Friday, 20 October 2017

Social Justice Activist Invested with Honorary Degree at York University Accepts with a Powerful Speech

By Neil Armstrong

Photo credit: York University. Angela Robertson delivers a moving speech after receiving an honorary doctorate, Doctor of Laws, from York University at its Fall Convocation on October 19, 2017.
York University has conferred an honorary Doctor of Laws degree on a well-known social justice activist, advocate for women's and low-income people's rights, and a York alumna.

Angela Robertson, executive director of Parkdale Queen West Community Health Centre, was celebrated for her achievements at the Fall Convocation of the university on October 19 in Toronto, Canada.

“Angela is a passionate advocate for people and communities facing marginalization, discrimination and poverty. Her advocacy which is focused on community support demonstrates the tremendous impact that a single individual can make,” said Rhonda Lenton, new president and vice-chancellor of the university, while extending her congratulations to Robertson for her commitment to equity and social justice – values she said that York holds dear.

She also received congratulations from the chancellor, Gregory Sorbara.

Robertson grew up with her great grandmother and grandmother in Industry Cove in Hanover, Jamaica and came to Canada to join her mother, a domestic worker.

“This afternoon, we honour Ms. Robertson, the type of fighter we yearn to have on our frontlines battling discrimination, poverty and marginalization. She’s a passionate feminist leader whose activism and career focus on community and social justice,” said Professor Ananya Mukherjee-Reed, dean of the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies.

She noted that Robertson is dedicated to championing the rights of women, the LGBTQ community and the disadvantaged.

“When these places were envisioned they did not have me and those who look like me in mind, and I’m here despite that restraint. And I say thank you, first to all who have toiled, being victorious, being made sick and those who have died making bread out of stone to keep me alive paving a way to make this possible,” said Robertson who in the 1990s worked as an editor of social issues manuscripts at Women's Educational Press.

She thanked those who never made it as they entered ‘the door of no return.’

The former executive director of Sistering – A Woman’s Place said she accepted the degree for her mother, Leta Campbell; her great grandmother, Muriam Harris; her grandmother, Violet Maud Harris, better known as Aunt Kitty; and “the community of women who nurtured me as a young feminist in the Toronto Black Women’s Feminist Collective and with the many in my life who work continually to undermine patriarchy.”

“It is important for me in these kinds of gatherings to locate myself as my own history informs my analysis and the impact I want to have on the spaces I occupy and negotiate. History -- which is not unique to me -- the history of my grandmother and my mother as the work that I do and the impact I strive to have is inextricably linked to their histories and the histories of other women across this city who catch the first bus and train to low-income wages to support their families.”

She said it is her relationship to this collective history that has shaped her commitment to social justice and striving always to create new ways of being in the world.

Robertson said her great grandmother’s husband died leaving her with six children to support. Her grandmother, Aunt Kitty, the second child, went to work at 13 years old to help support the family never having the opportunity to attend school.

“She worked in cane fields, she worked cleaning houses, cooking and cleaning classrooms in schools like this. In her work life, she, literally and figuratively, fought to not have her rights trampled upon. I grew up knowing that I want to have half the fighting spirit she had and a clear sense of entitlement to fairness and justice to those around me.”

Her mother, Leta, left Jamaica when Robertson was five, joining hundreds of Caribbean women who were enrolled in what was then called the Caribbean Domestic Workers Scheme, now called the Live-in Caregiver Program, to work as domestics in Toronto and across Canada.

“When I joined my mother I heard her stories of struggle against exploitative employers who, then and today, continue to treat live-in caregivers as their personal slaves.”

Robertson said her mother had the insight to apply for landed status near the end of her contract behind her employer’s back.

She was successful but not before taken to small claims court by her employer for the price of the plane fare and medical bills that paid for her travel to Toronto, and at the same time the cost of steak – “meat, steak he claimed she ate without his authorization.”

Campbell was able to repay the money for the plane fare and the steak.

“In witnessing these struggles I made a promise to myself for the line of mothers and grandmothers that I would sign myself up wherever possible to fight and change those things that devalue black women’s lives, women’s lives, low-income people and working people’s lives that produce poverty and shame, rage and illness, hurt and silence, inequality and injustice.”

Robertson said she did not attend previous convocations for her undergraduate and graduate degrees at York because the university taught her to rebel against systems and institutions.

She said this denied her mother the opportunity to celebrate so she thanked Professor Leslie Sanders and supporters for nominating her for the honorary degree “so I could return to this place to right that wrong.”

“I regret that my grandmother, Aunt Kitty, is not here to witness this moment as I know that this honorary degree of law for her would mean that she could be fiercer, taking actions against injustice because now in her analysis she would tell the oppressors that she had a granddaughter with a law degree that could defend her. But I would have to remind her that it really isn’t that kind of degree,” she said, eliciting some laughter from the audience.

Angela Robertson being presented to Fall Convocation as the candidate to receive an honorary Doctor of Laws degree.

Addressing the over five hundred graduands, Robertson said President Lenton’s remarks focused on the anchoring principles that will guide her tenure at York: excellence, access, connectedness and impact.

