Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Black Canadians Summit Held to Draft Plan of Action

By Neil Armstrong

Photo credit: Clive Sewell/Toronto Public Library. Michaëlle Jean, 27th Governor General and Commander-in-Chief of Canada, Secretary General of the International Organization of La Francophonie and Justice Donald McLeod of the Ontario Court of Justice and Chair of the Steering Committee of the Federation of Black Canadians.      

The National Black Canadians Summit, a three-day bilingual gathering to mark the International Decade for People of African Descent, was held in Toronto from December 4 to 6.

Organized by the Michaëlle Jean Foundation, the Federation of Black Canadians and the Toronto Public Library, it featured over 80 speakers from across the country, 16 strategic planning sessions, and several cultural performances.

Over two days participants worked on drafting a six-year, community-driven plan of action to remove racial barriers and enhance wellbeing, prosperity and inclusion for Black Canadians.

The sessions covered topics such as: democratic engagement, access to affordable housing and shelter, black ownership, generating black wealth, accessing justice, migration and inclusion, media representation, arts and black identity, community safety, mental health, physical health, and education.

Peter Flegel, director of programming and development at the Michaëlle Jean Foundation, noted that the decade was launched by the United Nations General Assembly in 2014 with the expectation that member states would join in and support the decade and the program of activity that would follow suit.

“Canada is in the process of doing so and we’re proud to be part of a really critical movement of civil society that’s pushing the nation forward to embrace the fundamental principles at the heart of the decade, which are recognition, justice and development,” said Flegel at the opening.

He said the impetus for the summit came from black youth that the Foundation has worked for and with since 2014.

It started with the idea of opening up the spaces of public cultural institutions to the creativity of black youth.

This was done at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Art Gallery of Ontario, and in other museums across the country.

Photo credit: Clive Sewell/Toronto Public Library. Peter Flegel, Director of Programming and Development, Michaëlle Jean Foundation, welcoming those attending the summit.
 Flegel said they used these exhibitions as a pretext to gather in a public forum to discuss the issues at the heart of the exhibits.

“Two things came up recurrently wherever we were, Vancouver, Halifax, Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa. The first thing was the desire for a national gathering where people would have an opportunity not only to share best practices and network but to take it a step further and begin working on a national strategic action plan.”

He said the second was for a national advocacy organization that could represent the diverse interests and needs of Black Canadians across the country.

Tracing the genesis of the Federation of Black Canadians, Donald McLeod, a judge of the Ontario Court of Justice and Chair of the federation, said the process started about 18 months ago when a young pregnant woman was shot. She died and so did her baby.

“It becomes something that’s a never ending story. So as a result there is a meeting, there’s discussions and then we find ourselves 18 months later where we’re standing today,” he said.

Justice McLeod said when he was younger he often heard the narrative that “we can’t get together as a community.”

“We’re disjointed, we’re fractured; our unity is a fiction. The big West Indian island can’t deal with the small West Indian island, little England can’t deal with the trickidadians, continental Africans refuse to work with those in the Caribbean, Scotians versus West Indians, Francophones versus English-speaking. The narrative was filtered down through the generations. Well, today, I speak against the false narrative.”

McLeod said Black Canadians are more unified now than they have ever been.

“We are not unified by a common language, by a religion, a country or a zip code, I’m suggesting to you that our unity is in our blackness and it is that blackness that defines,” he said.

He said the summit is a continuation of the dialogue that was started decades ago and that they will be focused and practical, innovative in their analysis, and germane in their delivery.

“The rallying cry of the federation is and continues to be ‘Nothing about us without us.’ We will as a community endeavor to challenge how we are viewed and how decisions are made around and about us. We will as a community endeavor to challenge how we are viewed and how decisions are made around and about us. We will continue the path laid down by those who came before.”

The Federation of Black Canadians was launched on the closing day of the summit with the unveiling of its website, www.fbcfcn.ca.

Justice McLeod said the address for the organization is the Black Cultural Centre in Nova Scotia and underscored the need for it to be more inclusive than exclusive.

He said he sought counsel from people like Jean Augustine, Howard McCurdy and Juanita Westmoreland-Traore, acknowledging the role of “persons who came before us.”

In a video greeting, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who was in China when the summit opened, said there is still so much work to be done to make sure Black Canadians have real opportunities and an equal chance at success.

Toronto mayor, John Tory, said it was a coincidence that on the day that the summit starts its deliberations city council would be asked to approve not only its first formal Indigenous Peoples office but also its very first Anti-Black Racism Strategy.

Tory said they started the process by presenting the results of 40 years of prior studies and asking what of them has been done and what should be done as opposed to adding another study to the pile.

The information was presented to hundreds of people in 41 community meetings organized by the community and “we asked them to tell us which of the 40 years worth of recommendations needed to be acted upon.”

