Saturday, 8 December 2018

Black CAP Fundraises for its Emergency Financial Assistance Program

By Neil Armstrong

Photo credit: Black CAP     Shannon Thomas Ryan, executive director, Black Coalition for AIDS Prevention presents opening remarks at "Joyful Giving."

It was a night of live entertainment and solicitations at “Joyful Giving,” the annual cocktail fundraiser of the Black Coalition for AIDS Prevention (Black CAP) that supports its Emergency Financial Assistance (EFA) program.

Decked in royal blue and gold, the auditorium of the United Steelworkers Hall in Toronto welcomed several patrons on November 16 to help raise much-needed funds for its clients.

“EFA provides important practical supports to our clients in times of financial hardship. Each year our EFA program provides more than $15,000 in assistance to our clients living with HIV and supports expenses such as winter clothes, transportation, childcare, immigration expenses, etc. The financial support the program provides has a big impact in the lives of the clients we support,” says Shannon Thomas Ryan, executive director of the organization.

He said for many of its clients, Black CAP is a home and also a family for people who don’t have family.

Board chair, Andrew Campbell, commended the agency for its strong leadership and strong followership. He emphasized the importance of supporting community.

“We have to support our own,” said Campbell, noting that 2019 will mark the 30th anniversary of Black CAP and that plans are already underway to celebrate the milestone.

The evening was complemented by performances of singers, Canadian Urban Music Award winner Ray Robinson, Julia Tynes and Aria Zenua, a silent auction, a raffle, and music by DJ Blackcat.

David Dk Soomarie, now a member of staff at Black CAP as MSM outreach coordinator, said he was once a client of the agency after he came visiting Toronto from Trinidad in August 2016 and eventually decided to stay.

He said it was because of the agency that he felt the need to stay and he was warmly greeted at the office by Ryan.

“As soon as I walked through the door I felt a distinct kind of energy – a community. I felt at home.”

Soomarie, who was involved in an NGO in Trinidad for six years, said he decided to stay after determining that he was going to be of value here.

Photo credit: Black CAP  Patrons, staff and volunteers enjoying "Joyful Giving."

Photo credit: Black CAP

Photo credit: Black CAP

Chris Leonard, program director, reminded patrons that their donations go solely to support clients with application fees, access to medication, winter clothing and help to ease the financial burden of clients.

Cecile Peterkin, vice chair of the board of directors, expressed her thanks at the end of the formalities. The host for the evening was Dewitt Lee.

Founded in 1989, the Black Coalition for AIDS Prevention has worked for 29 years to curb the HIV epidemic in Toronto’s African, Caribbean and Black (ACB) communities.

It is the largest service provider of its kind in Canada and is guided by the motto, “Because All Black People’s Lives Are Important,” a reminder of the importance of its commitment to these communities. 

Its mission is to reduce the spread of HIV infection within Toronto’s Black communities and to enhance the quality of life of people living with or affected by HIV/AIDS.

 “HIV/AIDS is spreading quickly in Toronto’s Black communities and we believe that our work is more important than ever,” notes the organization.

“At this time, ACB people account for almost one-third of all new HIV infections in Ontario; in the early nineties we made up only one-tenth of new HIV infections. Issues of HIV-related stigma and discrimination, homophobia, anti-Black racism, immigration, poverty, and barriers to social inclusion also continue to make our work harder,” says Black CAP.
The agency is a community of outreach experts, support specialists, and activists dedicated to improving health outcomes for ACB people who are living with, and affected by, HIV. 
[This story has been published in the North American Weekly Gleaner, Dec. 6-12, 2018.]

Tuesday, 4 December 2018

Obaaberima is Insightful in its Powerful Storytelling

By Neil Armstrong
A Review

Photo credit: Jeremy Mimnagh  Tawiah Ben M'Carthy in the production Obaaberima at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre in Toronto.

In the hands of Tawiah Ben M’Carthy, Obaaberima is a masterpiece drawing us into his powerful storytelling, superb acting, and the skillful interweaving of live music, lighting and set design in its execution.

