Sunday, 19 May 2019

Report Finds that Greater Toronto Area is More Divided Than Ever


By Neil Armstrong
Photo contributed     Debbie Douglas, executive director of the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants (OCASI)
A new report by United Way Greater Toronto finds that a growing income gap hits young people, immigrants and racialized groups the hardest.
Released on May 6, Rebalancing the Opportunity Equation looks at income trends over the past 35 years, as well as the income gap between young people, immigrants, racialized groups and the rest of the population in Peel, Toronto and York regions.
The findings paint a stark picture of who has access to opportunities to succeed, and who does not.
Key findings indicate that young adults in the GTA are more disadvantaged today than ever before.
Young adults have become poorer over time. In real terms, a young person (25-34 years old) in the GTA is earning less today than a young person in 1980.
Among permanent full-time workers in the GTA, a young person earns on average 71 cents for every dollar a mid-aged person earns. That gap is an average of 13 cents greater than it was in 1980: the income gap is growing and young people are starting further behind.
In the GTA, it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been in Canada -- the fact that you weren’t born here means that you are earning less,” the report said.
Immigrants, regardless of their years of residency in Canada, have become poorer over time. On average, immigrants in the GTA today are making less than immigrants did in 1980.
The income gap between employed immigrants and the Canadian-born population has grown. While in 1980 they had similar incomes, a longstanding immigrant (over 20 years in Canada) in the GTA today is making a similar – or lower -- income than a Canadian-born person was in 1980. The racial divide in the GTA has reached a historic high, the report said.
“Rebalancing the Opportunity Equation reveals that the promise of diversity and opportunity that we tell ourselves -- and sell to the world – doesn’t reflect today’s GTA. Increasingly, it’s the things you can’t change that determine if you’re going to fall into poverty. We can’t present a 35-year-old story of opportunity and fairness and pretend it is the same today—it is not. We must make the findings of this report #UNIGNORABLE. The time is now to rebalance the opportunity equation, harness all the talent our region has to offer, and make the GTA work for everyone,” says Daniele Zanotti, president and CEO of United Way Greater Toronto.
Racialized groups have become poorer over time. Incomes for racialized groups have not increased in 35 years.
The income gap between racialized and white groups has increased over time. For every dollar a white person in the GTA earns, a racialized person takes home on average 69 cents. The report outlines recommendations that all sectors can act on to ensure that everyone can participate in society, that more people can get ahead, and that everyday costs like childcare and housing are more affordable.
Debbie Douglas, executive director of the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants (OCASI), is recommending a robust employment equity plan as a measure to address this situation.

 “While the findings are not surprising, it is disheartening to know that
after decades of policy advocacy on immigrant inclusion, anti-racism
training in the workplace and practices like 'blind' hiring, racialized and
immigrant workers continue to fall behind white and Canadian-born workers,” says Douglas.

“We need a more robust employment equity regime at the federal level and the
development of a made-in-Ontario employment equity plan. Regions like the
GTA must also implement their own plans and tie hiring practices that
target Black, racialized and immigrant workers, especially young people to
vendor contracts."

The federal 2018 budget allocated $31M over 3 years targeted at racialized immigrant women’s employment. The funds were part of the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) Settlement and Integration budget.

Meanwhile, Michelynn Laflèche, vice president, strategy, research and policy of United Way said rising income inequality leads to a deeply divided region where different groups of people do not have enough meaningful encounters with people unlike themselves.
“By strengthening the connections in our region, we will move towards an inclusive prosperity that makes our region a better place to live for everyone. Evidence-based research is the first step towards meaningful action—and this data is the most robust source we have to date,” she said.
United Way Greater Toronto is the largest non-government funder of community services in the GTA and reinforces a crucial community safety net. 
Photo contributed    Marie Clarke-Walker, secretary-treasurer of the Canadian Labour Congress
In the meantime, Marie Clarke Walker, secretary-treasurer of the Canadian Labour Congress says unfortunately it is sad but true.

“The fact that we have heads of countries who are saying and doing things that are blatantly racist and discriminatory has made it the ”norm” for people to use their outside voices to articulate the hate that they have long held and kept to themselves. Nowhere in Canada is safe from these attacks.”

She referenced the recent poll done by Frank Graves, president and founder of EKOS Research Associates, which showed that for the first time opposition to visible minority immigration higher than to immigration in general.

