Friday, 11 August 2017

Canada's Immigration Minister Encourages Civic Engagement

By Neil Armstrong

Left to right:  Board members of Operation Black Vote Canada (OBVC) and the Canadian Association of Urban Financial Professionals (CAUFP) -- Ian Allen, Aziz Garuba, Lisa Bailey, Marva Wisdom, Velma Morgan, Kyle Elliot, Kevin Modeste, Melanie Watts, Darren Jordan with Ahmed Hussen, Canada's Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship (fifth from left) at an event both organizations held to celebrate him at KPMG in Toronto, Canada on July 27. Photo credit: Operation Black Vote Canada.

Ahmed Hussen, Canada’s Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, is urging the Black community to put their issues on the table and engage government and political parties about them.

The Member of Parliament for York South-Weston, who was born and raised in Somalia and immigrated to Canada in 1993, was the special guest at an event organized by Operation Black Vote Canada (OBVC) and the Canadian Association of Urban Financial Professionals (CAUFP) at KPMG in Toronto on July 27.

“You have to engage, you have to be at the table, you have to be unabashed about pushing the issues that you care about, and that, obviously, is not just elections. You have to be active in-between elections and make sure that you hold us to account, and have those difficult, but tough and necessary conversations, because that’s the only way that progress will come. Progress will not come if you wait to be invited to the table.”

The lawyer and social activist, who co-founded the Regent Park Community Council in 2002, said his work with the council was his longest uninterrupted time in community service.

He had a job in Queen’s Park working for the leader of the official opposition at the time, Dalton McGuinty, for about 10 hours per day, and evenings and weekends were taken up with Regent Park.

Hussen said the community service taught him the power of organizing.

“It was about coming together, identifying issues in the community and coming up with credible and well-researched solutions.”

Hussen said as a newly-elected MP, he stood up in the House of Commons and asked the Parliament of Canada to adopt name-blind recruitment.

Studies in Australia, Canada, UK and the US showed that a person with an English last name was fifty percent more likely to get a job interview versus someone with the same experiences and educational background who did not have an English last name.

It took 14 months, but the government – which employs 400,000 people, the largest employer in Canada -- decided to implement this recruitment as a test in six of its largest ministries.

They will do this until November and if the results show that the recruitment is closing the gap then they will implement it in the rest of the government.

The minister said he is also proud of the fact that as a backbencher MP he worked with a group of dedicated black men and women for the last 14 months who have come up with a national comprehensive plan.

“What I was really impressed with this group, the Federation of Black Canadians, is they identified the problems in a comprehensive manner in a report, well researched, well documented, thoroughly so, and then they offered solutions. And their whole mantra was the solution will come from the community, not from the government. We will tell you what you need to do for us. You are not going to tell us what we need for us.”

The federation presented to the 416 caucus, the Black caucus in Ottawa, individual MPs, and a few weeks ago met with the Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to present their report.

 “That was the crowning moment in my very short political career because it showed me that it fit all the boxes that I was looking for – having the community come forward and the politician not being patronizing but being facilitative and genuine in doing that…”

On the matter of immigration, Hussen said, as a former immigrant to Canada and a former immigration refugee lawyer, he has brought that perspective to the ministry.

“It’s in line with what Ottawa was heading towards but I bring a specific perspective which is to be facilitative, to welcome more people to this country, whether they’re coming to visit or work, to have an unapologetic humanitarian program where we will always welcome refugees and those who seek protection and never shy away from that.”

The minister said he would also encourage other governments to do that and to push back against the anti-immigrant, anti-refugee and anti-migrant rhetoric around the world.

He will continue to look at immigration as a great source for economic development.

Hussen referenced a study done by Century Initiative which shows that immigrants create jobs and don’t take jobs away from Canadians, create jobs and bring prosperity.

Louise Bennett Coverley's Influence in Toronto Remains Strong

By Neil Armstrong

Eleven years after Jamaica’s renowned folklorist and cultural icon, Louise Bennett Coverley (Miss Lou), passed away on July 26, 2006, her impact on lives in her adopted home, Toronto, remains very palpable.

Having lived in Canada for almost 20 years, Miss Lou, whose husband, Eric ‘Chalk Talk’ Coverley, died in 2002, was a source of encouragement for many Jamaican and Caribbean artists in the Greater Toronto Area.

Letna Allen-Rowe, storyteller.  Photo contributed

Storyteller, Letna Allen-Rowe (Ms. Letna), who organized a tribute to Miss Lou last year entitled “Memba Ms Lou,” says the cultural ambassador was her mentor for as long as she could remember. 

Bennett Coverley taught her in a special language class at the Jamaica School of Drama in the early 80s.