“What is the impact you want to have as you use these degrees that you have just gotten from this institution? You get these degrees at the time of tremendous pressure in the world which manifest itself in the rise and the unmasking of the Right, giving way to Islamophobia, xenophobia, anti-Black racism, anti-Indigenous racism, the use of the threat of national security by the governments as rationalization and justification for the limitation of rights and large-scale military intervention to so-called ‘keep us and this world safe.’ And to return us to some romanticized notion of the past when we were all safer and stable. Many of us in this room have lived with instability and insecurity and that is not a romantic notion – this past for us.”

Robertson said there has also been a doubling down of patriarchy to “keep and put women in our place which is not in the public sphere of leadership and we have seen our leaders talking about grabbing us in our wherewithal and groping us all about.”

“We leave armed, you leave armed with your degree at a time when your actions and/or your inactions will have an impact because there is no neutrality in not interrupting injustice and inequality. You get these degrees when everything around you would suggest that your work and you work for your individual needs to get your piece of the proverbial pie, and/or to get rich or die trying.  I compel you to use your knowledge to push against that sentiment as the stakes are too high for all of us if we fail.

“In the words of poet Audre Lorde, ‘If we fail, women’s blood will congeal on a dead planet.’ Hence with your knowledge and the privilege of this degree and these degrees we must band together to take action – big and small – that will have an impact of creating more equity and justice. It is in your interest to fight for a higher minimum wage, it is in your interest to fight for the organization of work that reduces precarious working conditions. It is in your interest to fight for a social assistance system that enables people to move out of poverty. It is in your interest to support unions and unionization because we know there is a unionization advantage for racialized and women workers. It is in your interest to push and demand for investment in publicly funded educational system -- this is what it can produce. It is in our collective interest to fight against cutting or limiting investment in social programs as a way to reduce taxes on the middle class. It is in our collective interest to have equitable immigration and economic trading policies because the lower prices of the clothes we wear are directly linked to the poor working conditions and low pay received by workers in the global south.

“Violence against women and girls is our interest because it says something terrible about the valuing of Indigenous women’s lives when we have here in this country over 800 recorded murdered and missing Indigenous women. This is the population of a small town in Ontario. This warrants more than government’s apology; it requires our collective indignation and action. The issue of male violence against women and girls is men’s concern because it diminishes your humanity.”

Robertson thanked the educators present who “inspired us, who gave me access to the tools and language to make a case against inequality and for just social change.

“And you have now given me the privilege of this honorary degree to add to my tool kit for just social change.”

Speaking of the impact of educators, Robertson named a few such as Professor Leslie Sanders “who in that summer’s black writers course gave us that very long reading list. But among that list was the book, The Black Poets. Leslie, you inspired me to see the value of poetry’s ability to speak succinctly and from the soul about my reality, and how poets can paint with words the just world we fight for but cannot see,” she said, choking up resulting in a spontaneous applause of support.

She named other professors who introduced her to topics and ideas such as: bell hooks, women and work, the dangers of Caribbean nationalism, liberation theology, race and migration, the role of Caribbean literature in nation building, racism in the police services, an interrogation of Frantz Fanon, Marx and critique of liberal democracy, and Foucault.

She also thanked administration staff – one in particular who helped her and other students “to navigate the morass of administration form filling.”

“Thanks for feeding activism and creating space for critical engagement and strident disagreements. You too will have your own names and I encourage you to affirm those who have had an impact in giving you tools to shape the world you want to live in and leave behind.

“The women and men who live with indignities of poverty and homelessness with whom I’ve worked and my activism in the black women’s and LGBTQ communities have taught me that movements, work and organization with a social purpose and actions of resistance for equity require only the commitment of a few who can risk saying no. And the faith to discard notions of all requirements about being practical as practicality can limit actions for just change. In justice-seeking work practicality often means compromising and muting our public dissent and disagreements with the status quo for fear of what might lose.

“My recommendation is that every day we strive and we need to strive to live our values with purpose and urgency no matter how impractical. Every day we need to try and make visible our acts of resistance against oppression and build alliances with communities facing because our privilege come at their expense. We need to be mindful not to separate service provision work from social justice change work as doing so means committing ourselves to the institutions of programs for poverty, homelessness and violence and not changing the social conditions which create and give rise to those issues.

“I believe that no act of interrupting oppression is ever wasted. They serve as inspiration to others. They affirm the struggle of others, near and far, and they affirm the moral imperative that it is our individual and collective responsibility to work for what is just and right.

“Thank you to the communities of women, men and trans folks to whom I am committed and who have worked with me as an ally and to whom I am in alliance. They have survived abuse, they have lived with immeasurable loss, have suffered the indignities of poverty, the stigma of mental illness and substance use, the brutality of racism and homelessness and the immense loneliness they all bring. They have taught me that some of what we all need the most – compassion, dignity and recognition of each other’s humanity – have been hardest to find.

“Thank you to the colleagues and allies I work with as it is the strength of our collective efforts that will make and sustain just change.

“So, I accept this award with a plea that you see the impact of inequality, that this impact looks like poverty, racism, sexism, homophobia, colonization, to name a few. And, that you claim your ability to have meaningful impact by taking individual and collective actions to interrupt inequality.

