Wednesday, 31 May 2017

School Named After Jean Augustine Officially Opens

By Neil Armstrong

Jean Augustine and Sandra Dussiaume, Principal of the Jean Augustine Secondary School in Brampton at the school's official opening on May 25, 2017.  Photo credit: Dayo

The Music Department at Jean Augustine Secondary School

Musical instruments in the music department of Jean Augustine Secondary School

Artwork by some of the students at the school

The all-day wet weather did not dampen the enthusiasm at the open house of Jean Augustine Secondary School in Brampton, Ontario -- Peel District School Board’s newest secondary school.

On May 25, the school held its official opening celebrations with Jean Augustine, a former Member of Parliament and first Black Canadian woman elected to the House of Commons, in attendance.

The school, which has an enrolment of 269 students (179 Grade 9 and 90 Grade 10) and a crest of the phoenix, opened at the beginning of the school year in September 2016.

Buoyed with pride for their school, students conducted tours of the state-of-the-art building with rooms for the visual arts, multi-media, broadcast, photography, music, hospitality, athletics, and more.

Grade 9 student, Juvraj Bhandhol, 14, reels off the motto of the school – service, advocacy, innovation and leadership (SAIL).

“The focus at our school is truly inspired by Jean Augustine’s mandate to empower students to achieve their potential through activism and service,” says Sandra Dussiaume, principal.

“Students have been working hard for months to plan this school opening. We’re all really excited to have Jean join us to celebrate and showcase our students’ creative talents with our school community.”

Jean Augustine Secondary School is the first school in Canada to be named for the Canadian social justice advocate and politician, Jean Augustine, who is originally from Grenada. 

“I am honoured that the Peel District School Board chose to name the school after me,” says Jean Augustine.  “I am impressed at how everyone at the school has built such a strong school spirit.”

She described the school as being a vibrant community that she is confident will be a beacon in Brampton.

The Colectve – the name and spelling given to the graphics design lab -- was a beehive of activity as students bragged about the 3D printers it houses and showed moulds and designs that they created.

Some of their design creations have been entered into competitions and the students expect to do well.

In the hospitality room, supervised by Mr. Lee, students prepared food and refreshments for community members and parents to taste at the open house.

Heather Norton, music teacher, said students learn songwriting, and how to compose, produce, and perform.

She said every student must understand the fundamentals of a diversity of instruments.

Leadership, innovation, and communication skills are important to the students and staff.

Guests also had an opportunity to help create the first piece of artwork to be displayed in the school. 

Augustine served in the Canadian parliament from 1993 until 2006. During this period, she served as parliamentary secretary to the prime minister, minister of state for multiculturalism and the status of women, and was a deputy speaker.

Augustine is also the former national president of the Congress of Black Women of Canada, and was instrumental in the declaration of February as Black History Month in Canada—a month celebrated in Peel schools and throughout the country. 

Graduating Students Celebrate Their Achievemens With A Walk

By Neil Armstrong
Tinuola Akwinwade, at mic, of Downsview Secondary School sharing her spoken word presentation at a reception that concluded the annual Walk With Excellence at York University on May 24, 2017.

Bursary recipients are from left to right: Nana Boateng of Westview Centennial Secondary School, Kellisha Roberts of C.W. Jefferys Collegiate Institute, Tinuola Akinwade of Downsview Secondary School and Gavin O'Sullivan of West Humber Collegiate Institute.

The enthusiasm of 650-plus students about to graduate from high school was on full display at an event to celebrate their accomplishments and to encourage them to pursue postsecondary education.

“When I say ‘I am,’ you say ‘great,’” urged educator, Ramon San Vicente, in the call-and-response which resulted in a crescendo of “great” from the students of Emery, Westview, Downsview, C.W. Jefferys, and West Humber Collegiate.

It was the fifth annual Walk With Excellence held on May 24, which included the graduands, community organizations, elders, parents, educators and special guests.

This is the first year that students from West Humber Collegiate have participated in the walk from C.W. Jefferys to York University that has inspired other such events.

On the following day, Toronto District School Board students in the east end of the city walked into the University of Toronto campus, and students in Ottawa walked into the University of Ottawa campus on May 31. 

In keeping with the theme of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM), students from the five schools walked into York University's Life Sciences building, symbolically marking their move from secondary to postsecondary life.