Tory said this was put back in front of an open community plenary session to help council to understand what can be best done to help the African Canadian community to advance and to eliminate anti-black racism.

There were also greetings from Vickery Bowles, city librarian, Toronto Public Library, Moses A. Mawa and Patricia Bebia Mawa of Silvertrust Media, Ahmed Hussen, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship and from federal NDP Leader, Jagmeet Singh – the first person of colour to lead a national party in Canada.

Photo credit: Clive Sewell/Toronto Public Library. Jagmeet Singh, Official Leader of the National Democratic Party of Canada speaking at opening of the National Black Canadians Summit on Dec. 4, 2017.

Singh acknowledged a Jamaican, the late Rosemary Brown, who led the way by running for leadership of the federal NDP in 1975, and trailblazers like Jean Augustine.

“I’m speechless to see how bold we are, how courageous we are. Whatever we do we aim to expand the realm of possibility for us,” said Michaëlle Jean, Canada’s 27th governor general and secretary general of the International Organization of La Francophone, about the summit.

Rinaldo Walcott, director of women and gender studies, OISE, University of Toronto, made some opening remarks in which he noted that Black Canadians have gathered nationally before and have forged national black organizations before but in the most recent absence of a national advocacy organization many have been wishing for one that would seek to represent divergent interests at the national level in this country.

“So these meetings are historic for many reasons. Among those reasons is that first this gathering happens in the context of the UN International Decade of People of African Descent – a declaration that seeks to shed light on specific ways in which people of African descent have been globally disadvantaged by anti-black racism.

“Second, and this gives me great joy. This gathering opens tonight with the voices, the presence and the art of Black Canadian LGBTQ, trans, gender non-conforming, queer, bi, gay, lesbian and as my Jamaican brethren would add, all sexuals. For a black national gathering to begin while centering the lives of those of us who are queer it means that a significant political gesture is being offered. And we enthusiastically accept.”

Walcott said the measure of a just society is how it treats its most vulnerable and disadvantaged members. 

Photo credit: Clive Sewell/Toronto Public Library. Rinaldo Walcott, Director of Women and Gender Studies, OISE, University of Toronto presenting some opening remarks.

He noted that Canada is often regarded as one of the best places in the world to live “and often right so for many good reasons but Canada has a very long way to go to live up to the claim beyond OECD measurements, in particular, the life chances of black and indigenous peoples….”

He said black people are dying in numbers disproportionate to others in every conceivable arena of life and Walcott is proposing that any new policy actions must past what he calls the ‘black test.’

“The black test simply suggests that any policy that does not meet the requirement of ameliorating the dark conditions of black people’s lives is not the policy worth having. This proposal is a challenge to rethink the very grounds of our desire for a national and global transformation, where it begins and where it ends, who it begins with and with whom it ends. The black test is a proposal that is a challenge to policy and government imaginations whereby black people are seen as an urgent necessary litmus test for policy that works, that has transformative impact. Every policy and proposal should be subject to the black test. By that, I mean it should meet the test of ameliorating black dispossession and making black life possible. If the policy does not meet the black test then it’s a failed policy from the first instance of its proposal,” said Walcott.

There were awards presented to several public leaders, influencers and trailblazers such as entrepreneur Michael Lee Chin, Marie Clarke Walker and Larry Rousseau, secretary-treasurer and executive vice-president respectively at the Canadian Labour Congress, parliamentary poet laureate George Elliott Clarke, Syrus Marcus Ware of Black Lives Matter TO, Angela Cassie, vice-president, public affairs and programs, Canadian Museum for Human Rights, Cameron Bailey, artistic director, Toronto International Film Festival, Emilie Nicholas, board member, Canadian Race Relations Foundation, and El Jones, Nancy’s Chair in Women’s Studies, Mount Saint Vincent Library and former poet laureate of Halifax.

Awards were also presented to Michaëlle Jean, Jean Augustine, the Black Government Leaders network and Howard McCurdy, former Member of Parliament.

There were performances such as a drumming session with Ras Medhin, Njau Osbourne James and Sekou Osbourne James; a negro spiritual by Jully Black; music by Emmanuel Travis and Deeshorty, spoken word by Faduma Mohammed, dance by Sanaaj Mirrie, founder and artistic director of Afiwi Groove School; music by Freddy King, Hip Hop recording artist; singer Robert Ball; and a Kiki Ball performance by Kiki Ball Alliance featuring Travoy, Twysted, Marvel and Kitana.

[A shorter version of this story has been published in the North American Weekly Gleaner, Dec. 12-18, 2017.]

