Saturday, 18 March 2017

Reflections on Community and Resistance at a Book Signing

By Neil Armstrong

My plan was to spend a relaxed evening yesterday (March 17) at a book signing at the new location of A Different Booklist – 777-779 Bathurst St. – across from its former location.
Since its move to the new spot on Feb. 4, this was my firs time in the space and for a good reason. 

The bookstore and community cultural hub was hosting its first event there – author, publisher/media owner, entrepreneur and activist, B. Denham Jolly, was signing copies of his recently published memoir, In the Black: My Life.
An event like this brought out many historians, community activists -- members of the Black Action Defense Committee, Urban Alliance on Race Relations, and others who are resisting in their own way.

While there, a friend called to say he was finally home after six weeks in hospital after a heart attack and a triple bypass surgery. I was thankful because upon reflection that was one of the main reasons I hadn’t made it to the new space for the bookstore before. I was connected to a longtime friendship and willing someone who is like a brother to me to become well again. And here it is that on the evening that I was reconnecting with a community of friends at the bookstore he called with the good news.

Shortly after entering the store, someone came over to me to talk about the topical issue of Senator Don Meredith’s conduct, soon after another, and not long after another person. Their views were as divergent as many of the views about the matter expressed on Facebook and elsewhere. [I saw some more views on social media when I got home late last night.] I listened, engaged in the conversations, but really wanted to focus on my reason for being there  -- to celebrate with owners, Itah Sadu and Miguel San Vicente, the new space and celebrate with Denham Jolly his book signing in the space.

What was important about those conversations was the sense of community – some felt the senator was getting a raw deal, others not so.  In other conversations, one person said they didn't know who he was until now, and asked if there wasn’t a discussion sometime ago about reforming the senate. [I shared information on the five black senators: Anne Cools, 73, of Ontario, the first Black Canadian to be appointed, in 1984, and the longest-serving member of the Senate; Donald Oliver, 78, of Nova Scotia, who served from 1990-2013; the late Calvin Ruck of Nova Scotia, (born Sept. 4, 1925), appointed in 1998 and served until reaching the mandatory retirement age of 75 in 2000 – he died on Oct. 19, 2004; Don Meredith, 52, of Ontario, appointed in Dec. 2010; and Wanda Thomas Bernard, 63, of Nova Scotia, appointed in Oct. 2016 under a new system of selecting senators introduced the Justin Trudeau-led government. She applied for the position and was chosen. Senator Thomas Bernard recently attended the Viola Desmond Day Awards at Ryerson University where an award named in her honour was presented to a professor at the university.]

Last night the themes of community and resistance were quite evident because many of the activists and community builders, like Jojo Chintoh, Norman ‘Otis’ Richmond, Peter Rosenthal, Valarie Steele, Kingsley Gilliam, Hewitt Loague, Keith Ellis, Al Peabody, Knia Singh, Nigel Barriffe, Louis March and others were there to celebrate Jolly and his new book. Hearing the names of Sherona Hall, Dudley Laws, Charles Roach and other community stalwarts no longer living had me thinking about something Akua Benjamin, activist, academic and community leader, said at an Urban Alliance on Race Relations event a Ryerson University a few years ago. In her acceptance speech after receiving the lifetime award, she said, “Resistance is in our DNA” – something that has become the mantle of the Akua Benjamin Legacy Project. I think this resistance is being demonstrated in Black Lives Matter-Toronto and in places like Jamaica where women in the Tambourine Army marched to resist violence against women and rape culture.

Having written about the book in multiple media, I’ll share this excerpt from its front flap: “In the Black is part memoir and part manifesto, documenting Jolly’s personal struggles while also chronicling the stories of an entire generation of social activists. It is a passionate narrative about personal ambition, a community’s hardships and successes, and its search for a voice. It is a story about the search for social justice.”

It was good last night to hear Knia Singh talk about his friendship with Jolly (who will be 82 in August) and Denham Jolly encouraging him to keep up the fight – to speak truth to power and be tenacious. Knia took a break from working on a final paper in law school at Osgoode to attend the event last night. Wishing him success with that. It was also nice to overhear other elder community stalwarts encouraging the younger community, activist and soon-to-be lawyer to be steadfast. They’ve got his back.
B. Denham Jolly and Valarie Steele at A Different Booklist.

B. Denham Jolly reading Chapter One 'In the Lion's Den' at his book signing.

Knia Singh and Robin Battle at A Different Booklist.

Group photo at A Different Booklist -- B. Denham Jolly's book signing event.

Standing: Gene S. and Jojo Chintoh and seated: B. Denham Jolly and Knia Singh at A Different Booklist. Also caught in this pic is Norman 'Otis'Ricmond.

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