The writer and performer uses his voice, movement and dance to transport us from the present into the past ( a flashback for us to understand the now), and to play not only the central character, Agyeman, but also the roles of multiple characters in Agyeman’s life.

Imprisoned in Canada for committing a violent crime, a young man from Ghana tells his cellmates a story on the eve of his release. While there is risk in sharing his tale, he must tell it to be truly free. Through storytelling, dance, and live music, Obaaberima chronicles a young African-Canadian’s journey across continents, gender, race, and sexuality.

M’Carthy’s theatricality on stage evokes the moods that enhance the story of Obaaberima – from the curtailment of cultural mores to fully express one’s self, to the acceptance of self and living authentically.

When translated from the Twi dialect in Ghana, obaaberima is a derogatory slang term which means girlboy or girly-boy.

While Agyeman enthralls us from a prison cell, his embodiment of all the characters from his childhood to his adulthood, in Ghana and in Canada, and grappling with gender, race, and sexuality underscores the mastery of M’Carthy’s performance.

Agyeman tries to understand the duality of his sexual identity and the roles or masks he wears to fit into places while hiding his ‘otherness.’

In Obaaberima, the main character notes that where he is from in Ghana when a child is born the child is kept indoors for seven days.

“If that child makes it through the first week, then the beginning of their life is marked by a ceremony called “outdooring”: a naming ceremony at which the child is brought out of the house, is introduced to family, friends, and the community,” says Agyeman in the opening of the play.

M’Carthy plays the roles of Opayin, a tailor, Sibongile (Agyeman’s female alter ego), and Nana Osei, a male schoolmate, both of whom he falls in love with but eventually loses in his deceitful efforts to be with both.

In Canada, he continues this dual role by loving Ayele, a Ghanaian woman and Elijah, a Canadian man from North Bay.

The cycle of deceit continues until Agyeman realizes that he has to do his own revelation and decides to reintroduce himself to the world as Sibongile.

“This is my outdooring. The doors are about to open, and I can no longer slide through. The doors are about to open, and I need to be seen. Watch me walk,” says Sibongile at the end.

Photo credit: Jeremy Mimnagh  Tawiah Ben M'Carthy in Obaaberima which runs until December 9, 2018 at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre in Toronto.

The live music of award-winning multi-instrumentalist, composer, and producer Kobèna Aquaa-Harrison complements the narrative aptly and the direction of Evalyn Parry expands the action within the restrictive to an expansive imagination of this journey.

The creativeness of set and costume designer Camellia Koo and lighting designer Michelle Ramsay adds to the dramatics that unfold onstage.

After its successful premiere in 2012 and winning three Dora Awards in 2013 for outstanding production, outstanding sound design/composition, and outstanding lighting design, it is fitting that Buddies in Bad Times Theatre chose to include Obaaberima in its 2018-19 season.

It’s a wonderful production worth seeing and M’Carthy deserves every accolade he has received since his creation hit the stage in 2012 and has toured across Canada.

Obaaberima, which was the first show to have been developed through Buddies residency program, runs until Sunday, December 9 at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre.

It’s a must-see event in Toronto -- go see it before it ends. M’Carthy has chosen to chart his own course in this unique production. I can’t wait to see what next he’ll offer us in the future.

Saturday, 24 November 2018

Students Urged to Have a Purpose and a Drive

By Neil Armstrong

Photo credit: Natural Images  Leadership by Design (LBD) cohort 2018 students who were inducted into the signature program of the Lifelong Leadership Institute (LLI) on Nov. 3 at OISE, University of Toronto

Forty-four Grade 10 high school students have been inducted into the Leadership by Design (LBD) program, a signature leadership-development initiative of the Lifelong Leadership Institute in Toronto.

The students who entered Grade 10 in September are the newest cohorts of the program. The others are the cohort 2017 (Grade 11) and cohort 2016 (Grade 12) students who are graduating from high school next June.

 The LBD program aims to provide an array of opportunities for the personal,
social and career development of Black youth.

The students will remain enrolled in the program throughout their Grades 10, 11 and 12 years, and throughout their years of post-secondary studies.