Forty-two per cent of those polled felt that there were too many non-white immigrants in the country. Conservative Party of Canada supporters registered an all time high of 71%. The vast majority of them think there are too many non-white immigrants. 

“Sixty-plus per cent identify as Conservatives and seeing that there is no way to tell if a racialized person came yesterday, 10 years ago, 20 years ago or has been here for generations it leads me to believe that the problem they have is not immigration but race, especially since everyone except for Indigenous peoples are immigrants,” says Walker.

She said the labour movement is working hard to do education around what is acceptable and not.
  
“We have just released our Islamaphobia report which provides recommendations for employers, trade unions and governments tools to address the rise of anti-Muslim and discriminatory attitudes and behaviours, “ said Walker.

Photo contributed    Nigel Barriffe, president of the Urban Alliance on Race Relations
 
Nigel Barriffe, president of the Urban Alliance on Race Relations, says the report is not surprising and the data reflects the reality on the ground that communities have been voicing.

“There seems to be this war on the poor that has been going on for decades -- this is not new. I think what our fear is, especially the alliance, is that we see this as continuing to polarize our society. We’re seeing that immigrants and people of colour and Aboriginal communities, we’re somehow being blamed for this wide growing gap between the rich and the poor in this society.”

[This story has been published in the North American Weekly Gleaner, May 16-22, 2019.

Daphne Clarke was a Trailblazer and Human Rights Activist


By Neil Armstrong

Photo contributed   Daphne V. Clarke, a trailblazer and human rights activist of Windsor, Ontario


The city of Windsor, Ontario recently lost one of its trailblazers -- Daphne V. Clarke – described as a mentor, friend, human rights activist and “an amazing force of life” who mentored individuals, organizations and newcomers with “a strong spirit of giving and learning.”

She passed away on April 5 at the age of 86 and was laid to rest at St. Alphonsus Catholic Cemetery on April 13 after a funeral mass at St. Alphonsus Church where she was a member, a lay-person and a refugee committee member.

Clarke was born in Devon, Manchester in Jamaica on December 13, 1932 and educated there and in England, where she immigrated in 1959.

Before leaving Jamaica, she worked as a secretary specializing in shorthand dictation.

It was in Britain that she was trained as a senior registered nurse and state certified midwife at Dudley Road Hospital and Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham, and Huddersfield Royal Infirmary, Huddersfield.

In1970, she immigrated to Canada where she was a registered nurse, a certified midwife and a certified national baby nurse.

As a registered nurse at Hôtel-Dieu Grace Hospital in Windsor for twenty-five years, she was known as a compassionate nurse and caregiver.

Outside of the health sector, she was a committed community activist for over 50 years.

Clarke founded the Windsor Women Working With Immigrant Women (W5) in1980 and the Montego Alkebulanian Enterprise Bookstore, Windsor's first Black History bookstore in1996.
W5 was founded to help newcomers adapt to their new country, develop professionally and gain the self-confidence needed to improve their lives.
“Today, her organization has become the leading resource for immigrants in Windsor. Ms. Clarke's spirit of solidarity and enterprise has improved the lives of many families,” notes a citation about her at the presentation of the Governor General’s Sovereigns Medal for volunteers in 2012.
She was also a past president and longstanding board member of Women's Enterprise Skills Training of Windsor (WEST) of Windsor Inc.

“Daphne Clarke was a community activist and a true trailblazer for racialized women,” said Percy Hatfield, Member of Provincial Parliament for Windsor-Tecumseh in a statement in the Ontario legislature on April 30.

He said when he was a reporter many years ago Clarke convinced him to buy and read a book about Mary Ann Shadd who was a journalist, an abolitionist, the first woman publisher in Canada and the first black publisher in North America.

“Daphne Clarke was a strong woman who led by example; she was compassionate, had a heart of gold and for her many volunteer efforts she was recognized many times by grateful communities.”

Jean Augustine, a longtime friend, said when Clarke came to Canada they, as black women, were engaged in “an across Canada reaching out” to Black Canadians during which they got to know to know who was doing what in Halifax, Vancouver and other cities.

“When we formed the Congress of Black Women of Canada, Daphne was there and she was also a contact in Windsor so if you wanted something organized you call her and she was always ready. She helped all kinds of people,” says Augustine, a former national president of the Congress of Black Women of Canada and a former Member of Parliament.