“Finally, I believe that to deliver on this we must rely on ourselves and on each other to be allies in our struggles. Your struggle for justice must be my struggle for justice because there is no justice in achieving access and equity for some while leaving inequality in the path of others. We may be tired. The leaders we have at the moment in the world make the task daunting but we must be relentless and constantly vigilant.”
She concluded her Convocation address with an excerpt of “Blues Spiritual for Mammy Prater,” a poem by Dionne Brand in which the poet looks at the photograph of Mammy Prater, an ex-slave who was 115 years old when her photograph was taken.

She dedicated it to “all those who have gone before us who have been waiting to see us arrive safely” and received a thunderous applause at the end of her speech.

Robertson served as an advisor to the Minister Responsible for Women's Issues, was a manager at Homes First Society and the Community Social Planning Council of Toronto, and was a director at Women's College Hospital.

She been recognized with a number of awards including: the Urban Alliance on Race Relations Award, the YWCA Woman of Distinction Award for Social Change, the Rubena Willis Women of Distinction Award for work on violence against women, the Women's Post Top 20 Women of 2010 Award, and the Fred Victor Centre Mary Sheffield Award for work addressing poverty and homelessness in the City of Toronto.

The new honorary Doctor of Laws recipient has also been recognized by Toronto's NOW Magazine as one of the top 10 community activists on social justice issues and one of six Toronto LGBTQ heroes worth celebrating.

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Jamaican-Canadian's Memoir Wins Toronto Book Award

By Neil Armstrong

B. Denham Jolly, author of "In the Black: My Life."                       Photo credit: Fitzroy Facey

Jamaican-Canadian businessman, philanthropist and author, B. Denham Jolly is the winner of the 2017 Toronto Book Awards for his memoir, “In the Black: My Life,” published by ECW Press.

Presented at the Toronto Reference Library on October 12, the Toronto Book Awards, established by the Toronto City Council in 1974, honour authors of books of literary or artistic merit that are evocative of Toronto.

The annual awards offer $15,000 in prize money: finalists receive $1,000 and the winning author is awarded $10,000.

“It is absolutely incredulous and unexpected. I feel this is a community win not only because my story is a Black /Jamaican story but because it shines a bright light on it,” said Jolly.

The other finalists were: "I Hear She's a Real Bitch," a memoir by Jen Agg published by Doubleday Canada; Catherine Hernandez's novel, "Scarborough," published by Arsenal Pulp Press; "Life on the Ground Floor," a memoir by James Maskalyk published by Doubleday Canada; and "Any Other Way: How Toronto Got Queer" edited by Jane Farrow, John Lorinc, et al., published by Coach House Books. They were shortlisted from a long list of sixty-one books.

“Black rights activist and entrepreneur Denham Jolly should be a household name. With humour and colourful anecdotes, In the Black shines a light on many of the hurdles faced by immigrants trying to make a better life for themselves and their children. From politicians to community leaders, no punches are pulled as Jolly recounts the hurdles that littered his path to business, personal, and community success. In the Black recounts Jolly’s journey from a happy boyhood in Jamaica to business success in Toronto publishing Contrast and founding FLOW 93.5, Canada’s first Black-owned radio station,” said the judges.

This year's Toronto Book Awards Committee was comprised of volunteer members Steven Andrews, Cherie Dimaline, Dwayne Morgan, Martha Sharpe and Dianah Smith.

"This year, the Toronto Book Awards captivate us with intensely personal stories that reveal how Toronto's diversity is embodied through its residents," said Mayor John Tory at the announcement of the finalists in August. "It is also notable that three of the authors were recognized as finalists with their debut book."

“Once again we are amazed at the quality of work being done by local writers and the variety of points of view that the finalists represent," said Vickery Bowles, city librarian. "How lucky we are to live in such a vibrant city full of so much talent.”

Jolly, an award-wining businessman, civil rights activist, and former publisher and broadcaster, has sold his popular radio station, Flow 93.5, and nursing home business.

These days his major interest is in developing 200 acres of beach land that he owns in Negril, Westmoreland into a hotel and resorts.

After almost sixty years as a clerk, technician, teacher, businessman, publisher and broadcaster, he also plans to travel with his life companion, Janice Williams.

The memoir traces the struggle of this 81-year-old Jamaican Canadian to succeed in the face of anti-black racism in Canada.

Jolly, who was born in Industry Cove, Hanover and named after a British governor of Jamaica, came to Canada in the mid-1950s to study at the Ontario Agricultural College (now University of Guelph) and continued his education in Truro, Nova Scotia and Montreal, Quebec.

His first job out of Cornwall College was working at the West Indian Sugar Company plantation, Frome, in Westmoreland, which he considered the microcosm of colonialism.

The whole colonial system was abhorrent to him and as a result he spoke out whenever he perceived any form of inequity, even at his first job in Jamaica and subsequent ones in Canada.

“My father was a very proud man too. He used to challenge authority so I had all that in me when I came here and saw the overt racism that was handed out here.”