They were presented with commemorative medallions engraved with “knowledge is power.”

“Who remembers our teachers suggesting this would be the best four years of our life?” asked a student presenter who then said, “On June 29 we’re all graduating.”

She indicated that it was a token of their hard work, sleepless nights, juggling school and work, and “we made it.”

In a stirring spoken word piece, Tinuola Akinwade of Downsview said, “the power of knowledge is the springboard to opportunity.”

“We have been told that we’re not good enough, and look, we’re here,” she said, encouraging her colleagues to, “Rise up and shine brighter than the people who want to dim our light.”

Lyndon Martin, Dean of the Faculty of Education, and Carl James, Jean Augustine Chair in Education, Community and Diaspora welcomed the students, reminding them that it is a beginning and encouraging them to seek postsecondary education.

Bursaries were presented to Nana Boateng of Westview, Kellisha Roberts of C.W. Jefferys, Gavin O’Sullivan of West Humber, and Tinuola Akinwade of Downsview.

O’Sullivan, 20, who is Jamaican and visually impaired, will attend Seneca@York to pursue the one-year independent songwriting and performance program. After that, he plans to go into radio broadcasting.

He is very active in the community performing at community centres such as Rexdale and Elmbank, and in various churches.

Boateng, 18, is heading to Queen’s University to study computer and creative arts.

As a performer, he sings, plays the guitar, and plays with his band at  extracurricular activities, such assemblies for Black History Month, Asian Heritage Month, and other events.

“I feel like that has really shaped me into who I am today.”

Roberts, 18, moves on to the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University to pursue hospitality and tourism management.

She wants to work at the airport and to open a banquet hall in her homeland, Antigua and Barbuda.

At her school, Roberts is the co-exec. on the leadership team, president of the prom committee, and president of Generation Change, a club involving Westview and Downsview.

Akinwade, 18, will attend Carleton University to study political science and wants to become a lawyer working with the government.

Led by author and entrepreneur, Itah Sadu of Educational Attainment West, the annual event is organized by a committee of students, educators and community members.

Sadu felt great about the day because everybody she worked with on the project delivered well, which she notes is a sign of growth.

“I feel good that when you look at the line, and the students themselves note that the line extends almost all the way from the university to the school, secondary to postsecondary. I felt that they felt that represented their doing and their ability. Look how long we can stretch, look how endless the possibilities are.”

Sadu thinks the addition of a school this year, and its commitment to be back next year is a calling card for other schools.

“I feel that the possibilities of the future are good ones. We must always tell ourselves that young people will not let us down, that they are the keepers of the future and that they’re going to do a good job. And when we hear the speeches and we see the interaction between schools, I think, I am hopeful.”

She said there are some students who haven’t made a decision about university, however, she heard them beginning to talk the language of York, Seneca, and other spaces.

“The walk wasn’t designed to say we are walking you into the university, but the walk was designed to say we are taking you on another journey of life and here’s an option for you to choose.”

Steelband leaders Earl La Pierre Jr. of Afro-Pan and Wendy Jones of Pan Fantasy kicked off the walk.

Both steelbands -- one having a 40-year history, the other, 30-plus years -- came out of Westview and the Jane and Finch community.

Volunteer parade marshals of the Toronto Caribbean Carnival were on hand to make sure that the students got to the university safely.

Saturday, 27 May 2017

Some Exhibitions to Check Out at the CONTACT Photography Festival

After looking through the 251-page Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival guide, here are some exhibitions (and notes from the guide about them) that grabbed my interest -- some of which I've already seen -- and they're powerful -- others I'll be checking out soon.

"CONTACT 2017 represents outstanding photo-based projects by Canadian artists and curators that explore the nation's shifting landscape and challenge perceptions of history. The Festival transforms the city in May with more than 200 exhibitions and events," notes the guide.

Ears, Eyes, Voice: Black Canadian Photojournalists 1970s-1990s Jules Elder, Eddie Grant, Diane Liverpool, Al Peabody, and Jim
Co-presented with BAND, supported by Scotiabank, and curated by Julie Crooks at BAND Gallery, 19 Brock Ave., Toronto.
The exhibition has been running since April 27 and closes today -- May 27.