Speaking at the induction ceremony on November 3 at OISE, University of Toronto, Cornell Wright, a corporate lawyer who is the co-head of mergers and acquisitions at Torys LLP, told them that public schools are one of the most important institutions in society because every student has the same opportunity.

Using his life as an example, the recipient of the Black Business and Professional Association's (BBPA) first Harry Jerome Award for leadership said he learnt about leadership from he was 13 or 14 and had a summer job stuffing envelopes in the office of his uncle, Trevor Massey, who was the registrar at Centennial College.

He said he was inspired from seeing a black person in charge in an office. Massey, now retired, is the chair of the Lifelong Leadership Institute.

 “What is it that you want to become? What is it that you want to do that is going to make the world a better place?”

Photo credit: Natural Images     Cornell Wright, a corporate lawyer and co-head of mergers and acquisitions at Torys LLP, was the keynote speaker

Wright encouraged the students to have a purpose, a vision and a sense of what they want to accomplish.

He implored them to have a drive, noting that there are people who wait for things to happen to them and others who aim to make things happen.

Currently, the chair of the board of directors of the National Ballet of Canada, Wright urged them to have confidence.

People can sometimes doubt themselves too much and I think that you have to actually reverse that. You have to ask yourself not how can I do something but why shouldn’t I do something. Reverse the onus,” he said, noting that confidence is the number one thing that most people lack.

The lawyer told the students that their biggest mentors were the people in the auditorium – their parents – and advised them to open their mind and look for mentors, some of whom will not necessarily look like them.

Wright said the single greatest thing he had in his career were two parents who gave him the confidence to believe in himself and drove him to the many activities that he wanted to be involved in.

“You have to open your mind and look for mentors, people who will help build you up, help support you and help push you to the next destination.”

He told them that they need to have concern, compassion and a sense of community as they not only have an opportunity but a responsibility to actually help others and to engage in the community.

 “It’s not about succeeding by oneself for oneself. It’s about what you can do to help others, to engage others, to lift up the broader community.”

Citing statistics about the first-year students at law school at the University of Toronto, whom he recently addressed, Wright said 59% of them have parents who were born outside of Canada.

One quarter of the students were born outside of Canada, 53% of them are women, one-third of the class is a visible minority or a person of colour, and 84% were the first in their family to attend law school.

“That’s incredible diversity so none of you should think that somehow this is out of reach, that this is not for you; you belong, and all of this is available to you.”

Wright told them that Canada is an incredibly diverse country but institutions haven’t evolved in perfect step with the diversification of the population.

“You’ve got a perfect opportunity to be at the forefront and you’ve got to prepare to be at the forefront to be moving things ahead, to be pushing boundaries.

He said sometimes people ask themselves when is the right time to begin thinking about leadership -- he thinks the time is now.

On the issue of barriers, Wright said he had never felt that being a black person affected his opportunities.

“The world of Toronto today is very different than the world of Toronto when my parents came to Canada from Jamaica in the 1960s so all of you should not be thinking about those things as barriers. The barriers are lack of confidence, lack of conviction, lack of purpose, lack of drive,” he said.

He told them that the Black community needs more of them as business people, as people with capital and controlling capital who “can sponsor incredible initiatives like this.”

“We need more of you in government where key decisions are being made, but this will only happen if each of you here today makes a decision to be part of it, to be at the table, to stand up and be counted as a citizen and as leader.”

He told them to aim to be leaders not just in the Black community but in the broader community. 

[This story has been published in the North American Weekly Gleaner, Nov. 21-28, 2018.]

On Saturday, Dec. 1, 2018, RBC and Leadership by Design (LBD) will collaborate on a free workshop on digital coding -- "Hacker Hipster or Hustler? Discover Your Tech Identity" -- for the students of the LLI's signature program. This will be held at RBC Waterpark Place Auditorium, 88 Queens Quay West in Toronto from 9:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m.

