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New city roundtable looks to help area's 'marginalized groups'

'Within our differences there are similarities, and within those similarities we can move forward,' said a founding member of the new roundtable

Residents, city officials, and representatives of local organizations gathered at the Orillia Public Library Wednesday evening to begin the work of establishing the city’s equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) roundtable.

The roundtable is looking to recruit five to seven community leaders, on a volunteer basis, to work with residents and the city in creating a more inclusive community.

Organizers are hoping to attract a diverse array of residents from a “broad range of perspectives and lived experience,” although the exact selection process for the leadership team has yet to be determined.

Co-founders Tshweu Moleme, Alasoba Kelsy-Braide, and Wes Erskine provided background information on the roundtable’s formation, as well as its vision, purpose and next steps moving forward, before answering questions from members of the public at Wednesday's event.

“When you move to Orillia, it’s a beautiful place, but who do you get to connect with? Where do you go?” said Erskine. “This is an avenue by which people can plug into (the community), and because there’s going to be solidarity and connection … this will allow those connections to occur.”

The work to establish the roundtable began earlier this year, with community consultation and research carried out by a city working group composed of residents and city council members.

In a survey to the community, the top four reasons residents thought EDI work is needed is to address hate and discrimination in the community, make Orillia a more welcoming place, create a sense of belonging for all, and to influence local policy.

Potential work for the roundtable might include hosting diversity social gatherings, cultural festivals, posting flags for diverse communities, or welcome signs in different languages, working to diversify local hiring practices, and more.

The roundtable has not emerged because of negativity in the community, but out of a desire to tap into the “beautiful things that make Orillia our home," said Erskine.

“Historically, there were certain marginalized groups that weren’t really identified, or at the forefront, or had participation, but this does open that up,” he said. “A roundtable … allows everyone to have a voice and have a say, and collectively show that within our differences there are similarities, and within those similarities we can move forward.”

During the meeting’s question period, one resident asked about how the city and the round table will work together, in terms of forwarding and funding initiatives.

The round table will operate relatively independently of the city compared to an advisory committee, which is directed by council.

“This group (is) working outside of the city … that didn't eliminate our connection to the city at all,” responded Moleme. “The city has committed to help when needed, and maybe (we’ll) run into a situation where you need a staff person from the city.”

Moleme said there will be communication between the round table and the city for a wide variety of purposes.

“The link will exist, and if it comes to raising money for something, for instance, we'll try in the community, and if nothing is happening we might reach out to the city and say, ‘Are you able to work with us?’" he explained.

Residents interested in joining the round table’s leadership team have until Jan. 21, 2023 to fill out an expression of interest form, which is available at the Orillia Public Library or on the city website. 

Moving forward, the roundtable hopes to select its leadership team by January 2023, host its next roundtable by February, establish its decision making processes by April, and identify its short-, medium-, and long-term goals by July.

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Greg McGrath-Goudie

About the Author: Greg McGrath-Goudie

Greg has been with Village Media since 2021, where he has worked as an LJI reporter for CollingwoodToday, and now as a city hall/general assignment reporter for OrilliaMatters
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