In the national organizing of connecting women across Canada, Clarke was the Windsor connector.

Augustine said Clarke was a role model to many and took care of people who had refugee status and needed help.

“Everybody knew Daphne, she knew everybody, and she was a great organizer,” she said, noting that Clarke was very reliable.

Sheila Barker, another longtime friend of Clarke, who used to live in Windsor and returned to Jamaica, flew in for the funeral.  Both were very engaged in the community.

“Whatever board that they were putting together, Daphne was on her board or she was on Daphne’s board,” said Augustine.

Clarke was a founding member of the City of Windsor Race and Ethno Cultural Relations Committee, president of Essex County Black Historical Society, and a
member of Detroit 300 International Underground Railroad Collaborative of Detroit and Underground Railroad Monument Committee.

She also involved in the Multicultural Council of Windsor Essex County, Windsor West Indian Association, Windsor Black Coalition, and Windsor Urban Alliance on Race Relations.

Clarke is one of the women whose story is featured in the book, “Moving Beyond Borders: A History of Black Canadian and Caribbean Women in the Diaspora,” written by Dr. Karen Flynn, associate professor in the Department of Gender and Women’s Studies and the Department of African-American Studies Program at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

Flynn interviewed Clarke in April 2006 at her bookstore in Windsor, noting that it was an emotional interview.

“Daphne spoke about the challenges of being a nurse, but also the loss of her son and husband. She spoke candidly about her struggles with depression, which I found surprising given the stigma in our community around mental illness.”

The professor said Clarke chose not to revel in her pain, and founded the Windsor Women Working with Immigrant Women, which benefited Caribbean domestic workers.

“Daphne recognized their vulnerability and the lack of protection afforded them. No doubt Daphne is a trailblazer who lifted as she climbed. She has left an incredible legacy behind,” said Dr. Flynn. 

Clarke’s work garnered her many awards including: 100 Accomplished Black Canadian Women Award, 2016; Queen's Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal and Governor General's Sovereigns Medal; 2012; Black Leadership Award, Windsor and District Black Coalition, 2006; Queen's Golden Jubilee Commemorative Medal, 2002; Ministry of Citizenship, Volunteer Recognition Awards; 2000; Women's Intercultural Network and LEAF, Persons Day Awards, 1993; and Commemorative Medal for voluntarism celebrating Canada's 125th anniversary, 1992.

She was the mother of Errol James, Roy Clarke, and Avril Clarke who died at sea while training with the HMCS Hunters in 1977. Her husband John passed away in 1990.

“I don’t know if one misses specific things when their mother passes. However, one becomes aware of the gaping absence that exists in the place where she used to be,” says James.

Clarke is also survived by her grandson, Eric, and leaves behind her sisters and brothers, Elfreda, Lena, Carmen, Rene and Wilfred, as well as nieces, nephews and  close friends.

[This story has been published in the North American Weekly Gleaner, May 16-22, 2019.]

School Named After Jamaican-Canadian Helps in Flood Relief in Malawi


By Neil Armstrong


Photo contributed     Chimwemwe (Happy) Mussa gives a blanket and some kitchen ware to a community member 


A school in Malawi named in honour of a Jamaican-Canadian philanthropist is being used as the hub of relief efforts in a village in the aftermath of Cyclone Idai which struck that country, Mozambique and Zimbabwe in March.

According to the charitable organization, Oxfam International, Cyclone Idai hit landfall in Beira, Mozambique, on the night of 14-15 March, with winds of 170km/h and heavy rains. 

“Described by the UN as ‘one of the worst weather-related disasters in Africa’, it has caused extensive damage and devastated the lives of more than 2.6 million people in Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe,” the organization said.

Oxfam International said the full scale of the cyclone is still unfolding. “Massive floods waters have destroyed homes, hospitals, schools, farms and agricultural land, damaging roads and washing away bridges. Thousands of people are still isolated in difficult to reach areas, some only accessible by helicopter or boat.”

Through a chance encounter with a 22-year-old Malawian man, Chimwemwe (Happy) Mussa, in a market in Cape Town, South Africa in March 2016, Jamaican-Canadian Kamala-Jean Gopie, a retired teacher from Toronto, has built a school in his hometown in Malosa, Malawi.

She notes that since the cyclone hit funds have been sent to Malawi through the People Bridge Charitable Foundation, headed by Jamaican-Canadian Diana Burke, to help those in need in that town.