Early in life, his father, Benjamin Augustus Jolly, who operated various businesses, told him – “Don’t work for anyone but yourself. And always own property.”

His mother, Ina Euphemia Jolly, a justice of peace, made sure that he and his siblings knew the value of helping others.

In Canada, he countered discrimination by enlisting the support of white allies when he wanted to buy a house for his growing family – wife, Carol; toddler daughter, Nicole; and the arrival of twins, Michael and Kevin.

“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out there are different treatments for different people. Even I myself noticed that in certain circumstances I was treated differently so I paid attention to that and learn from it.”

Alongside community activists like Bromley Armstrong, Al Hamilton, Charles Roach, Jean Augustine and Dudley Laws, he would protest publicly the police killings of black people such as Buddy Evans, Albert Johnson, Lester Donaldson, Sophia Cook and others, starting in the 1970s to now.

His speaking out came from a sense of fairness, fearlessness, and pride.

“It doesn’t have to be done to me. I have to speak for the voiceless if I have the power to do it. They can’t fire me; they have to listen to me.”

When the policeman who killed Buddy Evans was exonerated in an inquest, Jolly was asked for a comment and said it was “a judicial abortion.”

 “In the Black: My Life” opens with an encounter that he had with a police officer over a fender bender involving his car a few years ago.

At the time, he was living here for over 60 years, at least 55 of which was as a citizen, but the police report referred to him as “a seventy-seven-year-old Jamaican immigrant” which Jolly says is “code word to say we just talking about a black man here; don’t worry about him.”

Jolly is the founding president of the Black Business and Professional Association and a former publisher of the groundbreaking Black newspaper, Contrast.

[This story was published in the NA Weekly Gleaner, Oct. 19-25, 2017.]

Legacy Claimants Happy about their Successful Hearings

By Neil Armstrong

From left: Sebastian Commock, Alexander Joseph and Jeff Lopez of the Canadian Legacy Refugee Alliance (CLRAA).

Several legacy claimants – many LGBTQ refugees from the Caribbean – are walking with more confidence now that their five-year wait is over and they recently had successful hearings at the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB).

Executive members of the support group, Canadian Legacy Refugee Advocacy Alliance (CLRAA), say they have been hearing happiness in the voices of those who contacted them after the hearings.

Refugee claims referred to the IRB before December 15, 2012– are what it calls "legacy claims” – and many claimants felt forgotten when the Stephen Harper-led government changed the system.

The IRB said although most of these claims were heard before the new refugee determination system took effect on December 15, 2012, there were some claims that had not yet been heard.

In May, IRB formed the legacy task force, which has a two-year mandate, to provide dedicated support to the elimination of its backlog of legacy claims.

The hearings started on September 18 at the IRB in downtown Toronto, and among those who were successful is Alex, 49, of Saint Lucia who had his on September 29.

He said the adjudicator was very polite and made him feel very comfortable. 

She asked him some questions for about 15 minutes and then asked his lawyer if he had any questions. The lawyer did, and after statements from a witness, the decision was made after 30 minutes. 

Within an hour Alex’s hearing was done and he walked out of the IRB heaving a sigh of relief – the 5-year wait was over and he was successful.

Alex came to Canada on September 9, 2012 and filed a refugee claim on October 18. 

“The final decision was very relieving. I actually had tears of joy on hearing those words that we consider you a conventional refugee deserving of Canada’s protection.”

He said every year he wondered if he would hear these words welcoming him to this country. Upon hearing them he cried.

“I couldn't stay there anymore. The biggest reason, I was being threatened in the community where I lived and another reason was extortion. The culminating thing was that two of my friends were arrested because they were caught having sex with someone in their car and they made the news for two weeks, their pictures on the television screen,” he said regarding his reason for fleeing his homeland.

Alex said through his 44 years of living in Saint Lucia “it was like 44 years of torture.”

“I mean I had some good times, but in terms of my sexuality and how people treated me, very terrible.” 

Alex said he had given up before the formation of CLRAA, especially after he and a friend visited the office of his Member of Parliament to seek help in the matter but got none and left feeling frustrated.

He said CLRAA uplifted his spirit and made him feel a lot better than the “very dark time” that he was experiencing.

“When you listen to how people express how the group has impacted them that is enough to give you the drive to continue. Literally, right now the way I feel, if someone cries, the tears come to my eyes. If they smile, I’m smiling with them. I feel like I’m a person that’s in this situation,” says Jamaica-born Sebastian Commock, an executive member of CLRAA.

Commock met with Gaétan Cousineau, head of the legacy task force, a few times over the summer and was told that legacy claimants would be contacted.

“Seeing the people’s faces and just being with them and being able to help them really makes me feel good,” says Jeff Lopez, another CLRAA executive member.

Alex said since he got his hearing date he wasn’t sleeping much and was waking up after four hours but on the night of his hearing he slept for almost eight hours.

“I have been sleeping well ever since,” he said, hoping also that legacy claimants will not have to wait 18 months but can be fast tracked for their permanent resident cards.

He said CLRAA has a WhatsApp group of 30 people that provided him with positive energy and support on the day of his hearing.