“She implored us young thespians at the time not to forget where you coming from or you will not know where you going.  She advised us to keep the life of the Jamaican dialect alive, because it is our own unique language, and we must be proud of it.  ‘Don’t be intimidated by other powers, and use your patois proudly because it will define you, and one day the world will come to love and appreciate it. So teach it to your children, and your children’s children.’” 

Allen-Rowe said Miss Lou paved the way to continue her legacy, “to have appreciation of my culture and its form, not to ‘tun up me nose at it’ but to embrace it with dignity and grace.”

“If Ms Lou was not an integral part of my life, culturally, I would be dead. I would have nothing to hold on to.  In times of trials and despair, I just grab a Ms. Lou proverb and it just put a smile pon mi face and joy eena mi heart. Tenk you Ms. Lou. Tenk Yu.”

Grace Lyons, founder and artistic director of the Heritage Singers.   Photo contributed

Grace Lyons, founder and musical director of the Heritage Singers, has included a tribute to Miss Lou’s in the company’s 40th anniversary celebration, “Reflections…A Walk Down Memory Lane,” which will be held at the Toronto Centre for the Arts, and will include Joan Andrea Hutchinson on October 21 this year.

She says the tribute relates to a cameo performance in the company’s first homegrown pantomime in Toronto, "Zuzuwah," written by the artistic director, the late Maud Fuller.

In this production, Miss Lou was a village prophet and the grandmother of "Channa" visits her to receive information.

“It was well staged and hilarious,” says Lyons noting that they will also present a favourite poem written by Miss Lou.

“Miss Lou's influence over the years has catapulted Heritage Singers to perform worldwide, representing Canada at international festivals in countries such as Taiwan, Holland, Mexico, Germany, and Venezuela.”

Lyons said the veteran folklorist brought to them that sense of pride “in our culture, to use these songs as a tool to bridge cultural gaps, enhance ethnic, historic and social traditions relevant but not limited to Jamaica, the rest of the Caribbean, and the African community.”

She said Miss Lou performed with the Heritage Singers on numerous occasions including a visit from Queen Elizabeth II to Toronto where they sang the folk song, “Long time Gal.”

Sandra Whiting, storyteller and motivational speaker.        Photo contributed

 Sandra Whiting, a storyteller and motivational speaker, grew up hearing Miss Lou on television.

“I remember reading her poems. The first one I think I remember was about ‘small up yuhself, dis dry foot ooman a come.’ And I remember just feeling, yes, this person is speaking my language. We weren’t allowed to speak it at home or at school actually. It was considered just not done and I just never seem to listen to those things.”

Whiting, who used to help the lighting designer on pantomimes in Kingston, met Miss Lou and Ranny Williams.

“That was such an awesome thing to actually meet this woman that I had been seeing on television and had such great respect for.”

She later met the popular storyteller again when Miss Lou immigrated to Canada and she became one of “the many people who were always around Miss Lou.”

Whiting would drive Miss Lou to events, took her shopping, helped her when she moved, and assisted in any way she could.

The motivational speaker said Miss Lou influenced her storytelling by just being such a great storyteller.

“I don’t like when people say you’re another Miss Lou because I think that is just so far, far, far from being true. I don’t write. Miss Lou is an amazing talent. I’m honoured but I don’t think it’s accurate and I don’t like being described that way at all. It does not reflect properly, but I’m always influenced by her because of what she wrote and because of her strong sense of our Jamaican identity, and our language and that it was an important thing to be proud of.”

She remembers that Miss Lou always said, “We must speak both [English and Patois] because we’re in this world, but we must speak the language of the people. We must know it, we must talk it,” and so for her that has always been just a given.

“She was just an amazing talented woman,” says Whiting.

Kevin Ormsby, artistic director of KasheDance.    Photo contributed

Kevin Ormsby, artistic director of KasheDance, credits his work in the creative industries in Canada to the influence of Miss Lou.

“I had the privilege of performing with Lorna Goodison and others at the Harbourfront Centre’s Miss Lou’s Room and realized then as I do now the impact she has had on Jamaica and in fact the world.”

Ormsby says he works in many capacities through the arts as a cultural instigator and he credits a lot of his passion and love for the arts to the fundamental premise she held dear -- that everyone in Jamaica should be proud of their cultural history.

“For me it’s many years, places and spaces, from ‘Ring Ding’ but I remember sitting at her feet and feeling a sense of pride that is ever-present in my Jamaican heritage as it is in my contemporary Canadian reality. The “Jamaica Labrish” that everyone reads in my home is because I recited many as a student of the Drama Dept. at Calabar High School.