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Canadian Jazz Icons to be Celebrated for Their Legacy

By Neil Armstrong

Photo contributed            Oscar Peterson

Photo contributed          Oliver Jones

Two Canadian jazz icons will be honoured at a special concert to mark Canada’s 150th birthday and the 20th anniversary of the Living Arts Centre in Mississauga, Ontario in December.

“Oscar Peterson and Oliver Jones: A Celebration” will bring several musicians together on one stage, including legendary jazz pianist, Monty Alexander; JUNO and Emmy Award winner, D.D. Jackson; Montreal Jazz Festival grand jazz award winner, Robi Botos; Marc Cary, and several others at the Living Arts Centre on December 9.

Peterson died in 2007 at the age of 82, Jones is 83 and retired in 2016.

“It’s really about the legacy. It’s a Canadian story that I don’t think is told quite often enough,” says Frank Francis of Caliban Arts Theatre who is the artistic director of the event.

Speaking from his home in New York, Alexander says he is delighted to have been invited to honour Peterson and Jones, “two incredible pianists, with Oscar Peterson being a total icon of history in music.”

While playing in New York in the 1960s, Alexander went to a club to see Peterson, “the master pianist and one of the greatest” perform.

“I saw him play and it was beyond anything you’d see. He carried a presence and was a great artist with power and yet such elegance at the same time. And certainly that affected me in a grand way.”

The Canadian pianist introduced Alexander to MPS -- a company that he recorded with -- and told them that they should record him. As a result of Peterson’s recommendation, Alexander ended up making several albums in Villingen, Germany.

“He carried a world of how this thing can go when you sit at a piano and own it. When you play the piano you own it. Every note you play is an extension of who you are, what you are. I always felt that from the first time I sat at a piano I just felt that this piano was my friend.”

Alexander, a Jamaican, said there was a kinship that he shared with Peterson and Jones because of their West Indian heritage.

Both of the Canadian pianists were born in Little Burgundy, Montreal. Peterson’s parents were from St. Kitts and the British Virgin Islands, and Jones’ were from Barbados.

He said there was a close camaraderie between Peterson and Jones, who he didn’t know that well.

 “This was a man from on top of the mountain,” he said comparing Peterson to Usain Bolt and Muhammad Ali.

He said Peterson was a generous man filled with a lot of humour and he will play something to reflect on what he meant to him.

Photo contributed      Monty Alexander

Ron Westray, Oscar Peterson Chair in Jazz Performance at York University, says he’s very excited to be the musical director for “anything, all things Oscar Peterson” because “we don’t see enough of these.”

He says this is an opportunity to remind people of what they have here in Canada.

Westray, an American jazz trombonist who has been living in Canada for eight years and has been the holder of the Chair since it was created, says these are great musicians so he will kind of oversee their conceptualization of the material.

“These are guys who are conceptual musicians so my idea became more of a research idea. Get the raw materials ready for them, get the scores ready for them – Oscar’s scores – and allow them to interpret these movements in a way that they normally handle their music.”

Westray says the musicians seem okay with his approach.

He is the creator of an outreach program called the Oscar Peterson Jazz Mobile -- a traveling unit that goes around to area schools that don’t have the resources and expose them to jazz live concerts.

Francis says the musicians “are all sort of students of Peterson.”

“They’ve all sort of been inspired and influenced by him one way or another,” said Francis, noting that Dave Young, bassist, who played with Peterson and Jones will also be on the bill.

He said Jones was closely related to Peterson because they were both child prodigies and went to the same church in Montreal. Their families were relatively close, he said, and Jones was kind of Peterson’s little brother.

“But he is a giant, and I think while he’s here I figured he might be retired but while he’s here we should actually also acknowledge him. He doesn’t necessarily need to play but he needs to know that he’s remembered.”

Jones will be presented with the Living Arts Centre Lifetime Achievement Award.

Francis describes it as a mini-festival with four acts -- “So, you’re in for a treat. Everyone will tell their story a little bit differently so it won’t be the same right across. Everyone will have their moment to say what they want to say. I think that’s important.”

He said one of the things that is inspiring about this story is that typically when people think of jazz, they think of African Americans, but here are two incredible African Canadian men “who are actually coming out of the Caribbean and sort of make their way onto the scene the way that they have.”

“It’s really to speak to the African Canadian impact on this country as we celebrate Canada’s 150th,” says Francis.

Natalie Lue, CEO of the Living Arts Centre, says the event represents “the finest assembling of jazz talent ever on the main stage at the Living Arts Centre.”

Meanwhile, Kelly Peterson, Oscar’s widow, is looking forward to the celebration of both men.

“It’s wonderful to have them honoured together. Oliver has always been an encouraging voice for younger artists just as Oscar was, so I think it is especially appropriate that this special evening will include not only the statesman of jazz, Monty Alexander, but also the younger voices who are the future of this marvelous music.”