Last year, several Caribbean and African LGBTQ refugee claimants who have been in Canada since 2011 and 2012 shared their frustration at the long wait time to resolve their situation with the Weekly Gleaner. Many felt that their lives were in limbo.

El-Farouk Khaki, a Canadian refugee and immigration lawyer, representing many Caribbean clients who have legacy cases – most of whom are Jamaicans – said almost all of the cases are either sexual orientation or gender-based, so LGBT people or women fleeing some kind of domestic violence situation.

While answering a question at an event organized by Operation Black Vote Canada and the Canadian Association of Urban Financial Professionals on July 27 in Toronto, Ahmed Hussen, the minister of immigration, refugees and citizenship said changes to the refugee system made by former minister, Jason Kenney, in 2012 had really disadvantaged some refugee claimants.

 “Through no fault of their own these people’s lives are in limbo and they’re called legacy refugees. There used to be about 20,000. We’ve reduced them to about 5-6,000 people. And I have been very, very, involved in this issue,” said Hussen, noting that he meets the chair of the Immigration and Refugee Board, Mario Dion, almost on a monthly basis.

Hussen said he was assured by Dion that all the 5,600 cases will be cleared in less than two years “so there’s light at the end of the tunnel.”

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Organizations Take Collective Action to Tackle Violence in the City

By Neil Armstrong

Floydeen Charles-Fridal, new executive director of the Caribbean African Canadian Social Services (CAFCAN). Photo contributed

The Caribbean African Canadian Social Services (CAFCAN) and Midaynta Community Service, with the support of East Metro Community Services, are hosting a community meeting focused on a collective action against the recent spate of violence in the city in which Somali-Canadians, Abdulkadir Bihi, 29, and Zakariye Ali, 16, were killed.

Entitled, “CI Squared: Taking Action Against Violence,” the meeting will be held on Thursday, October 19, 6:00 p.m.-9:00 p.m. at the Jamaican Canadian Centre, 99 Arrow Road in Toronto.

Floydeen Charles-Fridal, the new executive director of CAFCAN, says the reason why it is called “CI Squared” is intentional.

She said this is related to the funding that’s going out to the Black community from the Ontario Black Youth Action Plan, which was announced by the provincial government in February this year.

The plan is to help eliminate systemic, race-based disparities for Black children and youth.

“One of the things they talk about is collective impact and cultural identity and call it CI Squared and we wanted to demonstrate that this type of response is exactly what that is. It’s the actioning of the action. It’s the pulling together of community to demonstrate that it is about collective impact, and collective impact requires everybody who has resources or whatever assets, if you will, to be involved towards solving any kind of issue or working towards change.”

Last week, members of the Somali-Canadian community were demanding an end to the violence and called on Michael Couteau, Minister of Children and Youth Services, to visit the area, which they said is lacking in services for youth. The minister has agreed to meet with the community.

Charles-Fridal, who is on her sixth day at the job, said it is important, as an organization, to let people know “we’re here on behalf of the community and this is part of how we are to function as people of African descent. We are each other’s keeper.”

She described the spate of deadly shootings as a crisis and “while there are other meetings and things happening that’s not to say that JCA, who is also partnering with us on this, we don’t understand the importance because it affects all of us.”

“I think we have to understand that this is a public health concern and not just about those people, that group or that community, so that’s why we spreading a wide base across the GTA hoping that people will come out, support and understand that.

Charles-Fridal says one key message that she hopes will be sent is that “this is our concern and people understand that we all have to come together and figure out collectively – yes, the government provides funding, yes, we’re taxpayers – but we need to see this situation as part of what is important to us because every time we hear of a death, whether we realize it or not in our community, it’s traumatizing on whatever level.”

She says this is about trying to mobilize in a different kind of way and understanding “the urgency of now before we lose more lives.”

In the recently released interim Toronto Action Plan to Confront Anti-Black Racism, Juliet Allen, program director of Delta Family Resource Centre, which works primarily with Somali youth, thinks that the Somali community is one of those that has not settled very well because many fled war in their homeland.

“Some of the children that they took with them were not children of their own but they were trying to get the children out so families would just take children to protect them, she said.

Allen believes that many did not learn how to deal with the trauma and as a result violence has been the outcome for some young people.

She is urging the government to address the anger and loss that they experienced and to offer support.

Mayor John Tory said the city has presented an action plan with five themes, 22 recommendations and some 80 actions that it can undertake.

“This is a real plan and I am committed to acting on it,” he said.

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Thinking About Authors, Books, Reports, Events, and the City of Toronto

By Neil Armstrong

This is the season of authors and books, and hearing from publishers about more books. (smile)

Yesterday (Oct. 14) was very grey and while down at the Harbourfront Centre for dance Immersion’s “Movement in Time” celebrating Canada’s 150th anniversary – “showcasing dance within a diverse community from the African Diaspora” – I picked up a copy of the International Festival of Authors, October 19-29, 2017 festival guide to see which Black, Caribbean and African authors are being featured this year.

Before the show started at the Harbourfront Centre Theatre at 1:00 p.m., I was by the boardwalk looking out at the Toronto Islands but also perusing the guide.

