Scavenger hunts are particularly useful if you need to keep children entertained. They don’t work so well if you’re trying celebrate historically oppressed people in a country with a long history of state racism. That’s what the government of the Durham Region in Ontario found out, after their Black History Month exercise was passed around for reasons they did not anticipate.
Durham gave its employees a series of challenges to celebrate Black History Month. That’s not so bad on its face but with “challenges” like “speak to a Black employee” and “listen to a reggae song,” it was bound to raise some hackles. The challenge got a ton of negative attention after it was shared by author Desmond Cole.
The Region quickly shared an apology on Twitter, saying they heard the complaints and realized that the activity sheet was misguided.
“We acknowledge that mistakes will be made when addressing anti-Black racism,” they wrote. “This challenge activity is one of them. We continue to learn and strive to do better.”
John Henry, regional chair and chief executive officer for Durham Region, said he was “saddened” when he heard about the challenge.
“We have worked very hard to build great relationships throughout the entire region, with our Black community,” he said to CityTV’s Breakfast Television Toronto on Thursday. “We’ll do everything we can to regain that trust with our community.”
Elaine Baxter-Trahair, chief administrative officer for Durham Region, said it wasn’t a “scavenger hunt,” but “a series of activities.” The idea behind the challenge was to have employees learn more about “the culture of Black Canadians from many different destinations. Unfortunately, some of the activities were not appropriate.” The event has been canceled.
Baxter-Trahair says Durham Region is creating a diversity, equity, and inclusion office next month to address anti-black racism within the community.