He said Miss Lou was so ingrained in his being that even upon his arrival in Canada, she lived across the road from him in Malvern, Scarborough.

“I have and will always share a connection to the icon. Her mark has galvanized many with whom I work in Toronto.” 

On July 15, veteran Trinidadian storyteller, Paul Keens-Douglas aka Mr. Tim Tim, included a tribute to Miss Lou in his shows in Toronto.

[This story has been published in the NA Weekly Gleaner and NA Weekly Star, Aug. 10-16, 2017. KasheDance will be performing as part of the Canadian Caribbean contingent at CARIFESTA XIII in Barbados, Aug. 17-27.

New Book Focuses on the African-Jamaican Aesthetic in Literature

By Neil Armstrong

Lisa Tomlinson, author of The African-Jamaican Aesthetic: Cultural Retention and Transformation Across Borders. Photo contributed

Lisa Tomlinson’s new book, “The African-Jamaican Aesthetic: Cultural Retention and Transformation Across Borders,” adds to the body of research examining the ways in which diasporic African-Jamaican writers create their works by tapping into the cultural aesthetics of their African and the Caribbean roots to interpret their place in their new homes and local cultures abroad.

Tomlinson, a researcher and scholar, who teaches at the University of the West Indies, Mona campus in Kingston, Jamaica explores the writings of Jamaican pioneers, authors Claude McKay and Una Marson, to highlight their ability to draw from the indigenous knowledges around them to counter the eurocentric focus in literature in the early 1900s.

She also examines the works of dub poets: Lillian Allen, Afua Cooper and Adhri Zhina Mandiela in Canada, and Linton Kwesi Johnson, Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze and Benjamin Zephaniah in the UK. Also featured are the writings of novelists, Makeda Silvera of Canada and Joan Riley of the UK.

“This study examines the African-Jamaican aesthetic impulse in diasporic dub poetry and fiction paying particular attention to how these art forms have developed and been mediated in Canadian and British contexts. More specifically, I explore how African-Jamaican cultural productions of the diaspora are employed as a means of recovering, rearticulating, and remaking cultural identities that have been disrupted by histories of slavery and colonial conquest,” notes Tomlinson in the introduction of the book.

She notes that, “My research demonstrates how the cultivation of an African-Jamaican aesthetic plays a key role in inspiring community activism, creating cultural spaces, and forging and sustaining cultural identities in Caribbean diasporas.”

Referencing the work of Professor George Dei to help provide the context of her research, Tomlinson notes that according to him “indigenous knowledges provide an anti-colonial framework and constitute a kind of ‘knowledge consciousness that arises from the colonized presence.’”

“Within an African-Jamaican diasporic framework, these knowledges may include nation language (Patwa), religion, music, dance, folk culture, and ritual, all of which inform African-Jamaican diasporic writing,” she notes.

Drawing from her experience as a young child going to school in Canada in the late 1970s and 1980s, Tomlinson notes that it was through the oral tradition that she learned about her Jamaican heritage and culture.

In school, there was very little reference to Jamaica, the Caribbean or Africa and she felt alienated until her Grade 6 teacher introduced Caribbean folk songs in the classroom.

This delighted her and she was able to translate the Jamaican creole words to her classmates.

The reggae played in her home also fueled her interest, and in her teenage years she “ came to understand that the various forms of orality that were at the root of my home were so empowering and meaningful because they offered me a means to recentre myself in an environment with which I often felt at odds.”

Tomlinson begins her research with an examination of work songs, proverbs and storytelling which she views as the “early and instrumental markers of indigenous African-Jamaican aesthetics.”

She charts the importance of these folk cultural art forms in the genesis of a national literature of the island.

“Jamaica’s rich legacy of oral cultures offers counter-narratives to dominant discourses of the region by re-imagining the social realities of African-Jamaican communities, retelling African diasporic histories and restoring social agency,” she writes.

Tomlinson examines the African-Jamaican aesthetic, pan-Africanism and decolonization in early Jamaican literature -- mainly in the works of McKay and Marson – and crosses over to the diaspora where she focuses on the reggae aesthetics, dub, and the literary diaspora.

She also explores gender, race and class in the chapter, “Gendering Dub Culture Across Diaspora: Jamaican Female Dub Poets in Canada and England,” and focuses on the writings of novelists in the chapter, “ Home Away from Home: The African-Jamaican Aesthetic in Diaspora Novels.”

Having lived in Toronto where she had access to the dub poets, Allen, Cooper, and Mandiela, Tomlinson conducts a close examination of their works to highlight the feminist aesthetics therein.

