TTC Black Transit Workers’ Association comes through for students

By Lincoln DePradine

Kyron Lewis and a bus full of backpacks

The Learning Enrichment Foundation (LEF), hampered by the Coronavirus pandemic in its annual mobilizing of back-to-school supplies for students, turned to the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) for assistance this year and received about 10 times more than they requested.

The LEF, a non-profit organization, reached out to TTC for help with backpacks. “The original amount requested were 150,’’ said TTC driver Kyron Lewis, president of the commission’s newly formed Black Transit Workers’ Association.

Last Monday, Lewis joined other TTC employees, including representatives of the commission’s Council of Minority Transportation Officials, at a backpack distribution ceremony at the LEF’s Industry Street centre in west-end Toronto. Instead of 150 backpacks, in excess of 1,000 were given to students, ages four to 18.

More than 80 percent of the backpacks contained supplies such as COVID protective masks, gloves and hand sanitizer; TTC Presto cards; geometry sets; calculators; pens; pencils; and colouring books.

“In this tough COVID times, parents are struggling, things are hard; so, it is incumbent upon us that we give back to our youth, mentoring them, giving them help on the path to success,’’ said Lewis.

Asked about the Black Transit Workers’ Association, Grenada-born Lewis told The Caribbean Camera that it aims to be “a voice to highlight Black issues, celebrate Black accomplishments and advocate for Black rights within our workplace, within our industry. It’s the first ever Black-focused group within any of the transport systems in Canada’’.

After speaking with a few workplace colleagues about setting up the association, Lewis said he also met with some at the TTC management level.

“I approached TTC management and said that, especially in the climate that we live, with what’s happening around the world, we need to have a group within our organization where we can liaison and articulate for Black rights; where we can level the playing field and have a seat at the table; where we can tell people about the Black experience, such as being racially profiled,’’ said Lewis.

“No matter what diversity and inclusion policy you put together, the Black experience could only be told by a Black person. Black people face the most amount of racism, anywhere.’’

Lewis said his association’s next step is to be “officially launched within TTC’’, by embarking on visits to all divisions and departments of the commission, “so everybody knows what we’re about, what we’re doing, how we’re doing it, and what we hope to achieve’’.

Ultimately, said Lewis, the association wants to become “the voice of Black transportation workers’’ not just in Toronto, but also all across the Province of Ontario.