This Government's Black History Month 'Challenge' Included Talking To a Black Person

Durham Region has apologized for the event, which called for staff to complete tasks like listening to a reggae song and conversing with a Black colleague.
Durham Region Black History Month
Durham Region has cancelled its Black History Month challenge. Photo via Desmond Cole/TwitterDesmond Cole/Twitter

A municipality in Canada has apologized after creating a Black History Month “challenge” for its employees that included activities like “dance to a reggae song” and “have a conversation with a Black employee.” 

Durham Region, which consists of eight cities, towns, and townships east of Toronto, set out a number of activities for its employees to complete in February, which also included answering questions about the geography of Africa, cooking an African or Caribbean meal, and taking a “photo of an item in your home that reminds you of Black History.” 


Toronto-based writer Desmond Cole, author of The Skin We’re In: A Year of Black Resistance and Power, tweeted a screenshot of the challenge Wednesday, asking, “so @RegionofDurham created a black history month  scavenger hunt activity for employees… this what we're doing in 2021?” 

The challenge was then widely condemned on Twitter as tone-deaf and tokenizing—particularly the directive to have a conversation with a Black employee. 

“Have a conversation with a Black employee? And then what? take a photo and share on Twitter? Checkmark your paper and then move aside for the next white person to talk to the Black employee?,” one person tweeted. 

Is response to Cole’s tweet, Durham Region issued a statement apologizing for the challenge, which has been cancelled. 

“We are sorry. As part of Durham Region’s Black History Month Initiatives, an internal challenge activity for Durham Region staff was a mistake. It has caused harm to our Black employees and community,” said the statement. 

The statement said the municipality will “ensure the remaining activities for Black History Month are both respectful and educational.” 

Speaking to CityTV’s Breakfast Television Toronto Thursday, 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. “We’ll do everything we can to regain that trust with our community.”

Elaine Baxter-Trahair, chief administrative officer for Durham Region, told Breakfast Television 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 and that’s why we’re apologizing to you today.” 

She said the challenge was created by a “diverse committee” but she is going to make sure they “have the proper training before they begin to plan events like this” again. 

She also said Durham Region is creating a diversity, equity, and inclusion office to address systemic racism within the community. 

Earlier in the month, Durham Regional Police were criticized for cop cruisers that had been outfitted with pictures of influential Black historical figures like Martin Luther King Jr., Harriet Tubman, and Nelson Mandela for Black History Month. 

Last summer, Durham Regional police chief Paul Martin said he believes there is systemic racism in the force, but he stopped short of supporting calls to defund the police. 

Follow Manisha Krishnan on Twitter.