She notes that following in the tradition of Una Marson and Louise Bennett, these three dub poets “all employ an African-Jamaican aesthetic to articulate the social conditions of black women in Africa and the diaspora and to call for opposition to patriarchal systems of oppression and black male dominance in the private sphere.”

To provide a comparative analysis, Tomlinson includes the works of Breeze, and does a similar examination in the novels of Silvera and Riley.

What Tomlinson’s new book does is to critically examine the ways in which African-Jamaican writers in the diaspora source their creativity from their homeland, Jamaica, and from their African ancestry, while creating works that mediate their understanding of themselves and their situations in their new home countries, new environments.

The book is published by Brill/Rodopi based in Leiden and Boston.

[This story has been published in the NA Weekly Gleaner, Aug. 10-16, 2017. Tomlinson will launch her new book at the University of the West Indies, Mona Campus on Sept. 14.]

Saturday, 5 August 2017

The Black Experince Project Study Publicly Released

By Neil Armstrong

Joseph Smith and Fowzia Duale Virtue, presenters of the Black Experience Project, at the pubic release of the report on July 19 at the Central YMCA in Toronto.             Photo contributed

Now that the Black Experience Project (BEP) study has been released, the next steps include further exploration of the data, community and public discussions, and opportunities for the media to provide “a more balanced and honest public narrative” in its reportage of the community.

Those are the plans for the study which was released on July 19 at the Metro Central YMCA in Toronto.

In the six-year undertaking, 1504 individuals spent more than two hours in in-depth interviews sharing their experience and insights. 

The study found that direct experience with racism is a common experience among BEP participants. Two-thirds say they frequently or occasionally experience racism and discrimination because they are Black.

Regarding relations with police services, it found that experience with police services stand out as much more negative than those with other public institutions.

“Negative experiences with the police services are common. For instance, participants are more likely to be stopped in public than to be helped by the police, and younger Black males are particularly likely to experience police harassment.”

The study also found that the majority of today’s generation of young Black adults is Canadian born. 

Unlike their mostly immigrant parents and grandparents, they are also more diverse in terms of their identities and the racial composition of their friendship networks.

“Young Black Canadian-born adults are more likely to identify racism as an obstacle they face; more likely to say they experience some forms of unfair treatment because they are Black; and more likely to be adversely affected by these experiences. It appears, therefore, that young Black adults are more impatient with the failure of Canadian society to deliver on the country’s promise of equality.”

Carl James, Jean Augustine Chair in Education, Community and Diaspora at York University says informational data that tell of the particular ways in which blacks experience institutions or organizations in which they learn, work, play, and seek justice is important.

“Such data provide important insights, not merely into individual racism and discrimination but also the policies, programs and practices within institutions that need to be addressed if we are to achieve the democratic, equitable and just society we seek in Canada.”

He said the issues need to be approached through the anti-Black racism lens so effectively advocated for by concerned community members, including Black Lives Matter and the Tabono Institute.

“I’m concerned that what might be taken from the report is simply the individual stories, often what media reports think their readers need to know,” James said alluding to the story published in the Toronto Star that morning about a young black man allegedly beaten up by an off-duty police officer and his brother in Whitby, Ontario.

“What we need evidently is how institutions are going to respond to these findings. How would governments and government agencies respond and what structures and processes will be put in place to change the social, economic, educational and justice situation of blacks in our Toronto communities.”

James said the the Anti-Racism Directorate is being looked at for leadership in that regard and he acknowledged that, “the anti-Black racism initiatives initiated there might take us some ways towards responding to some of the findings of the report.”

“We wait for other responses to the report.”

In the meantime, he said the Jean Augustine Chair at York University will establish a working group to further analyze the data and will report on things that were not fully explored in this brief report – things like the influence of gender, class, sexuality and citizenship on the experiences of the participants.

“We will have a working group that will delve into some of the important questions that you might have, or members of the group might have, or any other community person might have, in order to be able to get at some of the changes that we would like in the society. And this working group will work hard to disseminate additional reports and bulletins, hopefully, that will go a long way to be responsive to your interest.”

They will invite researchers and others affiliated to agencies and institutions who have questions or would like to answer their questions through the data to get in touch with the working group that will provide the necessary answers.

James said they strive in their work for community ownership going forward with the study.
“The BEP research was initiated and led by Environics Institute in partnership with the United Way of Toronto and York Region, the YMCA of Greater Toronto, the Diversity Institute of Ryerson University, and the Jean Augustine Chair at York University in an effort to provide a current profile of Black Canadians,” notes James.

Meanwhile, a coalition of African Canadian organizations and concerned individuals has concerns about the report.