"The collective archive of these photographers reveals a comprehensive visual record. Training their lens on politicians, community members, activists, and protesters, as well as entertainers and athletes, they tell a remarkable range of stories and histories about Black lives and experiences."

Jalani Morgan's The Sum of All Parts

Jalani Morgan's The Sum of All Parts

Jalani Morgan's "The Sum of All Parts"
Presented in partnership with the Art Gallery of York University, supported by the City of Toronto and curated by Emelie Chhangur
The exhibition is on the Metro Hall Structure along King St. W at John St. It opened on April 28 and closes on May 31.

"Black Lives Matter TO, whose partisans feature prominently in Morgan's images, is committed to "actively dismantle all forms of anti-Black racism, liberate Blackness, support Black healing, affirm Black existence, and create freedom to love and self-determine." The symbolic siting of Morgan's work at Metro Hall allows viewers to consider the status of the organization's demands against a political backdrop, and how difference and negotiation will act as mobilizing factors in creating new kinds of solidarities for this city's future."

Sandra Brewster's it's all a blur...

Sandra Brewster's It's all a blur...

Sandra Brewster's "It's all a blur..."
Georgia Scherman Projects, 133 Tecumseth St., Toronto.
Opened on May 5 and closes on June 10.

"It's all a a series of gestural portraits made with photo-based gel transfers. Sandra Brewster uses the medium as a metaphor for movement or change from one place to another, specifically in reference to the migration of her parents and their peers who left Guyana for Toronto in the late 1960s."

Alexis MacDonald/Stephen Lewis Foundation's "The Unsung S/heroes"
Daniels Spectrum, 585 Dundas St. E., 2nd Floor, Toronto
Opened May 2 and closes on May 31.

"This is a story about AIDS and the women so rarely seen. Through stunning large-scale photographic portraits and installations, this exhibition offers an intimate glimpse into the lives of African grandmothers on the frontlines of the global AIDS crisis."

"Free Black North"
Organized by and presented in partnership with the Art Gallery of Ontario. Curated by Julie Crooks
Art Gallery of Ontario, 317 Dundas St. W., Toronto.
Opened April 29 and runs until August 20.

"Free Black North features photographs of men, women, and children living in Ontario in the mid to late 1800s, descendants of Black refugees who escaped enslavement in the southern United States. These portraits, drawn from collections at Brock University and the Archives of Ontario, many shown here for the first time, reveal how these chiefly unknown individuals presented themselves with style, dignity, and self-assurance."

"Making Peace"
Front Street Promenade/Corktown
Opened on May 13 and closes on September 24.

"Making Peace pays tribute to the people and organizations all over the planet who devote their time, energy, and resources to the cause of peace, and reveals how they have shaped and influenced the course of the 20th century. This outdoor exhibition presents 124 photographs spanning more than 100 years, and aims to educate viewers of all ages, especially young people, about the five key elements necessary for building "sustainable peace": disarmament and nonviolence, conflict prevention and resolution, economic and social justice, human rights, law and democracy, and environment and sustainable development."

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Canada's Labour Movement Makes a Major Change in its Leadership

By Neil Armstrong

Top officers of the Canadian Labour Congress, left to right: Donald Lafleur, executive vice president; Larry Rousseau, executive vice president; Hassan Yussuff, president; and Marie Clarke Walker, secretary treasurer.     Photo contributed

The Canadian Labour Congress made a historic step at its 28th Constitutional Convention in Toronto on May 11 when the membership elected three racialized people to serve among its four top officers.

After being an executive vice president of the CLC for 15 years, Marie Clarke Walker, a black woman of Caribbean roots, was elected secretary treasurer; Larry Rousseau, a black man of Haitian heritage was elected executive vice president; and Hassan Yussuff, a South Asian man from Guyana, was acclaimed as president. Donald Lafleur, a Francophone but not a racialized person, was re-elected as executive vice president.

This change is reflective of the majority of workers in Canada – a fact emphasized by Clarke Walker and Rousseau.

“This is the first time ever. Having two of us there was historic, having three definitely a day for people to celebrate, particularly when, again, the majority of the membership looks like us. And so, the hope is that we will now be speaking to a majority of workers. That doesn't mean that if you don’t belong to any one of those groups you’re going to be left behind, by no means,” says Clarke Walker.

She said it would also go a long way to pull in young workers who have a different way of doing things and understand the diversity and the intersectionality better than some of the people who have been around for a long time.