Here’s a quick synopsis of some of what’s coming up during the festival:

“Art and Politics in the Age of Resistance” – Special Event – Oct. 19, 7pm, Fleck Dance Theare. André Alexis participates in this event.

Oct. 21, 4pm – “Poetic New Worlds” at Studio Theatre with Dane Swan (writings include poetry, prose and editorials on literature and popular culture), Michael Fraser (teacher, poet and writer) and others.

Oct. 21, 5pm, Lakeside Terrace. Ian Kamau is a writer, music maker and designer: an artist who believes in the pursuit of actualization, especially by marginalized individuals and groups. Kamau will participate in a special event. Canisia Lubrin, who serves on the editorial board of the Humber Literary Review and on the advisory board of the Ontario Book Publishers Organization, will also participate.

“Come Rhyme with Me” -- Oct. 21, 7-9pm, Main Loft, $10 – “Enjoy a night of rhyming, rice and peas with Dean Atta and Deanna Rodger alongside a menu of performers chosen for their wit, wisdom and their ability to move you. For all lingual lovers, slammers, singers and rappers, this spoken word explosion is presented as a dining experience with a set menu of performers. The evening will have an open mic at the start and a distinctly relaxed Caribbean feel with a delicious meal.” It is presented in partnership with the British Council Canada and Toronto Poetry Project.

I didn’t know who Dean Atta and Deanna Rodger were, but luckily their bios are also in the program. Atta is of Jamaican and Greek heritage, born in London, UK, whose poem, “I Am Nobody’s Nigger,” was published by the Westbourne Press. He was named as one of the most influential LGBT people in the UK by the Independent on Sunday Pink List. Rodger, who is of Jamaican/Scottish heritage, is an international writer, performer and facilitator. She co-curates two leading spoken word events: Chill Pill and Come Rhyme With Me.  Rodger teaches the Writing Poetry for Performance module within Benjamin Zephaniah at Brunel University.
Both artists will participate in a free “Toronto Poetry Slam” at Lakeside Terrace on Oct. 20 at 7pm.

Oct. 22, 4pm, Brigantine Room. “Relate and Reflect” – Rachel Manley will read (I’m assuming from her new book, “The Black Peacock.”) At 5pm, she will be signing copies of her book.

Oct. 24, 2-3pm, Lakeside Terrace -- The Children’s Book Bank Book Club @ IFOA, a free event, will be held at the Lakeside Terrace. Dwight Drummond will moderate a conversation between the kids and the author of October’s featured read.

Oct. 29, 3-4pm, “Walking Cities,” Brigantine Room – Tickets; $18/$15 for IFOA supporters. “Walking Cities” brings two authors, Dionne Brand (Canada) and Vahni Capildeo (UK) together to exchange ideas related to identities, places and territories. Presented in partnership with the British Council Canada. Brand will also participate in a special event on Oct. 21, 5pm at Lakeside Terrace.

Oct. 29, 5pm, Brigantine RoomGeorge Elliott Clarke, the Africadian poet, hails from Three Miles Plains, Nova Scotia. He will participate in a special event.

Cynthia Reyes' new children's book, "Myrtle the Purple Turtle," is available on

AND, check out Cynthia Reyes’ new children’s book, “Myrtle the Purple Turtle.”
The story is about a turtle who learns to love and accept herself for being different. It’s also about friendship and inclusion and -- believe it or not -- it’s also quite funny in parts. Cynthia wrote this story for her younger daughter, Lauren, when she was 4 years old and was bullied for being different.

The book debuted on as the #1 Hot New Release in children’s book and the #1 in its category.

Jessica Alex of Upon A Star Books sent me an email introducing author, Shakara Andem, to me.

“Shakara recently published a children’s book entitled, There Is a God, which was inspired by true events in Shakara’s life. Jamaican born and raised, Shakara spent the beginning of her childhood as an orphan. Her young mother left her as a baby, and for years she stayed in a children’s home.

 “As an adult she has built a life for herself here in Canada, working with children, something that she is very passionate about.

“She has since learned that her childhood experience was a process, and now has a close relationship with her mother. These experiences have taught her the importance of trusting God, even in times of adversity.

“Her purpose in writing, There Is a God was to give hope to others and to teach children the importance of faith and prayer; something that she believes has brought her to where she is today,” said Alex in the email.
I am looking forward to meet Shakara and her new book.

I’m reading Rachel Manley’s “The Black Peacock” and Karl Subban's and Scott Colby’s “How We Did It: The Subban Plan for Success in Hockey, School and Life” now. Enjoying both.

Also reading the City of Toronto’s interim Toronto Action Plan to Confront Anti-Black Racism, June 2017, in light of the recent shootings of young Somali men.

“On Thursday, frustrated members of the Somali-Canadian community came together to demand an end to the violence and call on Children and Youth Services Minister Michael Couteau to visit the area, which many community members say are lacking in services for youth,” said a CBC report, noting that Coteau is willing to meet with the community.

I conducted some interviews with community stakeholders for the City’s report and now I’m reflecting on one with Juliet Allen, program director of Delta Family Resource Centre, which works primarily with Somali youth. I’ll share some of her insights in a story soon.