In a press release on July 20 the coalition said it commended the project’s partners for engaging it in meaningful discussion about the BEP, especially the report and the process of producing it.
“While some of the report’s content will be beneficial to the African Canadian community, we have serious reservations about the overall process and content. Protecting the integrity of the stories and experiences entrusted to BEP researchers is our number one priority.”

The coalition said the project has either ignored or downplayed community advice on critical issues.

“For example, white supremacy is referenced as an afterthought rather than a framing concept in the report. As well, coalition members believe that the report lacks a robust and comprehensive gender analysis, there is scarce discussion of health, and LGBTQ realities and perspectives are generally absent. While there may have been a need to make choices about the elements of the black experience that would be profiled in the report, the rationale for these choices remains weak or non-existent,” it said. 

The coalition said it recognizes and applauds the “tremendous data gathering and community engagement groundwork done by many community interviewers as well as the research leadership of members of the project’s research advisory group in moving the project forward.

The Tabono Institute will be leading a Community Research Forum at Ryerson University in October “to continue building a comprehensive, community-led research agenda; to engage community stakeholders about the development of a community research ethics protocol for the African Canadian community to guide future research efforts; to critically analyze the recent BEP experience; and to identify community research gaps, needs and options for moving ahead.”

It is urging members of the African Canadian community to contact it with ideas about how to make the upcoming forum meaningful and relevant to the needs of the community at

The coalition’s partners include: All Afrikan Peoples’ Revolutionary Party, Black Community Action Network of Peel (BCAN), Black Coalition for AIDS Prevention (Black CAP), Dejinta Beesha, Jamaican Canadian Association, Tabono Institute, Zero Gun Violence Movement and Sankofa Juba.

Miss Lou Memorialized in Cultural and Educational Institutions

By Neil Armstrong

Louise Bennett Coverley (Miss Lou)                    Photo credit: Carl Henry

A room at the Harbourfront Centre, a popular cultural hub on the waterfront of Toronto, has been named in honour of Miss Lou. It’s called “Miss Lou’s Room.”

McMaster University Library in Hamilton, Ontario has the Louise Bennett Coverley fonds which “reflects her life as both a writer, performer, and a promoter of the Jamaican language.”

The mover behind making these realities is Pamela Appelt, co-executor of the Louise Bennett Coverley Estate and a former judge of the Court of Canadian Citizenship, who is also the Chair of the Jamaica 55 Committee which is coordinating events to celebrate Jamaica’s Independence across Canada. She served in that role for Jamaica’s 50th in 2012.

Appelt remembers Mike Colle, a provincial government minister, saying at the celebration of Miss Lou’s life at Revivaltime Tabernacle on Aug. 3, 2006 that the province would like to do something that would pay tribute to Miss Lou.

She thought that they might consider a scholarship in her name but in her view it would not last very long.

“ I was thinking in terms of a long-term commemoration of Miss Lou’s life here in Canada and having been a member of the board and the vice-chair of the board then at Harbourfront Centre, I know that we were in the process of naming a building after important people if we can get a certain amount of money from them.”

She called up the CEO, Bill Boyle, and asked him how much it would cost for someone to have a building named after them.

He told her the amount and she almost choked because she knew there was no way the government would have given that amount.

Referencing what Colle said at the memorial, they got together to hammer out what was possible at the Harbourfront Centre.

Initially she thought about the room on the main floor which is used as an art room, but Boyle suggested that she look at the room upstairs that is used for educational purposes.

“And once I got up there and I saw it, I said this is the space because it overlooks Lake Ontario which would remind Miss Lou of Jamaican waters, of the Caribbean Sea, and in the setting you really get a sense that you’re in the islands.”

Boyle told her what it would cost and she subsequently met personnel at the minister’s office.

“They asked me what is it I have in mind and I said we need a place where Miss Lou’s works and stories can be told, and the entire province and Canada can learn about Miss Lou. And they liked the idea; they said how much is this going to cost. I said, well, we’re speaking about the Hon. Louise Bennett Coverley so that comes with a price. I said nothing under a quarter of a million dollars will do, and they just looked at me like I was a mad woman. The long and short of it is we got $375,000.”

Appelt was impressed with the short space of time it took to get things done. The meeting was in July 2006 when Miss Lou died and by February 2007 the 3,000 sq. ft. room at the Harbourfront was opened for Miss Lou. Former Jamaican Prime Minister P.J. Patterson attended the official opening ceremony.

“Since then we have had there now a permanent exhibit honouring her life and her achievements. We have photographs, we have tapes of her storytelling and her performances, and there have been thousands of youngsters who have been there over the past number of years and listening to stories. We have dub poets, we have artists who have come there and told their stories.”

