A member of the Guelph Black Heritage Society (GBHS) says their group is not letting incidents of threats and vandalism hold them back from their work.
Both incidents occurred within the past month on the property of the GBHS, which is located on Essex Street in Guelph. Currently, these incidents are being investigated by the Guelph Police Service.
Kayla "Kween" Gerber, executive director of the GBHS, says she learned about the vandalism from GBHS President, Denise Francis.
"Our president of GBHS went by the heritage hall, and we noticed that our security lines, phone lines, and internet lines were disconnected and cut." said Gerber.
According to Gerber, this isn't the first time they have experienced vandalism since opening in 2011, but during the pandemic, the building has been undergoing renovations to improve their service outreach.
After discovering this act of vandalism, Gerber says members of the organization were then threatened by a community member in a different incident.
"We do have members that help to take care of the facility, and it's unfortunate that one of the neighbours in our area-- an older man-- made threats of violence," said Gerber, "To take that threat to someone who is not a threat is really appalling."
"It's disheartening to have these conversations again and again. We have to aim for change and the change has to start now so that we don't lose someone to violence."
The GBHS is a group composed of 15 members who provide resources and organized events within their community, including a Black Lives Matter protest in the City of Guelph on June 6. Since then, Gerber says their group has seen a rise in negative response.
"Our experiences with people online...we got a lot of unnecessary feedback, upsetting feedback, which wears on your emotional, physical and mental health."
Gerber says these particular incidents involving their building and members have been quite saddening for their community.
"These are radical times, which means that people who have hatred in our hearts, are also radical." she said, "It is unfortunate to see this within our community, but we are trying to push forward to thrive."
While they have experienced negative reactions, Gerber says there has also been a lot of positive responses within the community.
"We have been hearing a lot of positive from our other neighbours who are so disheartened by the news and want to put together a neighbourhood protection group and watch groups that can keep in contact with some of us, and make sure the building is safe." said Gerber.
"There are a lot of ways the community has reached out to us to band together. So despite the negativity, we're seeing a lot of positivity and unity coming out of this."
In the meantime, Gerber says GBHS is going to continue developing educational resources for their new initiative, #ChangeStartsNow, which will provide information on Black history, issues, literature and more.
"The heritage has been a safe haven for over 140 years and it will continue to do that." said Gerber, "It started as a BME [British Methodist Episcopal] church in the 1880's built by past slaves, and this is going to continue to be a meeting place for our Black, indigenous and people of colour."