There is a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the foundation to work with her on the project.  

The Gopie Community School, the centre of a sewing project and a youth development organization, has become an emergency shelter for families left homeless by Cyclone Idai.

Gopie said Mussa informed her that the community was flooded from March 5 before the cyclone struck and that six people had died and ten families were homeless.

Since Cyclone Idai, there have been 28 families left homeless in Malosa, which is approximately 140 people, 70% of whom are women and children.

“They need food, they need shelter, they need water,” said Gopie in an interview on CBC Radio’s Metro Morning program.

Photo contributed    Kamala-Jean Gopie speaking at Toronto's City Hall


She has sent $1,500 CAD which was used to buy 28 bags of maize for each family, 28 blankets, tarpaulin, containers to store water and plastic plates.

“They want to rebuild their homes. The reason why many of the homes have been destroyed is because they have thatch roofs and there are bricks, but without cement  holding the bricks together, so once you get rain and wind the roof goes off and the bricks disintegrate.”

Gopie says the school is being used because it has a zinc roof and it has cement between the bricks.

Calling her chance meeting of Mussa (Happy) in South Africa the ‘$10 miracle,’ she said he told her his father was dead and he was there in the market trying to earn money to support his six siblings, his mother and his grandmother.

“In the course of the conversation, he told me that he wanted to be a teacher. Well, I was a teacher so it struck a chord and in leaving I gave him $10 and he put his hands together, his eyes filled with tears and he said, Oh thank you mam, may God bless you,’ and I gave him my card.”

Gopie told Mussa that if he can get back to a school that would take him she would support him.
On a subsequent trip, she visited his family and also sent him to school in Blantyre for a year.

When she visited his home, Gopie noticed that there was no water, electricity or roads and there were lots of little kids. 

Drawing on her years as a primary school teacher, she sang to them and when she asked Mussa if the children attend school, he told her that there was no school.

She came back to Canada and chatted with a friend about the possibility of building a school.

After the idea of a school was approved by the local chief, Mussa’s family donated the land and Gopie sent funds which resulted in the school being built in August 2017. She attended the opening in September that year.

Gopie said she was expecting 40 children but two days before she Canada to visit there Mussa told her the number had climbed to 70 and the population went up to 180 three-to-five-year-olds who get a lunch every day. 

She said when she got there and saw the building she cried.

“I could not believe that with $2,500 we built a school and for $500 a month we can support to get all these little children their curiosity expanded,” said Gopie who got friends to donate to the school’s funding too.

Photo contributed


This year, there are 130 because the 6-year-olds have moved on. The children now wear uniform so they have expanded to a second classroom with women learning to sew.

As of December, they have put in a maize mill so the young men can grind the corn and earn some money.

“It is truly appreciated by the people in Happy’s community,” says Gopie about the funds sent to help in the flood relief effort.

She is impressed that from that chance encounter this little village is able to not only feed the community but  in the aftermath of a cyclone and flooding there is some place where they can sleep, and she is able to raise some money so that they can get shelter, food and water which will prevent an outbreak of cholera. 

[This story has been published in the North American Weekly Gleaner, May 16-22, 2019.]

There's Much to Celebrate in 'The Brothers Size'


A Review
By Neil Armstrong

Photo credit: Cylla von Tiedemann  From left to right, Daren A. Hibbert, Marcel Stewart and Mazin Elsadig in Tarell Alvin McCraney's play The Brothers Size at Young Centre for the Performing Arts, Distillery District in Toronto


Tarell Alvin McCraney’s play, The Brothers Size, the second of his triptych, is steeped in love in its portrayal of brotherhood, Black masculinity, family and life.

Think about the richness and complexity of the depiction of Black men in Barry Jenkins’ Academy award-winning film, Moonlight, based on McCraney’s autobiographical play, In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue, and one gets an idea of The Brothers Size.

 Extended until June 1 at Soulpepper Theatre Company in Toronto, the play unfolds in the “distant present,” in the bayou country of Louisiana in the town of San Pere (meaning: No father).

“The weather is hot, and the history between the characters drips with old grudges as well as shared love and pain. The brothers of the title couldn’t be more different. The elder, Ogun, owns an auto repair shop. He works hard, keeps his head down, shoulders heavy responsibilities. The younger one, Oshoosi, is a returning prodigal, fresh out of prison and looking to live it up. Simmering tensions are only fueled by the appearance of Elegba, Oshoosi’s former cellmate, who arrives with a beat-up car and a tempting proposition,” notes a synopsis of The Brothers Size.