Appelt says it is her hope that as long as she is involved in the Harbourfront she will continue to use that space “to make our people more aware of it and to share our culture through that room.”

The new management at the Harbourfront shares her vision and they are working with other groups and organizations to ensure that the space is well used.

About four years ago, she took Earl Jarrett, CEO of Jamaica National, on a tour of the facility and he was so impressed that the company has been funding programs in Miss Lou’s Room for at least three years.

She noted that Miss Lou’s Room would not have been such a success if Mary Anne  Chambers was  not a Member of Provincial Parliament at that time.

“She gave full support to any suggestions that involved Miss Lou,” said Appelt.

Pamela Appelt, co-executor of the Louise Bennett Coverley Estate.            Photo contributed

 A Jamaica 55 legacy project involving Miss Lou’s name will also be unveiled in Jamaica at a later date.

“This came about before the present government became the government and the request was made of me then to give permission to have a sculpture made for Miss Lou. That I did, and it was going to be in Gordon Town, but when the government came in now, we though how best can we continue to honour Miss Lou and I said what would be wonderful was just to ensure that the sculpture be placed at Gordon Town for her, and everybody bought into it.”

The sculptor was commissioned to do it, and Appelt thinks this will help the tourism in Jamaica also.

“It’s not just for Jamaicans to go and see but because they are so delighted about expanding tourism to Kingston, what a wonderful way to get a group of people to go up to Gordon Town and see the house where Miss Lou spent her years before she came to Canada and to see a sculpture in a park there for her. It will attract tourism and keep Miss Lou’s memory alive.”

Appelt was also instrumental in making the Louise Bennett Coverly fonds possible at McMaster University Library that is available to anyone researching the beloved cultural artist.

Last year when Appelt was going to Jamaica for the National Library of Jamaica’s launch of the Miss Lou Archives, she invited the chief librarian from McMaster University, Vivian Lewis, who had never been to Jamaica.

“Since Miss Lou’s archives are there I thought it would be great for her to see what’s happening. It so happens that she was put on the program. She gave a beautiful speech, was taken on a tour of UWI and other parts of the institute and so on. And it paid off because they will be assisting in the training of archivists. They will have their archivist come and learn from McMaster and McMaster will send someone there as a sort of exchange program.”

McMaster, along with the library, will be putting out postcards which will have images of the library and Miss Lou on one side and McMaster on the other side of it.

Appelt is also very supportive of a new documentary, “Miss Lou Say So!” being produced by Miss Lou’s son, Fabian Coverley, co-executor of Miss Lou’s estate, and other collaborators. The documentary should be out in 2018.

[This story was published in the Jamaica 55 Independence Feature in the NA Weekly Gleaner, July 27, 2017 issue.]

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Underground Freedom Train Ride Hits the Right Note for Hundreds of Riders

By Neil Armstrong

Just before the ceremony of the 5th annual Emancipation Day Underground Freedom Train Ride at Union subway station in Toronto, Canada on July 31, 2017

2017 Emancipation Day Underground Freedom Train Ride ceremony at Union subway station in Toronto.

This plaque will be unveiled by the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists at Roundhouse Park on Nov. 18, 2017.

Yolanda McClean, president of the CBTU, with the plaque in memory of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.

Zanana Akande and Rita Cox at the 5th annual Emancipation Day Underground Freedom Train Ride at Union station on July 31, 2017.

Jean Augustine and a friend who works at the Toronto Transit Commission at Union station on July 31, 2017.

d'bi.young anitafrika shared with me last night exciting news that she has received funding for her dub opera. She performed aboard the Underground Freedom Train last night. Congrats d'bi!

Itah and Shannon at the door leading to the platform to board the 'freedom' train

Jean Augustine and Rita Cox being interviewed aboard the train.

Mayor John Tory and others aboard the Underground Freedom Train from Union station to Sheppard West station (formerly Downsview station) on July 31, 2017.

Drumming, short speeches, protest, singing, and dancing marked the 5th annual Underground Freedom Train Ride from Union station to Sheppard West station (formerly Downsview station) last night to welcome in Emancipation Day (Aug. 1) shortly after midnight.

From as early as shortly after 9:00 p.m. some people began arriving for the celebration which had a 10:45 p.m. start time.

One woman said she met the train at Downsview last year, but she didn’t want to miss the entire experience this year so she came to Union straight from work.

Hundreds gathered at the Brookfield Place entrance to the subway for the opening ceremony, with Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) personnel having to open the entrance/exit doors to allow fresh air inside.

Two TTC staff members estimated that the ‘freedom’ train had about 700 people in it, and that there were some people who had gone ahead on a previous train who were not counted in this number.