New Executive Director of Alzheimer Society Wants to Give Back to Community

By Neil Armstrong

Photo contributed    Camille Isaacs-Morell, executive director of the Alzheimer Society of Montreal

Camille Isaacs-Morell, the newly appointed executive director of the Alzheimer Society of Montreal, is currently looking at alternative ways of raising funds for the organization.

As a not-for-profit organization, the Society is entirely funded by subventions and funds raised.

She says the corporate sector is highly solicited right now and it’s very difficult “to raise funds the way we’ve traditionally done in the past through big events and golf tournaments and galas.”

“We have to raise money from the community -- these are small donors and people with small businesses -- and we welcome all of that but we do need large sums of money,” says Isaacs-Morell who migrated to Montreal from Kingston, Jamaica in 1993.

She will guide the organization to meet the demand for services that will grow commensurately with the projected increase in diagnoses of Alzheimer’s disease and related diseases.

The graduate of Immaculate Conception High School and holder of a BA in Language and Linguistics from the University of the West Indies says there is going to be a 66% increase in the number of persons diagnosed with Alzheimer, that’s nearly 900 to a million people across Canada having some form of dementia in less than 15 years.

“It’s really going to be a big crisis for our health system here in Canada, so that’s one thing. It’s not getting better and it’s not going away. We still haven’t found a cure and until we find a cure we have to provide services for the people with Alzheimer, as well as their caregivers, and support the health professionals in the work that they do.”

Isaacs-Morell was born and raised in Kingston, and after her postsecondary studies she worked for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade for eight years.

She then did an MBA in International Business and Marketing at the University of Miami at a time when she realized that international relations were going to be more driven by the private sector than by government.

Isaacs-Morell went back to Jamaica for a year and then migrated to Montreal.

After working for 20 years in the field of marketing, she felt that she had topped out in her career and wanted to do something different thus accepting the appointment as assistant executive director of the Alzheimer Society of Montreal last year

Isaacs-Morell was the director of corporate branding at Standard Life Company for its Canadian operations, this was before they sold out and left. She ran marketing campaigns and increased sales and brand awareness.

She did some freelance consulting for a while in between jobs because her position was cut at Standard Life. She was also senior advisor, corporate and content marketing at McKesson Canada.

The marketing expert found that she had a lot to give and also that “as a senior career professional approaching middle age people are not as willing to hire very experienced persons and pay them that salary.”

Her involvement in the not-for-profit sector allowed her to do some short mandates for the Salvation Army and other organizations.

 When the opening came up at the Alzheimer Society, she thought it was a good opportunity for her to use her business and marketing skills there and also to continue to give back to the society.

“I was raised by parents who made me realize that I was fortunate. I was very much aware that there were other people, other children who were not as fortunate as I was.”

She said her parents were very openhanded; her father was a teacher and then became a lecturer at CAST (now the University of Technology) and her mother was a civil servant.

“My parents were very clear with my sister and me that we were fortunate and we followed their example by always being encouraged to serve in some way.”

At Immaculate, she was also encouraged to give to the society and to use her talents in that way.

“Personally, I’m always curious to see what better looks like so that’s what motivates me,” she says.

In a notice of her appointment, Robert Beaudoin, chairman of the board of directors, cites Isaacs-Morell’s involvement in non-profit organizations such as the Anglican Foundation, YWCA Montreal, West Island Palliative Care Residence, Anglican Diocese of Montreal, Black Academic Scholarship Fund, Salvation Army, and Fondation des Arches du Quebec.

“She is an exceptional woman, but also a talented artist who expresses her creativity and values through her painting. There is little doubt, then, that art will be front and centre at the Society with Camille at the helm,” he said.

It was while going through a difficult time when she came to Canada 25 years that she started painting.

Between jobs she was walking down a street and saw that art courses were being offered somewhere. She immediately signed up and the rest is history, she says.

“It just comes naturally and a lot of my paintings that I do I sell a few but I do donate a lot to charities and to other worthy causes.”

Fluent in English, French and Spanish, she often communicated in the latter language when she worked at the foreign affairs and foreign trade ministry.

When former prime minister, P.J. Patterson went to Argentina and Chile she accompanied him on that trip.