The program will feature a mix of primordial music written by Peterson and Jones and original material written by the three generations of artists who will be performing. 

Tickets can be purchased by visiting the Living Arts Centre's web page, www.livingartscentre.ca, and by phone through its Box Office at 905-306-6000

[This story has been published in the NA Weekly Gleaner, Nov. 30-Dec. 6, 2017.]                                                                

Black High School Students Organize Conference to Combat Stereotypes

By Neil Armstrong

Tonika "Toni" Morgan and d'bi.young anitafrika at the second annual Black Brilliance Conference at Downsview Secondary School in Toronto on November 21, 2017.

Several black secondary school students from fifteen schools in the Toronto District School Board recently gathered at Downsview Secondary School in North York for the second annual Black Brilliance Conference.

The student-led conference is committed to shifting the negative perception people have of black youth through student advocacy, education and encouraging black youth to use their voices for change.

Approximately 150 students met on November 21 to share their experiences in student-run workshops that covered topics such as hair, micro-aggressions, police brutality, Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome, toxic masculinity, and housing. 


Housing: Yo what are your ends?
Do you want to understand why the feds are always circling your block? Does where you live impact your chances of getting to post-secondary? Understand the stats that reveal the strategic containment of black people.

Microaggressions (Racism): Why You Sneak Dissin’?
Are you tired of being sneak dissed? Find out how racism and microaggression connects and how to deal with the issue.

Toxic Masculinity: Poison Da Mandem
Are you tired of the man code? So much stress on da mandem, come free up.

Don't Touch My Hair: Are the gyals tired of people saying your hair is fake even though it's real? Are the boys tired of hearing their hair is too nappy? Do strangers feel they can touch and comment on your hair? Are people surprised to see that your hair can grow past your neck? Come and can comb out your problems.

Microaggressions: Yes I'm here early, yes I have 2 parents and No, I don't know how to braid hair. Put a stop to : the Sneak Dissing' and Come thru.

Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome: Why are your parents always on your case? Come learn how the effects of slavery can be passed down from generation to generation.

Police Brutality: Watch out for the OPPs
This workshop will talk about everything from racial profiling to intimidation and how to deal with the “jakes.” Find out about your rights and how to use them.

Carvela Lee, a member of the executive committee of the Black Brilliance conference.

Carvela Lee, 17, a Grade 12 student and a member of the conference’s executive committee, said this was an opportunity to bring some of her ideas to life.

The other executive members – all in Grade 12 – are Shon Williams,
Shenel Williams and Audrey Sanchez-Figueroa.

“I felt, like, by me joining the committee I could get my ideas out there and to make an impact in someone else’s life.”

She said they chose the topics based on what’s going on in their lives and how well they can relate to certain things.

“This year, mine is Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome and what I’m doing in my workshop is basically focusing on the generational gap between parents and their children, and how that affects us. And how slavery played a role in our relationships and how we navigate the world.”

Lee said that at the end of the event she wants “everyone to be real with themselves because these issues are real.”

“People are just pretending that things aren’t happening so what I want from this is people to start acknowledging so that we can get better.”

Shon Williams, who facilitated the workshop entitled “Toxic Masculinity: Poison Among the Mandem,” said they discussed “difficult topics that highlighted the expectations around "manliness" of a black male and how their role is played out throughout our community.”

“Things got very intense when students were asked about how a man would be judged if they didn't act according to the expectations around being a "man.” We were able to expand by breaking down the elements of a stereotypical black man, and expressing our inner feelings in an intriguing mask exercise. We asked guys to write on the front of the mask what they show to the world, and on the back of the mask, what don't they let the world see. I could definitely tell that they were ready to let go and just take over the workshop, but that’s what made it the workshop to be at. It was so amazing to be around that atmosphere, it brought out a vibe that I couldn’t deny at all,” he said.

Tinuola Akinwande, an organizer of the first Black Brilliance conference held at Downsview Secondary School in 2016.

Tinuola Akinwande, 18, who organized the first Black Brilliance Conference in 2016 at the school and is now a student at Carleton University studying political science, said the conference is a response to a school-based trip to Harvard University organized by Tonika “Toni” Morgan. Forty-three students were on the trip.

“Basically, coming back from that trip I felt inspired. I felt empowered so I just thought what I felt was a once in a lifetime chance, especially, like, I felt so lucky and so grateful that I needed to share some of the experiences that I observed in Boston here.”

She said at Harvard the graduate students held workshops where they talked about things that applied to her as a black woman.

“So because of that, I’m just, like, we need this, because as I see in my school or in my community, too many people who are like me, too many people my age are just not motivated. They don’t know their purpose. They don’t know what they can do, despite their colour or their gender or their orientation or anything else.”