Clarke Walker is proud to be a part of this team and if she could change anything it would be to have the gender parity there, but “there are three amazing people to work with that are extremely qualified, extremely good at what they do.”

She is looking forward to the next three years.

Marie Clarke Walker, newly elected secretary treasurer of the Canadian Labour Congress and the first racialized woman to hold that position.     Photo contributed

 With 60 days from the elections for the incoming and outgoing officers of the CLC to transition, Yussuff will assign files to his newly elected team.

Clarke Walker says he could assign her anything on top of her secretary treasurer duties.

“All of the secretary treasurers that I worked with had files on top of it, so Hassan had antiracism and human rights, along with political action, labour councils, health and safety he had at one time, so we all have those files on top of our other responsibilities.”

She is happy that that she gets to continue the work that the CLC started in the last three years.

“The last three years have been so different from the 12 years previous, different in the sense that the officers worked together to do a number of things. We had more wins, I think, in the last in the last three years than the entire 15 that I’ve been at the congress.”


Clarke Walker said they came together and decided that they were going to do Canada’s general elections differently with their members.

They crisscrossed the country twice holding different town halls and forums and workshops about why it was important to get involved in the elections to get rid of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

“We had to show them that we were on their side and we were prepared to do anything that was necessary to get rid of him and get a new government in.”

She said the difference between the previous ten years and the last three years, in terms of government, was that the Justin Trudeau-led government wants to talk to the labour movement.

“That open communication, I think, has helped to attain things for workers that we didn’t think were possible in the previous ten years. We didn’t really know whether or not they’d be possible even in these three years. But there’s a big difference when you have open communications. You can at least tell people what it is you want, what it is you need, and what it is workers need.”

Clarke Walker said there is never a guarantee that the movement will get everything that it lobbies for but they have been fortunate over the last three years and have accomplished a number of things.

“We didn’t get everything we wanted with Canada Pension Plan (CPP) for example, we wanted a higher increase but we got something – something that was more a 30% increase in people’s pensions.”

She said this wasn’t as important for the CLC’s union members as it is for people who are non-unionized and don’t have private pensions.

“When people talk about the labour movement only being self-serving, it’s far from self-serving. One of the things that came out of the last convention was that we were going to make the union movement more relevant, relevant to the general public and relevant to our members.”

She said when they had the win on the CPP it was the CLC telling the general public that “we have a private pension plan but we feel everybody should benefit from this.”

Regarding the rolling back of the age to 65 for Old Age Security (OAS) and Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS), she said a good chunk of the CLC’s members would never qualify for either but “what we’re doing is helping everybody else so we try and be inclusive in what we’re doing on behalf of people living in Canada.”

She does not like to say ‘Canadians’ because there are people who are working here that are not Canadians and should benefit from the work that they do and the benefits that they’re entitled to receive, she said.

These are workers, like the migrant workers or temporary foreign workers, who pay into employment insurance and the pension plan, and don’t get to collect on it.

“Those are the kinds of things that I work on as well so if I only include Canadians then I’m leaving a whole chunk of workers out. We have permanent residents, landed immigrants.”

Clarke Walker said the other things that the CLC have been able to do in the last three years is to be more inclusive – changing the way it does its politics.

“So when we talk about something like childcare, what does childcare look like to racialized families, what does childcare look like to indigenous families? What do environment and green jobs and the whole issue of environmental protection and the green economy, what does that look like? What does that look like to indigenous communities, particularly those communities whose water is poisoned, the land is poisoned? By nature they live off the land and water and can’t do that because poisons have leached into their land so they can’t fish and do the things that they normally do.”

She said the government has said that it is banning asbestos and putting resources into remediation for government buildings.

The new secretary treasurer wants all buildings done, particularly in indigenous communities where buildings such as houses and community centres are laden with asbestos.

“When we were doing politics on the Trans-Pacific Partnership and other trade agreements we talked about those trade agreements that the government signed tend to hurt poor communities, racialized communities, indigenous communities.”

She said within the labour movement, one of the things they did was to not just talk about the inclusion of all of those things, but to sit down with their equity working groups and look at “how do we infuse equity into every single thing we do.”