[This story was first published in the North American Weekly Gleaner, Nov. 15-21, 2018.]

Sunday, 11 November 2018

When Brothers Speak Celebrates 20 Years

Media Release

Photo credit: Lawrence Kerr   Dwayne Morgan, 2012 Canadian National Team Poetry Slam Champion and 2013 Scarborough Walk of Fame inductee, is the founder of When Brothers Speak.

North America’s largest and longest running showcase of Black male Spoken Word artists celebrates its 20thanniversary on December 8, at Toronto’s St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts. 
The brainchild of Toronto Spoken Word pioneer, Dwayne Morgan, When Brothers Speak annually features poets at the top of their game, amplifying the lived experiences of Black men in a way that hits home with no apologies. 
“It’s hard to believe that it’s been twenty years since I crammed people into the Comfort Zone to introduce people to this idea,” says Morgan. “At the time, I didn’t think it was going to be an annual thing. I just wanted to bring Black men together from both sides of the border to share our experiences.”
For the last fifteen years, the show has been produced at Toronto’s St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts, a calculated move by Morgan.  “I remember sitting in that theatre watching a dance performance, and thought that my art form needed to be on that kind of stage as well. In that moment, I decided to elevate the show to a concert, and make it a date of note on the social calendar.”
The 2018 edition of the show will feature performances from Luke Reece, 2017 Canadian National Team Poetry Slam Champion, Eddie Lartley, Canadian National Team Poetry Slam finalist from Hamilton, Joel Francois (New York), German-born, American-raised, Andrew Tyree, the 2010 Individual World Poetry Slam Champion, San Diego’s Rudy Francisco, and is curated by 2012 Canadian National Team Poetry Slam Champion, and 2013 Scarborough Walk of Fame inductee, Dwayne Morgan. 
When Brothers Speak is a raw and uncensored roller coaster ride along the Black experience. With race, continuing to be the backdrop of much social discourse, When Brothers Speak remains a timely and necessary vehicle to address the realities of Black people in North America, especially those who feel pushed to the margins. 
Tickets for the 20thanniversary showcase run between $45 and $55 on Ticketmaster.

Obaaberima Returns to Buddies in Bad Times Theatre

By Neil Armstrong 

Photo credit: Jeremy Mimnagh   Tawiah Ben M'Carthy, writer and performer of the award-winning production, Obaaberima.

Obaaberima, an award-winning play which had its successful premiere in 2012, is returning to Buddies in Bard Times Theatre from November 27 to December 9.

The coming-of-age tale by Tawiah Ben M’Carthy won three Dora Awards for outstanding production, outstanding sound design/composition, and outstanding lighting design.

As Buddies continues its 2018-2019 season, it brings back the first show to have been developed through the Buddies residency program, which has gone on to produce eight mainstage shows including The Gay Heritage Project, Black Boys, and the upcoming Shove it Down My Throat.

Since its debut six years ago, the production has played on stages across the country, garnering rave reviews from coast to coast.

Imprisoned in Canada for committing a violent crime, a young man from Ghana tells his cellmates a story on the eve of his release. While there is risk in sharing his tale, he must tell it to be truly free. Through storytelling, dance, and live music, Obaaberima chronicles a young African-Canadian’s journey across continents, genders, races and sexualities.

“As a performance it’s a tour de force and more than earned M’Carthy the raucous ovation it received. As a play it’s persuasive and touching,” said the Toronto Star in a review.

The play is written and performed by Ghanian-born M’Carthy who earlier this year starred in the remount of Black Boys, another Buddies in Bad Times Theatre production.

Created by Saga Collectif, that 2016 production was nominated for a Dora Mavor Moore Award for outstanding performance – ensemble. 

After embarking on a nation-wide tour to theatres in Vancouver (The Cultch, with Zee Zee Theatre), Calgary (High Performance Rodeo), and Montreal (Espace Libre, with Black Theatre Workshop), Black Boys came back to Buddies for a limited two-week run from February 28-March 11. 