Akinwande saw Black Brilliance as being a platform for students, especially in the TDSB, for marginalized people to speak about their issues “especially in an education system that doesn’t really educate people upon other diasporas and histories.”

She said Downsview Secondary gave her a place to grow and a place to express herself and although Black Brilliance is student-led it could not happen without the help of the administrators and the adults involved, including Amita Handa, student equity program advisor at the TDSB.

Morgan, who was able to do a Master’s in Education at Harvard through crowd-funding in 2015, has graduated and just completed a fellowship there and is based in Boston. She flew into Toronto for the conference.

“It’s incredible, it’s humbling to watch it just play out in the way that it is because I think we often underestimate what our students have the potential to do. I think the only goal was to kind of show them a new world, not realizing that you’re actually a torchbearer. And by showing them this world, you’re handing the torch over to them,” said Morgan.

She said the students took that and they ran, and when she saw that she imagined how much more she should have done with them on that visit to Harvard.

“It’s changing me at my core because education is something I’ve always valued but I always felt like I’ve been denied for a number of reasons. I’ve always had to prove my worth to some teacher,” Morgan said, noting she had to do so on the day of the high school conference too.

Morgan took ten years to gain a Bachelor of Arts in equity and diversity studies at Ryerson University, which she attended while supporting herself and working in various jobs.

When she was accepted into Harvard, she turned to crowd-funding to help pay her tuition and living expenses. This resulted in donations amounting to $95,000.

The keynote speaker, d’bi.young anitafrika, a celebrated African-Jamaican dub poet, said she had to show up for young, brilliant black people.

 “The incredible thing about black brilliance and black excellence is, I feel that it is intrinsic to us. It takes black brilliance and black excellence to not only survive but to thrive internally, spiritually, and yes, we’re facing enormous challenges because of the historic scenarios that we have experienced as a people. For us to be where we are right now you can imagine the kind of internal resilience and perseverance and strength. We have to acknowledge that,” she said.

Morgan said the students came to Harvard in April 2016 for a conference about what it means to be black “with the age of Trump kind of looming over us as a possible outcome of the election.”

She said that was the grounding workshop, which she organized, where they got to talk about those kinds of things.

And just before that they were with students at the law school talking about these things. The law school students taught them things like the Socratic method and to ask their real questions.

“I remember one student said, ‘Tell us how you reconcile the fact that you are attending the oldest and probably most racist organization, one of the first racist organizations in America, as a black student. You’re going to graduate, that could very well mean it’s going to suggest that you embody the same values as the institution. How do you reconcile that as a black person?’”

Morgan said all the topics explored at Black Brilliance came up on that visit to Boston where the students discussed what it means “to be black and excellent and brilliant at the most prestigious university in the world, knowing at the same time that it was built on a legacy of injustice and oppression.”

Anitafrika said while growing up she was exposed to spaces where she was taught to critically think.

This was from being around the dub poets for whom critical thinking was an important part of discussions.

She was elated to see this opportunity for critical thinking by the high school students gathered at the conference.

Students from the following schools participated in the conference: Emery, CW Jeffreys, Westview, Northview, Lawrence Park, Runnymede, Humberside, Central Tech, North Albion, George Harvey, Marc Garneau, Oakwood, Richview, and Lakeshore.

[A shorter version of this story has been published in the NA Weekly Gleaner, Nov. 30-Dec. 6, 2017.]

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Physician Calls on Community to Strategize About its Health and Wellbeing

By Neil Armstrong 

Dr. Onye Nnorom, associate program director of the Public Health and Preventative Medicine Residency Program at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto.  Photo credit: Matthew Pompey

A public health and preventative medicine specialist says the Black community needs to have a long-term vision and to strategize regarding its health and wellbeing.

Dr. Onye Nnorom, associate program director of the public health and preventative medicine residency program at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto was the keynote speaker at the third annual forum on black health, organized by the Black Health Alliance on November 4 in Toronto.

The event was entitled “A Sound Mind: Building a Black Health & Well-being Strategy” and Dr. Nnorom’s presentation was under the rubric – “And Still We Rise…New Approaches to Old Problems: Setting Our Own Agenda.”