“Our ancestors dreamed of moments like this,” said Itah Sadu, co-owner of A Different Booklist Cultural Centre: The People’s Residence, whose idea it was to do this now annual event five years ago – combining the significance of the Underground Railroad and Emancipation Day.

“The Middle Passage was a demonstration of our potential,” she said, noting that, “
It showed our resilience as a people.”

She said the declaration of Emancipation Day, (Aug. 1, 1834) throughout the British Empire was a recognition that people of African descent would no longer be sold as commodities.

Sadu hoped that everyone would make a step and think about change – “Think of our everyday excellence as a people.”

She thanked everyone, including Dr. Edith Lorimer and a medical team, for being there to support the event.

Following in the footsteps of that famous Underground Railroad conductor, Harriet Tubman, Zanana Akande, the conductor of last night’s ride thanked Tubman and all the people who made it possible “that we could send our children to school and have them succeed.”

“We’re in Canada, and sometimes, not all the time, I wonder if we’re free. When I have to worry about my son and my grandson I wonder if we’re free…,” said Akande noting that “many of us are unemployed and sometimes we are underemployed.”

She noted that “we have come this far and we can do more.”
“Before we close our eyes, let’s make sure that we’re all free.”

Akande, a community matriarch and advocate, was the first black woman elected to the Ontario legislative assembly and to also serve as a cabinet minister in Canada.

Celina Caesar-Chavannes, MP for Whitby, and parliamentary secretary to the minister of international development, brought greetings on behalf of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Just as Mayor John Tory began to speak, Desmond Cole, activist, journalist and writer, began singing a song to the tune of Nina Simone’s 1964 song “Mississippi Goddam” but with different lyrics – lyrics pertinent to Toronto and Mississauga.

As if taking his cue from what Akande said about freedom, Cole asked, “Mayor Tory, are we all free?” --  referencing the July 27 meeting of the Toronto Police Services Board (TPSB) where he spoke out about the alleged beating of 19-year-old Dafonte Miller of Whitby, Ontario by Toronto police officer, Michael Theriault, and his brother, Christian Theriault, a civilian. Both have been charged by the Special Investigations Unit (SIU).

Cole was escorted from the police headquarters – venue of the TPSB meetings --, fined, and told not to return.

“I don’t think that anybody here should be stopped from riding the liberation train, not even you. But if you’re going to be here tonight you have to hear and see what black liberation actually means,” said Cole to the mayor last night.

There were chants of “Black Lives Matter” from several people in the crowd in support of Cole’s comments.
Tory then continued his speech by reading a proclamation from the City of Toronto regarding Aug. 1 -- Emancipation Day.

Josh Colle, Chair of the TTC, said the transit commission was thrilled to partner with that event and looks forward to it happening for many more years to come.

He noted that it has become a landmark event on the TTC’s calendar. 

Yolanda McClean, president of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU) announced that on Nov. 18 at the Roundhouse Park there will be a ribbon-cutting ceremony to unveil a plaque in memory of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. 

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

Meridian Ashamock, a 16-year-old high school student and visual artist, of Cree Nation had welcomed the event and given permission for it to proceed.

After a moment of silence, as the train pulled out of Union station, d’bi.young.anitafrika, dub poet, shared her poem, Freedom Train, with her sons, Moon and Phoenix, onboard listening.

“Freedom Train, Ase. Ancestors, Ase. We herald.
We know that we are nothing without you…Onboard the Freedom Train
Our lives have purpose. We are human…”

At the end of her performance, the singing started of songs such as: “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around,” “This Little Light of Mine,” “Swing Low Sweet Chariot,” “I Shall Not Be Moved,” “There’s a Meeting Here Tonight,” and after Emancipation Day was announced on the train’s intercom, everyone sang Bob Marley’s “One Love.”

When the train arrived at its destination, Sheppard West, everyone got off and made their upstairs for the conclusion of the ride where again there was singing, including the Black National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”

The 5th annual Underground Freedom Train Ride was a collaborative effort made possible by the African Canadian Heritage Association, Ontario Black History Society, Zero Gun Violence Movement, Association of Black Law Enforcers, Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, Councillor Josh Colle, A Different Booklist Cultural Centre, Baro Dununba and Friends African drumming ensemble, and the Ubuntu drumming and dance ensemble. 

[Here's another event where Zanana Akande will be speaking -- a celebration of the 100th anniversary of the UNIA. Thanks Nene Kwasi Kafele for the information.] 