On one level the play is about these Black men -- Daren A. Herbert as Ogun, Mazin Elsadig as Oshoosi and Marcel Stewart as Elegba – trying to eke out an existence. McCraney provides insight into the love and tension in the relationship of the brothers (Ogun and Oshoosi), but also includes a window into the intimacy, and possibly sexual relationship, that can develop between imprisoned Black men (Oshoosi and Elegba).  There is a tenderness that is witnessed among these African American men that is absent from the stereotypical visuals of Black men.  While the bonds of friendship exist beyond the prison cell the possibility of recidivism looms large too. 

At a different level McCraney elevates their characters to the level of gods, or orishas, of the West African Yoruba tradition. Ogun is the patron deity who works in metal, known for his strength in battle. Oshoosi is the hunter: a quick-witted avenger of those seeking justice, and Elegba is the trickster, whose temptations are meant to teach human beings. The playwright uses dreams to amplify the mental unease of some of the characters thus telling us more about what motivates them.

At the end of the play one could say that the playwright humanizes these orishas to show that they are prone to weakness and pain too. Indeed, the putting on of clothes at the start seems to depict a type of transition, and the tribal marks on their feet a link to the ancestors. McCraney’s signature portrayal of Black men as vulnerable, emotional, and capable of deeply loving and being loved is evocative. The tender moments of this play and the characters’ embodiment of such actions are worth seeing over and over again.

Under Mumbi Tindyebwa Out’s direction, the characters enter and exit the stage -- which is in the centre of the room -- from different directions in a ritualized movement. Much of the action happens outdoors but the clever set designed by Ken MacKenzie of a half of a car buried in earth also shows what’s happening inside Ogun’s shop. The music composed by Waleed Abdulhamid accentuates the dialogue and heightens the pace of some of the actions in the play.

What is also unique about The Brothers Size is that the stage directions are sometimes narrated by the characters.

As Otu notes in the playbill, “the language is heightened, rich with metaphor: each word runs deep, resonant with multiple meanings and references.”

There’s much to celebrate in this play and upon seeing it you will want to tell others about the mastery of McCraney’s storytelling. Perhaps, it will also propel you to find out what’s in the first of the triptych, In the Red and Brown Water and the third, Marcus: Or the Secret of Sweet.

Initially scheduled to run until May 26, The Brothers Size has been extended at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts in the Distillery District until June 1.

Wednesday, 8 May 2019

Luther Brown to Retire as Principal of Toronto's Africentric Alternative School


By Neil Armstrong

Photo contributed      Luther Brown, Principal of the Africentric Alternative School, TDSB


After 28 years working at the Toronto District School Board (TDSB), veteran educator and principal, Luther Brown, will retire at the end of the school year on June 30.

Since February 1, 2017, he has been the principal of the Africentric Alternative School – an appointment that was welcomed by many in the African Canadian community.

Audley Salmon, TDSB superintendent of education, says Brown is an outstanding educator.

“He’s just been such a strong advocate for the Africentric community but also for all the communities that he has served as principal. One of his strongest qualities is his ability to make connections with students, with staff, but particularly with community. And we’ve seen that in the Africentric school because of the fact that he just has a very endearing personality and he understands the issues of the community.”

Salmon says Brown is very well informed on issues of equity, is inclusive and passionate about working with underserved students and relevant communities, in general.

Brown, who is pursuing a PhD in education at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto, says he is looking forward to complete this postgraduate degree and to publish a book “that is helpful with educating black students.”

“The thesis is about finding out from students what are their concerns about education and so what can we do to change things. But it’s looking to see how we can change the achievement trajectory based on what students themselves are telling us. The goal is to look at students who have graduated, students who are in college or are working, or who are unemployed but have graduated school. They can tell us a little bit about their experience as students that might give us an opportunity to find ways of meeting their needs differently.”

He is hoping that his findings will result in presentations at workshops and conferences.

Brown attended Redwood Primary School in Dover Castle, St. Catherine, Jamaica, then went to Dinthill Technical High School and from there attended Mico Teachers College and eventually to the University of Wisconsin-Stout in the United States where he earned a BSc in industrial education.

