HIV/AIDS reared its ugly head some decades ago and has been a persistent threat to Black communities in Toronto. In the late 80s, the Black Coalition for AIDS Prevention steering committee was formed. Its objective was focused on generating awareness through education on the transmission and prevention of HIV within the Black community through a culturally specific and sensitive manner. The project grew exponentially attracting a fulltime project manager and a part-time support and outreach worker.
Black CAP received funding with Hamambee as the sponsoring agency in August of 1989 and hired a project coordinator and an administrative assistant. Black CAP’s first home was located within Harambee’s office on McCall Street. The position of Education Coordinator was added in 1990 and the Support Coordinator in 1991. These four positions created a foundation for the organization’s fulfillment of its mandate of education and supporting the diverse Black communities on HIV/AIDS.
From the inception, the organization realized that in order to place HIV on the Black communities’ agenda, it was necessary to integrate HIV in both health and social spheres within the community. It was also clear that to foster support for the work, the organization had to work in collaboration with other AIDS Service Organizations (ASOs) as well as participate on a local, provincial and national level around advocacy, education and support. Additionally, the linkages of Black communities in Toronto to Black communities overseas made it necessary for the agency to play a role around HIV/AIDS internationally.
Between 1989 – 1991 the agency worked towards making the above vision a reality by securing the funding base from the federal, provincial and municipal governments. This was necessary as it enabled us to strengthen the agency with core positions. During this time most of the work was done on a local level – courting Black community agencies and groups to provide education such as workshops, info tables, developing materials and of course, Caribana. During these years most of the volunteers were friends and family members of staff and board members.
In 1991, a major shift occurred when the organization became incorporated in March, and in June of that year a Board of Directors was formed from the original Steering Committee of the Project. The organization was then ready to step out on its own and in October of that year the agency moved to the location on Parliament Street. Towards the end of 1991, the agency participated in three innovative initiatives by providing placements for AIDS Workers from Trinidad and South Africa and producing the film, Survivors. We also joined the Ontario AIDS Network and the Canadian AIDS Society.
By 1993, there was also a significant shift in the agency as the North York, Volunteer and Fundraising Coordinator positions were added to the organization. We also began a 2-year outreach project, the Access project within five regions in southern Ontario. These positions were necessary, as the demand for education from the North York region had increased significantly. The agency was also attracting more individuals who were interested in volunteering, hence the need for a pool of skilled volunteers. Also during this time most of the service users were sexually active gay men. The majority of the support was provided in hospitals, in homes and in public areas such as a coffee shops. Also most clients saw the Support Department as a location for support before dying. Indeed, during those years, we lost a lot of service users as there were as many as 10 deaths per year.
The following year, 1994, the founding Executive Director moved on and a new Executive Director was hired from within the organization. During the next two and a half years the organization focused on fortifying its principles by developing policies such as the Personnel, Confidentiality, Conflict of Interest and the EFA policy. The by-laws were also strengthened to better reflect the philosophy of the organization. Also during those years, the Lime and the Men2gether outreach programs began. In addition, the organization continued its international work by supporting HIV/AIDS initiatives in Guyana and Jamaica. Further, there were numerous local, provincial and national initiatives. As 1994 closed we were well on our way to placing HIV/AIDS on the community’s agenda. In the spring of 1995, the staff and board gathered to create the Vision 2000 document. A critical component of the vision was to find a new location. This became a reality in mid-1997 and there was a feeling when the agency moved that we were not just physically changing locations but rather, we were moving towards 2000 and beyond.
Between 2001 and 2004 the agency went through a number of changes including changes in leadership and staffing. During this time staff such as Lena Soje and Malston Anderson worked hard to maintain Black CAP’s role in Toronto’s HIV/AIDS sector. In 2005, Black CAP entered a new strategic alliance with Africans in Partnership Against AIDS (APAA) and African Community Health Services (ACHS). This partnership, called Muungano (Swahili for ‘Working Together’), led to better coordinated services in Toronto’s African and Caribbean communities.
In 2006, under the leadership of the Board and staff the agency began a period of stabilization, growth and renewed energy with the adoption of a new Strategic Plan. The plan identified a number of new roles for the agency and created a foundation for future growth. This plan was later updated by the 2007/2008 Board and a number of directions were revised to include a broader public role for Black CAP and a growing focus on fundraising.
Between 2006 and 2008, Black CAP experienced an explosion of new programming and services and the staff team and budget grew to all time high levels. Over this time Black CAP more than doubled its budget and tripled its staff team.