Participants met in breakout sessions to focus on poverty, housing, food insecurity, mental health, youth perspectives and HIV/AIDS.
Dr. Nnorom advised them to keep in mind that racism is “toxic/detrimental to our health and well-being and it is affecting us in every facet of our lives, throughout the life course.”
She said there has been some progress in reducing disparities in North America but it is not enough and emphasized the need to have a long-term vision of what community wellbeing looks like “for us and future generations.”
Nnorom, the vice president and chair of the Black Physicians Association and a family physician at the TAIBU Community Health Cenre, also called for a focus on youth and other vulnerable populations.
She urged them those in attendance to advocate for race and ethnicity-based data so they can identify and champion interventions that work.
Dr. Nnorom had them all saying: “We face challenges, but still we rise. The revolution will not be televised; it's happening, live. In solidarity, stay calm and decolonize. We must have a long-term vision and strategize.”
Sections of her talk were inspired from poems such asStill I Rise” by poet, Maya Angelou,The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” by poet, Gil Scott-Heron, and “Keep Calm and Decolonize” by Buffy Sainte-Marie, Canadian Cree singer-songwriter.
Using the definition of ‘revolution’ from the Webster dictionary as “a fundamental change in the way of thinking about or visualizing something: a change of paradigm,” Dr. Nnorom said it is “not swift/sudden/violent, but there is a fundamental change that is occurring across North America.”
She said change is happening, it is too slow but steady --sometimes over generations – and that most of it due to policies not directly related to the provision of healthcare.
We need to advocate for race and ethnicity-specific data to identify disparities but also to measure progress in Canada, and to identify and prove what works.”
Dr. Nnorom, who is also the University of Toronto MD Program black health theme lead, encouraged participants to “continuously identify and question the negative messages we have been taught about other groups, each other and ourselves.”
“All forms of racism, discrimination are related forms of oppression,” she said.
She also underscored the importance of understanding indigenous history, oppression and advancement.
“It took a long time to establish racial inequities; it will take time to correct it. We need to understand and teach about our own history and oppression in this country and throughout ‘the colonies’ populated by the African diaspora.”
She told them to remember that discrimination based on our intersectionalities (income, ability, gender, sexual orientation) is counterproductive, and to appreciate “the impact of intergenerational trauma on our present state.”
The Black Health Alliance (BHA) is a not-for profit, charitable organization focused on the health and wellbeing of Black Canadians.

The recently passed Anti-Racism Act, 2017; Ontario’s 3-Year Anti-Racism Strategic Plan; Interim Toronto Action Plan to Confront Anti-Black Racism and the International Decade for People of African Descent make it timely to build sustainable and meaningful action with a Black Health and Well-being Strategy, it said.

“Without a strategy aimed at improving elements within public systems that have a detrimental impact on black lives, we will continue to be over-represented among those who are suffering and under-represented among those who are fully engaged,
benefitting from and thriving in society,” said BHA president, Dalon Taylor.

“The time for a black health and wellbeing strategy is long overdue. A coordinated initiative to strengthen the capacity and resiliency of the Black community is needed,” she explained.

[This story has been published in the North American Weekly Gleaner, Nov. 23-29, 2017.]

Black Community in Peel Meets to Discuss Crucial Concerns

By Neil Armstrong

From left: Sharon Fletcher, Danielle Dowdy, Yolande Davidson and Audrey Campbell at the 'JCA Let's Chat' event in Brampton, Ontario.

The frigid temperatures did not dampen the enthusiasm of many members of the Region of Peel’s black community who attended a town hall meeting to discuss issues affecting their lives.

Organized by the political advocacy committee of the Jamaican Canadian Association, “JCA Let’s Chat,” is the first of a quarterly series and was held at Xaymaca, a local restaurant in Brampton, Ontario on November 9.

In her opening remarks, JCA president, Adaoma Patterson, noted that Jamaica is among the top ten places of origin of people living in Peel, particularly those living in Brampton, and to a lesser extent Mississauga.

She pondered what that meant in terms of political power, noting that in the 1980s politicians used to come to the Jamaican community regarding various matters.

That has changed to the extent that a politician told Patterson in 2015 that “your community does not vote.”

The forum was held to discuss the issues impacting the black community and the role that the community can play in them.

Patterson noted that Brampton West has been identified as having the highest number of Jamaicans per capita of any riding in Canada.

Garnett Manning, a former Brampton city councillor; Michelle Richards, co-chair of the Peel Police Black Advisory Committee; and Kathy McDonald, Peel District School Board trustee spoke on issues such as political engagement, policing, the child welfare system and education.

The facilitator was Danielle Dowdy, who along with Yolande Davidson and Audrey Campbell organized the event.

Manning said democracy demands participation and that a free democratic society elects its leaders through the process of voting.

He said some people could be apathetic but the beneficiaries of the system are those who participate.

The former councillor said there are three steps to political involvement, starting with the individual.

“It begins with you and it ends with you,” he said, emphasizing the importance of parents taking their children to the polling station on election day so that they see them actively participating in the process.

Manning also told them that they could be ‘squandering an important opportunity’ if they do not vote strategically.

“Think about what you want candidates to have on their platform,” he said, encouraging them to run as candidates too.

The aim is to have candidates run and win, said Manning, noting that people coming together strategically was how he won as councillor in 2003.