After graduating from high school, where he studied engineering, he worked at Alcan Jamaica Limited for a short time and while there discovered that teaching was what he really wanted to do so he went to Mico.

When he left the teachers college he worked at Calabar High School for a while and opened the design and tech shop at the school working along with other teachers to offer woodwork, metalwork, drafting, among other things.

Brown said this was the first time one of the traditional high schools dabbled in technology and they experienced success.

From there he went to University of Wisconsin-Stout and when he completed his studies returned to Jamaica where he became an education officer with the Ministry of Education.

His role there was in radio production in the Educational Broadcasting Services (EBS) where he got his live radio experience.

He drew on this experience in Toronto when he volunteered as a producer/radio host of the three-hour weekly show ‘Caribbean Crucible’ at CHRY 105.5FM, a campus-community radio station at York University, from 1988 to 2015.

Brown immigrated to Canada on December 25, 1983 and did a lot of odd jobs because teachers were not being hired but instead were being laid off.

Eventually he secured a contract in teaching in September 1991 and started working at Brookview Middle School where eventually he was promoted to vice-principal. When he left there he moved on to Bala Avenue Community School as vice-principal.

After spending half of a year there, he went to Lambton Park Community School as acting principal and then went on to Portage Trail Middle School where he spent two years as principal before being called to go to Brookhaven Public School in the same position.

Having spent five years there he felt that it was time to change so he went to the Toronto School Administrators’ Association as the Chair to advocate on behalf of school administrators to better serve the cause of students’ learning.

He was the principal of O’Connor Public School before going to his current position.

Photo contributed      Audley Salmon, TDSB Superintendent of Education


Brown describes his tenure at the Africentric Alternative School as being successful in many regards, noting that the increased number of community participants, like the Caribbean African Canadian Social Services (CAFCAN) and A Different Booklist, engaging the school tells him that things are moving in the right direction.

“Student leadership is one of the things that we’re really proud of,” says Brown, noting that students of grades 7 and 8 take on extracurricular activities and operate various clubs.

Paul Osbourne, co-chair of the School Council, says Brown has contributed strong leadership and his level of caring is seen by the children, parents and staff.

“I think it is important that this is somebody that wanted to contribute, somebody who came from the community and somebody who has those links to actually enhance what’s going on at the school,” says the father of four children – two graduated from the school and two are currently there in grades 5 and 7.

He says for many of the children Brown is like a second father.

 “He really treats the children like family and in many ways that might be unconventional -- this would be professionally -- but I think it works with our children that they see someone such as Luther as again a family member, a second father, somebody that they can come to when they’ve got questions. When little children are sad they can go to him and also he’s real, he’s genuine.”

Osbourne says as a person of African descent he thinks it is very important that “our children see that in the educational system leadership is reflected in who they are as people of African descent and they see that piece, and he demonstrates it at a high level.”

He said the school community is sad to see Brown go but also happy to know that this is his decision and wishes him the best moving forward.

Photo contributed    Paul Osbourne, Co-Chair of the School Council, Africentric Alternative School


 “When you serve you hope that you serve in a way that allows people to have kind thoughts about you when you’re no longer participating there. But you hope for a little bit more than that, you’re hoping that some of the things that you tried to get people to practice they will continue to do and improve on,” says Brown commenting on the fact that students, teachers and parents will miss his presence at the TDSB.

In terms of the Ontario government’s recent changes to the education sector, he says the Africentric school will survive.

“We will more than survive because this is not the first time that education is coming into that kind of a focus. Things are changing, things will change but dedicated professionals make education work in spite of how politics or politicians or just the world is operating. Schools always find a way to make it work.”

But he is concerned that when people look from the outside at education they think it is a lot easier than it is and “because we’ve all gone through school we seem to think that we know how schools operate and we don’t.”

“One of the biggest pronouncements that people like to make about education and teachers and so on is that they get these long holidays. People don’t quite realize that the way teachers are paid the time is squished into the 190 days of active school but the pay is spread out over time.  So it’s not like people are getting free holidays.”

As principal of the Africentric school, Brown says he is inspired daily by how bright the students are, the growth of leadership among them and “a kind of pride of self” that he sees in the students is heartening.

“Students are willing to challenge and they’re learning how to question things and ask questions and disagree with positions that people might take without being rude and without being perceived as stepping outside of their lane as people sometimes like to say.”

The principal believes students must learn to challenge the status quo as it is the only way that change happens.

