said, should also take place within people's homes who aren't Black.
"Racism thrives not only on the police force, but it thrives in corporate offices, it thrives at work — it thrives all over," Heywood said.
Tyrone Swaray agrees.
"I wouldn't say defending the police is the correct solution," said Swaray, who represents Remember the 400, the non-profit organization that helped organize Saturday's rally, as well as previous rallies of its own.
"There are some times when we do need them and we understand why police were set up in the first place," he said.
He's instead calling for "some kind of reformation" within police structures in order to get rid of deep-rooted racism.
"It's not hidden, everyone knows what's been happening to our people," Swaray said.
"Seeing a police officer's knee on a Black man's neck has really touched a lot of people," he added, referring to George Floyd, a Black man who was killed by a white police officer in Minneapolis in May.
Swaray said there needs to be a "complete overhaul" within forces, so people can begin to trust officers again.
"We understand that there are good police officers out there, but we want to eradicate the bad ones."
Remember the 400 has also launched an online petition calling for August to officially be recognized as "Freedom Month," in recognition of significant historical events concerning slavery that have taken place during the month.
The petition has garnered more than 1,650 signatures.