Speaking on street checks or carding, Richards said Peel’s chief of police, Jennifer Evans, has said she will not stop it.

Richards urged the community to challenge such checks by contacting a division staff sergeant to file a complaint.

Regarding school resource officers, she said the police told her that they have been operating in schools for 25 years to create a safe environment and that there has been a reduction in the youth crime rate.

As someone who works in child welfare, she said the Children’s Aid Society (CAS) is not the place to call for general assistance.

She said schools are a feeder into the child welfare system noting that some teachers will call the CAS if they think a child is at the risk of harm – which is very subjective.

Richards said the CAS operates on a fear-based perspective and that once anyone is involved in the system it can be an assumption of risk, which varies.

She told parents that they are not obligated to let CAS in their homes and to demand to see what the agency has written about them.

McDonald said children are the community’s most precious resources and as a school board trustee her platform is to help marginalized kids in general, black boys and kids in poverty, in particular.

Speaking on the Peel District School Board’s plan to support black male students, “We Rise Together,” released in October 2016, she said there is “power in our community, power in our voices.”

“As a community we have to be vigilant and hold the board accountable. It’s really important that we use our voice. We, as the community, need to come out more and advocate for our kids.”

She said it is important to engage the community about what the board is doing with modern learning.

The school board trustee wants to “arm our parents with the knowledge of what the system has” so that they know what is available to their kids within the school board.

She encouraged them to attend the board meetings and to ask questions on any matter of concern.

Some in attendance spoke of the need for a common vision, a strategic plan that everybody buys into; others spoke of the need to get involved in a cause.

The next town hall will be held in Mississauga and on the agenda they hope to discuss economic power, collective wealth and establishing a credit union.

[This story has been published in the North American Weekly Gleaner, Nov. 23-29, 2017.]

Monday, 20 November 2017

Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (Canadian Chapter) Celebrates its 21st Anniversary

By Neil Armstrong
Photo credit: Eddie Grant. From left: me (Neil Armstrong), Ron Fanfair and Michael Van Cooten -- recipients of the 2017 Jack White Community Service Award.

Photo credit: Eddie Grant. Megan Whitfield and Mark Brown of the CBTU presenting the award.

Photo credit: Eddie Grant. A closeup of the Jack White Service Award which was presented to me on Saturday night.

Having fun at the masquerade ball with Akhaji Zakiya, left, and Camille Begin of Heritage Toronto who later unveiled the plaque in memory of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.  Photo credit: Eddie Grant

The Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU), Canadian Chapter celebrated its 21st annual awards dinner, dance and fundraiser with a masquerade ball under the theme “Our Journey Continues.”

The event, which was held at Le Parc Banquet Hall in Thornhill, Ontario on November 18, was also the occasion for the unveiling of a plaque by Heritage Toronto in memory of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.

This will be installed at the Roundhouse Park, near Union Station in Toronto, soon.

The other Heritage Toronto Award will honour the late Stanley G. Grizzle who worked for twenty years as a sleeping car porter on the Canadian Pacific Railway.

It will be mounted at the Stanley G. Grizzle Park across from Main subway station in 2018.

The date of the CBTU anniversary event also marked the 99th birthday of Grizzle who died on November 12, 2016.

On August 22, 2007, Brenda Librecz, general manager of the city’s parks, forestry and recreation department recommended that the Main Street Parkette be renamed in honour of Grizzle.

“Stanley G. Grizzle was an influential black leader within the Canadian labour movement and a Human Rights activist. He was born in Toronto on November 18, 1918 to parents who emigrated in 1911 from Jamaica. Stanley G. Grizzle resided
for 20 years at 231 Chisholm Avenue, one block from the Main Street Parkette,” notes a report to the Toronto and East York Community Council from Librecz.

In 1998, Umbrella Press published “My Name’s Not George: The Story of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters in Canada” written by Grizzle with John Cooper.

Earlier this year at the 5th annual Underground Freedom Train Ride on July 31, Yolanda McClean, president of the CBTU, gave a sneak preview of the plaque in memory of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters which was unveiled at the 21s anniversary event. 

At one time in Canada’s history, the only job that was available to black men was that of a sleeping car porter.

“On May 18, 1945, the Brother of Sleeping Car Porters became the first Black union in Canada to sign an agreement with a white employer, the CPR. Among other benefits, porters’ starting salaries increased, they received pay for dead-time on the road, and due process. They could also be promoted and in 1955 George Garraway, Roy Hall, and William Lowe became the firs Black conductors in North America.

“The BCSP’s organizing efforts and civil rights advocacy left a powerful legacy that impacted Canadian human rights policy and labour relations,” notes a flyer from the CBTU.