“These students are going to be working in environments that are foreign to us. Some of the environments that they’re going to be working in we don’t know them yet. So, we have to teach them so they are asking questions that will help them to become the creative individuals that will meet whatever is coming at them.”

Brown said he is proudest when he sees educational professionals, like teachers or educational assistants, “come to an awareness that each child comes to them as this special gift and see them try to work with them as individuals and move them along.”

“It’s one of the proudest things about being a principal is to see people grow. I think for me as well, from a professional principal’s standpoint, you look and you see you’ve had teachers in the various schools that you worked, you see the leadership potential in them, you suggest to them that they should become leaders and even when they’re reluctant and when they push back and when they eventually agree and you see them make the move – it’s awesome.”

Brown said he is happy that he was asked to come to the Africentric Alternative School because he had always been working wherever he has for students to become better at achieving and become well-rounded citizens.

“It was good to come to the Africentric school to try to figure out how best to work with black students and see them as a group and try to learn from them how best to teach them so that they can become better.”

For him, this was an amazing experience in learning more “about black people and how to educate black people in a world that is not necessarily fully encouraging of that.

“It’s evolving but we still have a need, we still have academic achievement group lagging. We have the individuals who are doing amazing things, getting scholarships, going off to universities, going off to colleges, in trades, opening their own businesses, etc. but the opportunity to work at the Africentric Alternative School allows me another opportunity to see myself as a black educator and how I can contribute differently, which is partly what I’m hoping will materialize through my doctoral study.”

He started his doctoral studies before he came to the Africentric school but this experience has given him “a different depth of understanding of black students and black students’ needs and how professionals – white and black and Chinese and whatever the nationality – how they can better understand how to serve black children.”


Brown is married to Reverend Paulette Brown and they are the proud parents of three adult children: Luther, Kayode and Zahra.

[This story has been published in the North American Weekly Gleaner, May 9-15, 2019.]

 
 


Sunday, 5 May 2019

Kwame Alexander Launches His New Book 'The Undefeated' in Toronto

By Neil Armstrong


Kwame Alexander, Miguel San Vicente and Randy Preston at A Different Booklist Cultural Centre on May 3, 2019


It was a very interactive night at A Different Booklist Cultural Centre in Toronto, Canada when poet, educator, and New York Times best-selling author of 32 books, Kwame Alexander, launched his new book, "The Undefeated," illustrated by Kadir Nelson on May 3.

Published by Versify, the book is a love letter to America, "to black America. To the grit, passion, and perseverance of our greatest artists, athletes, and activists. To the dreamers. To the strength and bravery of everyday people caught in the web of history," notes a synopsis of the picture book which is beautifully illustrated by Nelson.

Among Alexander's books are "Out of Wonder," a Coretta Scott King Book Awards illustrator winner, and "Rebound," the prequel to his Newbery Award-winning novel, "The Crossover."

With his musical guest, Randy Preston, with whom he has been touring his books at schools and special events for the last two years, Alexander randomly asked members of the audience why they were there. When they answered, he selected and recited poems from his books accompanied by Preston's catchy music to complement the theme.

Preston is singer-songwriter, educator and storyteller based in Washington DC, who grew up on three different continents. Raised in England and Kenya, he gained a deep appreciation for the lore, the myths and the legends of the places he has lived, notes The Booking Biz website.

Kwame Alexander and Randy Preston at the Toronto launch of "The Undefeated" at A Different Booklist Cultural Centre

Kwame Alexander signing a copy of one of his books at A Different Booklist Cultural Centre in Toronto

Writers together: Nadia L. Hohn, Kwame Alexander and Rita Deverell at A Different Booklist Cultural Centre in Toronto on May 3, 2019


This was Alexander's fifth visit to Canada and he has many plans in the pipeline that will unfold in the months and years ahead.

Versify is a new imprint curated by the Virginia-born Alexander who also lives in that city. It is "full of innovative creators with fresh and varied voices."

"This Houghton Mifflin Harcourt imprint reflects Alexander’s vision that accessible and powerful prose and poetry—in picture books, novels, and nonfiction—can celebrate the lives and reflect the possibilities of all children. Seeking new authors and artists as well as established writers and illustrators, Versify publishes books that explore the beauty, hurdles, and hopefulness of life . . . books that will engage, entertain, and empower young people to imagine and create a better world."