I had posted on Facebook that I’m working on a story about how the Black, Caribbean and African communities in Toronto are being affected by the opioid and fentanyl crises in the city. It’s coming along slowly but I got an email last night that should move things along quickly this week.


Launch of Robin Maynard’s new book, “Policing Black Lives: State Violence in Canada From Slavery to the Present,” on Friday, Oct. 20, 6:30-9pm at A Different Booklist Cultural Centre, 777-779 Bathurst St., Toronto.

Afroglobal Television presents the Excellence Awards on Saturday, Oct. 21, 6pm red carpet reception, 7pm awards & dinner at the International Centre, 6900 Airport Rd., Toronto. Tickets: $150. MC: Matthew Green, Hamilton city councillor. Call 416-650-6424

Spoken word artist, Dwayne Morgan, presents The Roots Lounge Open Mic and Poetry Slam on Sunday, Oct. 22 at A Different Booklist, 779 Bathurst St., Toronto. Doors open at 7pm, show at 8pm. Cost: $5 [Morgan presents When Brothers Speak spoken word concert on Nov. 18.]

B. Denham Jolly, winner of the 2017 Toronto Book Awards, reading at "The Word On The Street" Toronto Book and Magazine Festival on September 24, 2017 at the Harboufront Centre.

International Festival of Authors-Scarborough presents Jamaican-Canadian authors, B. Denham Jolly and Rachel Manley, on Oct. 25, 7pm at UofT Scarborough Campus, 1265 Military Trail, Scarborough. Visit

Black Business and Professional Association’s annual general meeting will be held on Thursday, Oct. 26, 6:30pm at the BBPA Centre of Excellence, 180 Elm St., Toronto.

Operation Black Vote Canada presents GENERATION NEXT Black Youth Political Summit, for youth 16-24 years on Saturday, Oct. 28, 1:00-4:00pm at Toronto City Hall, Community Room 1, 100 Queen St. W., Toronto.
Sponsored by Councillor Michael Thompson, Ward 37

JCA Women’s Committee Mental Health Wellness Fair, “Minding Your Mind Matters,” on Saturday, Oct. 28, 9:30am-2:00pm at the Jamaican Canadian Centre, 995 Arrow Rd., Toronto.

Black Health Alliance presents its 3rd annual forum on black health, “Beyond A Sound Mind: Building a Black Health & Well-Being Strategy,” on Saturday, Nov. 4, 8:30am-4:30pm at Dalla Lana School of Public Health, 155 College St., Toronto. Register at eventbrite.

JCA’s Political Advocacy Committee presents a townhall meeting for Peel’s Black community on Thursday, Nov. 9, 6-8pm at Xaymaca Restaurant, 30 Kennedy Rd. South, Brampton. RSVP at 

A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE HERITAGE SINGERS                                     

Contact:          647- 556-2712 heritagesingers         

Heritage Singers Canada celebrates 40th Anniversary with
“Reflections…A Walk Down Memory Lane”

Toronto, ON— For four decades, the Toronto-based Heritage Singers Canada has been entertaining Canadian and international audiences with a rich repertoire of Caribbean folk songs and songs from Ghana and South Africa.

On October 21, 2017 at 2pm and 7:30pm, the women and men of the Heritage Singers will commemorate their 40th anniversary with a celebratory concert — “Reflections …A Walk Down Memory Lane” — at the Toronto Centre for the Arts, 5040 Yonge St., Toronto (Yonge & Sheppard area).  This 40th anniversary journey, revealing the cultural richness and creativity of Jamaican/Caribbean musical theatre, will include a Tribute to Jamaica’s cultural icon…the Hon. Louise Bennett-Coverley (“Miss Lou”) who lived in Toronto for almost 20 years. Also appearing is well-known Jamaican writer, storyteller and poet, Joan Andrea Hutchinson.

You will sing or hum along to the medley of Jamaica’s award winning Festival Songs, and the nostalgic Mento music played on the authentic rhumba box -- a favorite among visitors to the island. A touch of Hakka and Mandarin songs will be a first-time treat. We will reminisce together to the rib-tickling scenes from past Heritage Pantomimes.

The group’s 30 members hail from various Caribbean and non-Caribbean countries such as Ghana and Pakistan, and come together to engage in what they love to do—sing. Founding member, Valerie Laylor, says she is still enjoying the group after 40 years.

With the leadership of its founder and musical director, Grace Carter-Henry Lyons, the Heritage Singers render secular, religious, and traditional folk songs in thoroughly engaging performances. Sometimes they sing a cappella, but usually they sing accompanied by any of a variety of instruments, including the keyboard, banjo, rhumba box, steel pan, guitars, and drums. Dressed in various colourful costumes created by the group, the Singers present captivating audio-visual performances as they sing with rhythmic body movements that complement and interpret the songs and music.

“This production is one you just cannot miss! It's going to be exciting and uplifting! Come and see Kumina, a dance-ritual originated by the people of the Congo; and Quadrille, a European dance seen almost exclusively at festivals. The Quadrille originated in France at the end of the 18th Century, spreading across Europe and eventually to the colonies in the Caribbean,” says  Lyons.