Friday, 28 July 2017

Jamaicans Across Canada Get Set to Celebrate 55th Anniversary of Independence

By Neil Armstrong

Justice Donald McLeod of the Ontario Court of Justice.    Photo contributed

Jamaicans in eight cities across Canada will be celebrating the island’s 55th anniversary of independence with a variety of events from the end of July to October coordinated by the Jamaica 55 Committee.

In Toronto, there will be a Jamaica 55 gala held at the Jamaican Canadian Association on Aug. 5 with Justice Donald McLeod of the Ontario Court of Justice as the keynote speaker; a flag raising ceremony at City Hall on Aug. 6, a church service at Revivaltime Tabernacle on Aug. 6, and a bus trip to Ottawa on Aug. 7 to attend an event organized by the Jamaican High Commission to mark the 55th anniversary and Canada’s 150th anniversary of Confederation. Janice Miller, high commissioner, will host a reception that evening.

On Canada’s Thanksgiving long weekend in October there will be an event organized by A-Supreme Foundation involving Juliet Holness, Member of Parliament for St. Andrew East Rural and wife of Prime Minister Andrew Holness, who will be the keynote speaker.

The charitable foundation, which is concerned with the heath care of seniors, will hold its event on Oct. 7 at the International Plaza hotel.

Andrea Davis, Chair of Humanities, York University.  Photo contributed

Carl James, Jean Augustine Chair in Education, Community & Diaspora, York University. Photo credit: Francine Buchner

On Oct. 6, 5:30-9:00 p.m., Holness will be a participant in a panel discussion coordinated by Carl James, Jean Augustine Chair in Education, Community & Diaspora at York University.

It will be hosted by the Jean Augustine Chair, in partnership with Humanities. McMaster University is likely to be another partner and will have materials from the Louise Bennett archive for display.   

 A reception from 5:30-6:30 p.m. will be followed followed by the panel presentation with questions and answers.
The other panellists will be Avis Glaze, education consultant and former CEO of the Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat, and Daniel Coleman, professor of English and Cultural Studies at McMaster University. Professor Andrea Davis, Chair of Humanities, York University, will moderate the panel. 

The panellists will present on the social, cultural, economic, educational and literary issues of Jamaica and its diaspora
 “We plan to reach out to the community, generally, and to students in the colleges and universities in the Toronto area,” says James.

“Ottawa meets the World – Jamaica” will be held in Ottawa on Aug. 7 and is billed as “a fun- filled family event, free of cost to the public, showcasing the sights, sounds and flavours of Jamaica.”

“Experience the vibrant and rich cultural heritage of Jamaica throughout the course of the day, by rocking to a wide repertoire of musical presentations and savouring the aroma and the exotic cuisine for which Jamaican is renowned. Explore the intricacies of the country through a varied display of quality Jamaican products, experience the warm Jamaican hospitality and enjoy a first hand encounter with our culture,” notes the promo. A church service will be held on Aug. 6.

An Independence church service will be held in Calgary, Alberta on July 30 at Berean Church of God International with senior pastor, Bishop Joseph Hackett, officiating. A flag raising ceremony will be held at City Hall on Aug. 5 and later that day a civic ceremony will be held at Winston Heights Community Centre.

In Montreal, a gala dinner will be held on Aug. 5 with Hume Johnson as the keynote speaker, and on Aug. 6 a church service. In October, a Heroes Day event will be held in that city with Dr. Julius Garvey as the guest speaker.

A “Celebration of Cultures” will be held in Halifax, Nova Scotia on Aug. 7, meanwhile on Aug. 19, a banquet will be held in Edmonton, Alberta.

In Saskatchewan, Pamela Appelt, Chair of the Jamaica 55 Committee, will be the keynote speaker on Aug. 26 at the Jamaica 55 gala.

Storyteller, Letna Allen-Rowe, will be there for the entire weekend sharing stories about Miss Lou in her repertoire.

“That is going to be a fantastic weekend celebration of Jamaica 55,” Appelt says, noting that in the province they organize independence events every two or five years.

Jamaicans in that province will hold a flag raising ceremony on Aug. 11.

On Sept. 21, a business and academic symposium will be held in Vancouver, British Columbia.

“I’m honestly happy to say that we’re following through on what we did for Jamaica 50. We raised the bar there in terms of events we host in our community and we’re continuing along that line and I’m happy that so many people are interested in keeping the Jamaican spirit high,” says Appelt who holds a Master’s degree in public policy, and received an honorary doctorate from Northern Caribbean University in Jamaica in 2002.

In 1987, she was appointed the first female Black Canadian to serve as a judge of the Court of Canadian Citizenship, a position she held for 11 years before retiring to pursue other interests.

[This story has been published in the Jamaica Independence Feature in the NA Weekly Gleaner, July 27, 2017.]