Leading Through Change

Climate Justice Toronto and Climate Justice Scarborough

Leading Through Change



Leading Through Change
About Yohanna

Yohanna is a Black, cis-AFAB, womanist, second generation displanted African-settler in Tkaronto, a student at the University of Toronto as well as an organizer with Climate Justice Toronto, Climate Justice Scarborough, and Scarborough Co-op Market.

Yohanna’s commitment to Black, Indigenous, and racialized food, land and climate justice stems from her ancestral history of small and local farms and wood commerce. In the past, she has organized with the Black Students’ Association and the Caribbean Studies Students’ Union at the University of Toronto. She has also been a health advocate for Art + Health , a community based not-for-profit focused on bridging the gap of mental health education, support and resources to the Ethiopian and Eritrean community in Toronto. Currently, she is a market coordinator for the Scarborough Co-op market.

Both youth and locally-led collectives organizing for climate justice, these organizations offer an inspiring take on grassroots organizations within the city. This includes Indigenous sovereignty, migrant justice, income equity, land justice, racial justice and more. They advocate for climate justice by addressing its root causes, which are racial capitalism, white supremacy, colonialism and cis hetero-patriarchy.

Tkaronto or Toronto, is on the traditional territory of the Anishinaabe, the Haudenosaunee, the Wendat, the Mississauga of the Credit First Nations, and any other nations recorded and unrecorded. It is still home to many Indigenous peoples from across Turtle Island.

Climate Justice Scarborough is guided by the following principles:

  1. Advancing, partnering, and supporting existing initiatives
  2. Engaging with the community
  3. Providing safe spaces for communications and education
  4. Engaging with policy
  5. Participating in direct action
How did you get started as a community organizer? What motivated you to enter into community organizing?

I grew up in a close community around organizers and I spent a lot of time at community centres. I was always interested in environmentalism but mainstream, colonial, environmentalism is super white and classist. But, in the process of decolonizing my understanding of environmentalism, I learned that I’ve known climate justice advocates my entire life.

A lot of BIPOC, recent migrants, low-income people practice low and local consumption, reuse and repurpose, advocate for food, land, and racial justice, advocate for better public transit and other public services; this comes out of survival rather than trendiness.

Those most affected by the climate crisis contribute the least and even the most environmentally aware folks in an industrialized nation still contribute a disproportionate amount because of the way our society is built. This is because the biggest indicator of individual ecological impact is income and wealth, which is related to systemic oppressions like racism, settler-colonialism, capitalism, cis-hetero-patriarchy, ableism. These major systemic issues cannot be solved on an individual level and that is what motivated me to get involved with community action.

“To make real change we must move away from shaming individuals and address the climate crisis as a collective at the root causes; racial capitalism, colonialism and cis-hetero-patriachy.”

Tell us more about the projects that you’re currently working on with the Climate Justice Scarborough.

The first project we started in January 2020, was creating and sharing an educational resources list and building our network. This list includes COVID-19 statements and resources, Eyes Off Scarborough open letter, fundraisers and more.
The second project launched in May 2020, was a free FoodShare good food box distribution in collaboration with Scarborough Mutual Aid (SMA). Through that project we were able to distribute over 250 good food boxes to community members with a mutual aid framework. That project taught us that community members are looking for more long-term and sustainable food access programs, and so in July 2020, we launched Scarborough Co-op Market (SCM) a community-led, non-profit weekly, online and in person market focused on improving access to local, ethical, fresh goods. Climate Justice Scarborough, Scarborough Mutual Aid, and Scarborough Co-op Market are now in the final stages for launching a Market Credit Program for the Scarborough Co-op Market, generously donated by FoodShare.

A lot of recent research and stories have come to light regarding health inequities amongst racialized communities in Toronto during the COVID-19 pandemic. How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your work with Climate Justice Scarborough?

For me, the challenge at the beginning with COVID-19 was navigating space for crisis, panic, despair, burnout and grief in the community. Since the beginning of the pandemic, we’ve integrated more regular conversations about addressing and preventing burnout and how systems of oppression block access for some to healthcare and other services, not only during the pandemic but historically. That’s really shifted my view on how I show-up and contribute towards sustaining a community that can support each other through these experiences.

Despite the challenges, I’ve found a lot of comfort during this time in community organizing and working together in a way that can be healing. I’ve also learned more about mutual aid; including that “mutual aid projects are distinguished from philanthropic-driven charity and simple generosity by four main principles: self-organization, egalitarianism, direct action, and the desire for social transformation.”

COVID-19 has also impacted the logistical side of our organizing. For example, we’ve completely transitioned to digital or remote meetings. For those with transportation barriers, our meetings are now more accessible, however, for those with digital access barriers, our meetings are now less accessible.

“Massive and rapid progressive change can happen really quickly and it’s extremely possible. We don’t have to wait for anyone to tell us or to guide us in the direction that we know is right.”

As a community organizer, what have you learned from the pandemic? Has this changed the way that you organize in the community?

There isn’t a moment or an individual we have to wait for to create the society we want to live in. If we want to build a better future for ourselves we can do that right now starting with building community accountability.

I learned a lot about mutual aid from our collaboration with Scarborough Mutual Aid and they have a really wonderful breakdown in their Linktree about the principles of mutual aid. I also learnt about addressing burnout with a justice lens in an organizational space and community-led grassroots food justice.

How has the public response related to systemic oppression, racial injustice, and intersectionality impacted your work? We’ve recently seen a lot of response to issues like Black Lives Matter. How has that changed your work?

At Climate Justice Toronto and Climate Justice Scarborough, this looked like our Black and Indigenous solidarity and care fundraiser. Initially this started off as our members setting up care packages for our Black and/or Indigenous members. But after re-assessing the situation, we found that we should expand our fundraising efforts to support things like rent, food, therapy, and culturally-appropriate support. The fact that we started with a goal of collecting $1,500 and have now passed $25,000 shows that people are interested in mutual aid and climate justice.

Do you feel like there is enough private/public funding or support in order to aid the projects that you are working on? How has the public responded to your community work throughout the pandemic?

Climate Justice Scarborough is grassroots, and we’re not a charity or registered non-profit. We’ve had small-scale successful fundraisers, but that alone could never be enough to undo the systemic oppressions causing the climate crisis and social inequities. To have enough support to aid our major goal of ‘climate justice for all’, we need more folks with privilege committed to organizing for dismantling and disrupting the systems of oppression that they benefit from.

What can the public/organizations/government do to support your work?

To support our work the public/organizations/governments could listen to BIPOC climate justice organizers. Right now, the Canadian government is not addressing the climate crisis in a meaningful way. For example, during the pandemic, Canada committed ten times the G20 average of additional support for fossil fuels. What the public can do is join a grassroots organization and hold the government accountable for a just recovery from the climate crisis and the global pandemic.

The three places to check out:
  1. Climate Justice Scarborough Linktree + Climate Justice Toronto Linktree links to meetings, actions, fundraisers and how to get involved.
  2. Fundraiser by 1492 Land Back Lane : 1492 Land Back Lane – Legal Fund
  3. Today Divest Canada Collision released a letter calling on Canadians universities to:
    • Divest from the past
    • Reject false solutions
    • Invest in the future.

If you are interested in getting involved with Climate Justice organizing or learning more about it, please join us now! We’re up against powerful forces and we need everyone who wants “justice for all” to get involved.

Community Organizing: Leading Through Change is an interview series developed in partnership with the School of Cities (University of Toronto).