In one peppy, captivating song, guests at a Caribbean wedding ask their host for rum and wine. Instead, he gives them ginger beer, and the disappointed guests wail, “Oh, Oh, Oh, Mr. Murdoch! What a burning shame!”  (  Folk Song #5) 

As ambassadors of culture bridging cultural gaps, the 40th anniversary gala production celebration promises to transport the audience through forty years of the Heritage Singers’ colourful sights, captivating sounds, and moving songs.

What: Heritage Singers Canada presents “Reflections…A Walk Down Memory Lane”
When: Saturday, October 21, 2:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
Where: Toronto Centre for the Arts, 5040 Yonge St., Toronto (Yonge & Sheppard area)
Box Office 416-250-2787
Ticketmaster 1-855-985-2787

Heritage Singers Canada is a Toronto-based, non-profit, volunteer organization, dedicated to the development, promotion, and appreciation of Caribbean and African folk songs. Members come from diverse cultural backgrounds, and the songs are sung in various languages—Jamaican dialect (usually called patois), English, Ghanaian, French, and Spanish. Since 1977, the choir has introduced this aspect of cultural heritage to International Folk Festival audiences in Holland, Germany, Taiwan, Mexico, Venezuela, the United States, and Canada. 

AND, information about Exco Levi's album release:

NARRATIVE, Exco Levi’s sophomore album, street date November 24, 2017.

Album launch: Café Decuf 221 Rideau St, Ottawa, Friday, November 17, 2017

Lula Lounge, 1585 Dundas St W, Toronto, Thursday, November 30, 2017

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Union Leader Receives Award for Her Fight for Equity

By Neil Armstrong

Yolanda McClean, recipient of the Ed Blackman Award for her activism on racial justice, with CUPE National president, Mark Hancock, at CUPE's National Convention at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre on Oct. 3, 2017.

Yolanda McClean, second vice-president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Ontario, diversity vice-president on CUPE’s National Executive Board and president of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists- Ontario/Canada Chapter, is the recipient of the Ed Blackman Award for her activism on racial justice.

 She received the recognition at CUPE’s National Convention at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre on October 3 where Mark Hancock, national president, described her as a champion fighter for equity.

“As equity vice-president for CUPE Local 4400, representing 13, 000 Toronto education workers, Yolanda has fought side by side with education workers against precarity across CUPE workplaces. As a trade union leader, Yolanda has been vigilant in promoting actions against precarious work knowing that our racialized members are most likely to be affected by it,” said Hancock.

He said McClean had worked hard to increase the participation of women and equity seeking groups at all levels.

“As a diversity vice-president for CUPE National, she has promoted anti-racism programs and caucuses for workers of colour and CUPE sectors across Canada and she has been a strong advocate for employment equity programs.”

Since 2013, McClean has been the president of the Canadian Chapter of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU) providing a strong voice for black workers within the international trade union movement, and challenging organized labour to be more relevant to their needs and aspirations, Hancock noted.

He said McClean’s leadership is reflected in her work as a facilitator sharing her personal experiences and acting as a mentor for workers of colour.

In her acceptance speech, McClean said she was only able to do this work because of the strength that she received from many people within the labour movement and outside.

She thanked the members of CUPE National, the board, and CUPE Ontario for their continued support.

McClean also thanked the CBTU for “being there all the time and encouraging her as a leader to continue to push the envelope and for continuing to work to promote access, to open doors for other black workers in this labour movement.”

Referring to CUPE Local 4400, she said its leader John Weatherup is committed to the work that she does, and she described the members as her “rock.”

“To my own family who is here with me today who has given me the strength to fight every single day to be the person that I am today, and they’ve given me the courage to continue to do this work.

While it’s been time-consuming and a lot of sacrificing - sometimes I’m not even sure if the keys still work in the door -- but I could never have done this work without your love and support through these past years.”

Her parents -- 80-year-old mother Sylvia McClean and 88-year-old father Lionel McClean -- were on the stage for the occasion with Yolanda noting that her father has Alzheimer’s and doesn’t even know who she is but, “I feel that you love me and I feel that you’re proud of me, and to my parents, thank you for the shoulders that you’ve given me. I love you very much.”

“The only thing we can do as activists is what we’ve always done: fight back, be bold, be brave,” she said in concluding her remarks.

The late Ed Blackman was a worker of colour and a committed trade unionist on the local and national scenes. 

He was a founding member of the CUPE National Rainbow Committee and a prominent local and national leader of the union. 

Blackman served for many years as president of CUPE Local 500, Winnipeg Civic Employees, and as a general vice-president on CUPE’s National Executive Board.

The award is presented to a CUPE member who strengthens the labour movement by: d
emonstrating commitment to activism on racial justice; providing leadership and acting as a role model for activism; dismantling barriers to greater participation for workers of colour in our union; promoting racial justice in the workplace and the community; promoting and defending the rights of people of colour in our communities to build a stronger social movement.

The winner receives a commemorative plaque and CUPE will make a $1,000 donation to the social justice organization of her or his choice. McClean has chosen the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists.