What has changed in the year since Waterloo Region's Black Lives Matter march?

The death of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, sparked global outrage, reigniting the Black Civil Rights movement and calls for systemic change.

The calls echoed around the world, and in the Waterloo Region, thousands of people marched in solidarity in a peaceful protest through downtown Kitchener.

One year later, those same streets are quiet and a major question remains: has anything changed?

“We've seen a lot of people get hired, there were a lot of positions created. In terms of actual change I don't think we've seen much of anything,” said Teneile Warren with ReAllocate Waterloo.

According to Selam Debs, a local anti-racism educator and activist said it is encouraging to see how grassroots organizations have mobilized and created a shift in the community.

“What I would say has not changed that institutions have in many ways doubled down," Debs said.

Since the Black Lives Matter march last June, two additional anti-racism rallies have taken place in Waterloo Region in recent months.

Warren said this speaks to the fact that working to end systemic racism is an ongoing process.

“It’s not stagnant and it won't be addressed by committees, and taskforces and anti-racism town halls," Warren said.

Municipal governments and Waterloo regional police told CTV News that they are working with local community groups.

Both Warren and Debs say their calls for institutional change have not been answered.

Kerann Hutchinson was among the thousands of people who marched through the streets of Kitchener on June 3rd, 2020.

One year later, Hutchinson notes we are at a critical point.

“We need to understand that we're at a critical stage right now. We all have to have our boots on the ground and get this done; it's for the good of all of us," Hutchison said.

According to Debs, moving forward, progress comes down to a shift in thinking for allies and non-racialized community members.

“Where you begin to become curious, ask questions, examine yourself. Integrate an anti-racism and anti-oppression lens into everything that you are doing. The thinking needs to be these systems are oppressive and it's unethical for us not to act," Debs said.

Although there is a long road ahead, Hutchinson, Warren and Debs are hopeful that meaningful steps towards actionable change can happen.

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COMMUNITY LEADERS REFLECT

One year has passed since thousands of people rallied in Waterloo Region to support the Black Lives Matter movement.

CTV Kitchener asked leaders in the Waterloo Region community to reflect on the year  since the historic march. Here's what they had to say:

Bryan Larkin, Chief of Waterloo Regional Police Service

"It's a pivotal moment in the history of our region," Larkin said of the march one year ago.

He said it sent a strong message to leaders of public institutions in Waterloo Region.

"For me, it was a point of having, internally, a larger discussion saying the work we're doing has to progress and it has to be expedited and our community is looking and demanding opportunities for change," Larkin said.

He said it's important to recognize that systemic racism exists in the institution of police and other community institutions.

"In many ways, it solidified the need to continue to do the work," he said.

"The tragic murder of Mr. Floyd created the opportunity for larger systemic and system change."

One of the continued calls from a year ago including defunding the police and reallocating funding for police budgets.

Larkin said they've heard the message from community members, but said it's a complex issue and discussion.

"I don't think that simply removing money from the food service budget and reallocating it somewhere else will solve and address some of the challenges we're facing, I do believe in a united discussion," he said.

He added the force is working to better address mental health and use of force, and they have a group working on an equity team looking at race-based data.

Dave Jaworsky, Mayor of Waterloo

"The Black Lives Matter in Waterloo Region will go down as a very big turning point in our entire community," Jaworsky said.

"As far as I'm concerned, the rally was simply a starting point. That was a starting line and the finish line is so far ahead of us that we don't know where it is yet."

Jaworsky added the city has formed a team focused on diversity at the municipal level and staff are receiving training to address racism.

He said it's important for everyone to feel a sense of belonging in their community.

"We have a long journey to go, so we'll just keep on marching forward."

Berry Vrbanovic, Mayor of Kitchener

"As we reflect on the past year, it's certainly been a transformative year for communities like Kitchener and around the world," Vrbanovic said.

He said the community needs to work to make things more equitable in the future.

Vrbanovic added Kitchener has also assembled a task force to work on equity and anti-racism initiatives, including training for city staff and volunteers.

"This is work that the City of Kitchener, both from a staff and a council perspective, is incredibly committed to," he said. "This is work that we prioritized throughout the pandemic and will continue to be a priority for us in the months ahead."

"It's very much an active commitment from the city to build a community that is aware of these issues, that talks about these issues, that tackles them head-on and really moves the community forward in terms of equity and diversity."

Laura Mae Lindo, NDP, MPP Kitchener Centre

"It's interesting that despite over 20,000 people marching in Downtown Kitchener a year ago, and over 10,000 people participating online, I'm still having to justify the call for resources from the province dedicated to Black people in Waterloo Region," a statement from Lindo said in part.

She said Waterloo Region wasn't included in the Black Youth Action Plan released by the Liberals in 2017 and expanded by the Conservatives in 2020, along with the Student and Family Advocates initiative aimed at helping Black families in the educational system.

According to Lindo, the funding went to the GTA, Hamilton, Ottawa and Windsor.

"That means that Black communities in Waterloo Region have no access to $60 million over three years simply because the government has decided there are not enough of us in Waterloo Region to warrant these investments," the statement said.

"Real system change for Black communities across Waterloo Region requires real investment not only municipally but provincially and federally as well."