There were also scholarships presented, and four journalists were honoured for their work with the 2017 Jack White Community Service Award. The four were: Ron Fanfair of Share newspaper, Michael Van Cooten of Pride News Magazine, Lorraine Endicott of Our Times, Canada’s independent labour magazine, and me (How does one write about one’s self on their own blog? My colleague, Eddie Grant, will have the full story on the event and the recipients in the North American Weekly Gleaner.).

Jack White was a Canadian Labour Union activist. A native of Truro, Nova Scotia, he was the first elected black representative of the Iron Workers and one of the first CUPE National staff representative from a minority background. He was one of the first black Canadians to run for election to the legislative assembly of Ontario as an NDP candidate in the 1963 election.

The Jack White Community Service Award is given to those individuals or organizations that have focused their efforts on the betterment of the community.

“Your dedication to reporting and covering issues that are significant to the Black Community has not gone unnoticed or unappreciated by CBTU Ontario Canada Chapter. Thank you for all that you have done and all that you continue to do for our community,” notes the letter sent to recipients of the award.

The Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (Ontario), Canada is an affiliated chapter of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (International). 

 The Ontario Chapter consists of members from international and national unions residing predominately in Ontario, but also in Quebec and across the country.

In its mission, the CBTU (Ontario), Canada “seeks to fulfill the dream of Black trade unionists, both living and deceased, who throughout our labour history in Canada have courageously and unremittingly struggled to build a national movement that brings our collective strength and varied talents to bear in an unending effort to achieve economic, political and social justice for all.”

In 2018, the CBTU will hold its Hub Club Camp for children ages 9-12, 13-17, and young adults 18+, from July 9-13, Monday to Friday, 8:30 a.m.-5:00 p.m. The CBU 4th annual golf tournament will be held on August 14 at the Richmond Hill Golf Club at 8755 Bathurst Street in Richmond Hill, Ontario.

Saturday, 18 November 2017

Jamaican Lawyer Celebrated By Her Canadian Alma Mater

By Neil Armstrong
Dahlia Bateman, corporate/commercial lawyer in Toronto, Canada.  Photo contributed

A Jamaican corporate/commercial lawyer, Dahlia Bateman, has been inducted into the prestigious Bertha Wilson Honour Society at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
It recognizes extraordinary alumni and showcases their geographic reach and contributions to law and society.
The Schulich School of Law at the university established the society in 2012, in tribute to Madam Justice Bertha Wilson, the first woman appointed to the Ontario Court of Appeal and the first female judge of the Supreme Court of Canada. 
According to dean of the law school, Camille Cameron, Bateman was selected for the Bertha Wilson Honour Society for her “contributions and achievements as a student, a lawyer, a committed community member, leader and volunteer.” 
She was lauded for being a “credit to the law school, university, profession and community”.  
Bateman started out in private practice in general litigation. A fierce litigator, she quickly won a major decision in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice protecting a patient’s right to refuse medication. 
More recently, she won an appellate decision that helped to define the law on declaratory relief while protecting a plaintiff’s right to a jury trial. 
After 13 years since graduating from Dalhousie, she has firmly established herself in the legal arena.
While at Dalhousie, she was the university ombudsperson from 2002 to 2004, the student representative on the law school admissions committee, a member of the standing committee of the Indigenous Blacks and Mi'kmaq Initiative, and vice-president of the Black Law Students Association. 
Upon graduation from law school, she received the prestigious David M. Jones Memorial Award.
A strong believer in giving back, Bateman has balanced her work and family life with advocacy and volunteerism. 
She serves on various boards in the Greater Toronto Area, including St. Leonard’s Place, a transitional home for formerly incarcerated men, and the A-Supreme Nursing Foundation which assists vulnerable senior citizens.

Bateman is also a member of Toronto District School Board’s black students advisory committee where she assists in drafting policies intended to increase graduation rates among black high school students and to address systemic anti-black racism. 
She is a mentor for students, particularly those who have an interest in pursuing a career in law, and volunteers in the Ontario Bar Association’s elementary school mock trial program. 
Her commitment to lending a hand beyond Canada’s borders to advance the well-being and education of youth is demonstrated in her Jamaican projects.
As someone who was born in Manchester, Jamaica she sponsors back-to-school programs there by paying for students’ tuition, transportation, food and school supplies for low- income families in that parish and Clarendon. 
Bateman is also a volunteer advisor for the Canadian Executive Services Organization, an international economic development organization which offers humanitarian assistance and professional advice to organizations in over 120 countries around the world. 
She is is regular guest on local radio programs commenting on topical or legal issues, and is a frequent speaker at conferences.  
Bateman has received awards from the Manchester High School alumni association and the Knox College alumni association (New York Chapter), representing her alma maters.
[This story has been published in the North American Weekly Gleaner, Nov. 16-22, 2017 issue.]