Since its inception, Black Lives Matter Canada has been on the lookout for a permanent home. After years of searching and leasing, the organization found a 10,000-square-foot building near Kensington Market at 24 Cecil St., which is set to become their official headquarters later this month.
Sandy Hudson, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Canada, says the team had been challenged to find a space that would fit their needs and wasn’t too expensive, but when the Cecil St. building came up on the market, the path forward was clear.
“It took us years to get to a point where we could find a spot to lease and when we started leasing it was really expensive, it felt like throwing away community dollars,” she says. “We thought if there’s ever a chance for us to get a permanent space in Toronto where we can solve this problem not just for ourselves, but for all sorts of black organizations, we will jump right in.”
With the help of community donations and a grant from the Black Lives Matter Global Network, the Toronto headquarters is finally becoming a reality. The organization is set to close on the building on July 22 or earlier, and they recently released a request for proposal for the interior updates.
“It’s a fairly turnkey building, but we are working with the Black Architects and Interior Designers of Canada to get some proposals as to how we can update the existing space to include some of the spaces we want,” Hudson says. “For example, there’s a huge space that looks like it could fairly easily be turned into a dance floor, which would be great because we would want a functional dance space for artists who want to do rehearsals. We want to put in a sound booth for people who want to try their hand at podcasting or a radio show or any sort of recording. Most of all, we want the space to be multipurpose and functional.”
If all goes to plan, the space should be ready for use by early 2022 or late 2021. In addition to serving as a space for Black artists and creators, Hudson says the building will also act as a home base and a potential retreat venue for the other chapters across the country, of which there are now seven and soon to be more.
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The building also features lounge, event and office space, as well as outdoor space which will be used for food justice and gardening projects. It will also be the new home for the Wildseed Centre for Art and Activism, an organization created by Black Lives Matter ‘artivists’ to foster Black creativity and organizing.
The move represents a significant milestone for Black Lives Matter Canada, and a sign of the massive impact the organization has made so far.
“In creating Black Lives Matter Canada, the goal of the organization is to try to make organizing as easy as possible for everyone across Canada who’s organizing on Black issues and particularly under the Black Lives Matter banner,” Hudson says. “The building is just one of those ways we are supporting that organizing across the country.”
In addition to being able to use the headquarters as a retreat venue, other chapters across the country will now have an official address to list on documents as needed, which is just one example of some of the logistical challenges Hudson says they encountered early on and hope to help others avoid.
“It’s been an uphill battle for us,” she says. “Many of us had organizing experience that we had accumulated over years of being activists in other sectors and if we didn’t have that, I think we would have been really discouraged early on and not have been able to be as impactful as we have been. We want to make things easier for other folks who might be struggling.”
Black Lives Matter Canada has also been supporting the community through emergency COVID support funding grants.
The organization recently initiated a research team to look into the decisions that are being made in jurisdictions across North America with regards to police funding, and how they’re impacting Black communities. Hudson says she hopes the research arm can be used as a resource for other chapters and groups across the country.
The move to the new building signals a new and exciting stage for the organization, and according to Hudson, it’s just the beginning.
“We’re just starting to emerge after a lot of infrastructure building. I would say that we did a lot of really great foundational work and now we’re excited to put that into motion.”