A raw, intimate, and timely exploration of queer male Blackness, Black Boys was created from the lives of three people (Stephen Jackman-Torkoff , Thomas Olajide and M’Carthy) seeking a deeper understanding of themselves, of each other, and of how they encounter the world. 

As they explore their unique identities on stage, they subvert the ways in which gender, sexuality, and race are performed. Theatrical and intimate, the artistic creation wove together the ensemble’s own personal stories in search of an integrated self and a radical imagination.

In Obaaberima, M’Carthy’s performance is directed by artistic director, Evalyn Parry, and accompanied by the live music of award-winning multi-instrumentalist, composer and producer, Kobena Aquaa-Harrison.

The other creative team members are set and costume designer, Camellia Koo; lighting designer, Michelle Ramsay; and stage management by Laura Baxter.

M’Carthy was introduced to theatre in Ghana and trained as an actor at York University. 

As an artist, he uses both African and Western theatre traditions, often combining movement, music, storytelling, poetic text, together with theatrical structure, characterization and design. 

His creator, writer and performer credits include ​The Ken​te Cloth and MaaNomaa, My Brother.

M’Carthy has also worked with companies such as The National Arts Centre of Canada, TheCultch Vancouver, Urban Ink Production, The Globe, Regina, Obsidian Theatre, Tarragon Theatre, MTSpace Theatre and InterArts Matrix as an actor, playwright, director and/or workshop facilitator. 

He is a co-founder of Saga Collectif and is the co-founder/associate artistic director of Blue Bird Theatre Collective.

Buddies in Bad Times will have accessible performances of Obaaberima on the first weekend of December.

A deaf-interpreted performance in ASL will be held on Saturday, December 1 at 8:00 p.m. d/Deaf and hard-of-hearing patrons can access $10 tickets in advance using the code “ASL 10” at checkout. Pay-what-you-can tickets will also be available at the door.

A relaxed performance will be held on Sunday, December 2 at 2:30 p.m. Patrons can book $10 tickets in advance using the code “RP10.”

The previews will be held November 27 and 28, the opening night on November 29 and the closing performance on December 9.

Obaaberima runs Tuesday to Saturday, 8:00 p.m. and on Sunday at 2:30 p.m.

Tickets are PWYC (pay-what-you-can)-$40. Box Office: 416-975-8555 or

Buddies in Bad Times is at 12 Alexander Street in Toronto.

Friday, 9 November 2018

Toronto Police Service Collaborates with Community Groups in its Recruitment Drive

November 9, 2018
Toronto Police Service to Host Recruitment Information Session
at Jamaican Canadian Centre

Toronto, ON - The Toronto Police Service (TPS), in partnership with the Jamaican Canadian Association (JCA) and Caribbean African Canadian Social Services (CAFCAN), will host an information session on TPS employment opportunities at the Jamaican Canadian Centre, 995 Arrow Road on Wednesday, November 14 from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.

TPS recruiters will provide members of the Black community with information on the organization's hiring process for uniform and civilian jobs.

“This outreach by TPS to the Black community is significant, both in terms of raising awareness about employment opportunities and supporting positive police-community relations. The JCA is pleased to partner with the TPS and CAFCAN to meet both of these objectives,”  says Adaoma Patterson, JCA President.

The TPS is actively recruiting following the lifting of a hiring freeze.

Floydeen Charles-Fridal, Executive Director of CAFCAN, notes, “Policing Toronto's diverse communities means having a diverse and representative force. This information session is an important step towards ensuring that members of the Black community interested in a career with TPS have access to the resources they need to seek employment and be represented in the hiring process.”

Interested community members can RSVP at and can learn more about current employment opportunities at

The TPS is Canada's largest municipal police service, employing over 5,000 uniformed officers and more than 2,000 civilian staff. Established in 1962, the JCA delivers programs and services, provides a physical hub, and advocates to improve the wellbeing of Jamaican, Caribbean and AfricanCanadian communities in the Greater Toronto Area. CAFCAN was founded in 2014 to provide social services to Toronto's Caribbean-and-African Canadian communities.

For comment, contact Sergeant Chris Gordon, TPS Recruiting Section, at 416-808-5646.