One of the other things they have worked on in the last three years is the area of mental health, looking at it not just from the perspective of getting people with mental illness into the work place but also how a person’s mental health can be affected at work through racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, and other things.

“While the labour movement has done some work on mental health, it’s usually from a health and safety perspective, accommodation perspective, and again within the last three years we flipped that on its head and said let’s look at this from a rights-based perspective. One of the new working groups we have is a mental health working group looking at all of that.”

They launched a mental health online resource at the convention. It looks at a number of areas and helps people who need assistance whether on the shop floor in the workplace, or looking for resources in their community, or seeing what their union has that deals with mental health.

Clarke Walker says she can see that the labour movement is becoming more relevant to the general public.

A group of organizers -- all women -- from Hamilton that local councillor, Matthew Green, coordinated attended the convention all week to see what the CLC does.

She said people hear all kinds of negative things about unions and one of the things that she tells people is that “unions are more than picket lines and strikes, we are involved and do things that people wouldn’t think that we do.”

The CLC also did a lot of work on welcoming and resettling refugees.

“While everybody was focusing on the Syrian refugees we also talked about the Eritrean refugees and the refugees that were coming from Sub-Saharan Africa. So, lots of stuff that we do that the general public have no idea, and again, I want to be able to continue that, grow the movement because I know when you work in collaboration with others as a collective your voice is stronger, the resources go a lot further and so I want to continue to do all of that collaboration, not just in the union movement but also with community groups.”

Rousseau was first elected regional executive vice president for the national capital region of the Public Service Alliance of Canada in June 2011. He was re-elected for a second term in May 2014.

“It means that many people are going to say that it is a good thing that the leadership of the CLC is going to be particularly sensitized to the way labour presents itself to workers of colour. And, if workers of colour are seeing themselves in leadership positions in the union movement, and this is a beginning because the labour movement increasingly will have to reflect the workers that it serves, just like government, and in that case well, I think this is a good thing and I think that we’re on the right track.”

Previously, he was a regional vice president with the Union of National Employees, and an employee of Statistics Canada.

Rousseau’s first experience in the labour movement was when he started as a filing and stockroom clerk in the mailroom of the Canadian Labour Congress at the age of 18. 

Asked if he had aspirations then to be in the leadership of the CLC, he laughed and said, “I don’t think I ever did.”

“I think I might have dreamed about it sometimes or simply said, you know sometimes how we think we might win the lottery or sometimes we might say wouldn’t it be nice to have such. I think that, realistically speaking, to rise to the position that I am in right now takes a lot more than luck. 

“It takes a lot more than dreaming. It takes a lot of perseverance, and more especially, it takes a great amount of trust so that the various affiliates that are very important players in these affairs come around to say what kind of a person is this, does this person have the experience, will this person be able to do the work, etc. I’m just very humbled at this point but very proud.”

Rousseau said the CLC has to be instrumental in making sure that workers of colour will be able to integrate and join into unions, which also have their culture of exclusion, just by the very definition of trade union.

He said these kinds of things have to be dealt with and he thinks that the leadership team will work together.

Shortly after working at the CLC, he was elected shop steward for the Office and Professional Employees International Union Local 225 (now COPE). 

His involvement in the GLBT, peace and social activist movements has been an integral part of his engagement and commitment for social justice. 

Rousseau’s parents were from Haiti and he said that they would have been extremely proud if they were alive today. 

They raised all their children with progressive values, and he noted that his parents were pro-trade union and were very happy when he was working at the CLC.

EVENTS: Launches of Jamaica 55 Diaspora Conference, Pride Month, a Black Women Political Summit and more

Carassauga Festival, Mississauga’s Festival of Cultures, takes place from May 26-28. Visit 31 pavilions. Opening ceremonies at the Hershey Centre on Friday, May 26 at 7:30 p.m.

The Canadian Society for the History of Medicine & Canadian Association for the History of Nursing present their annual conference May 27-29 at Ryerson University in Toronto. Keynote lectures: Professor Evelyn Hammonds (Harvard University), "The Physician's Negro": The Racialization of Medicine, and Professor Karen Flynn, (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) "Hotel Refuse Negro Nurse": Gloria Clarke Baylis And The Queen Elizabeth Hotel.

Markham African Caribbean Canadian Association holds its 5k walkathon on Saturday, May 27, registration: 8-9:30 a.m., starts at 9:30 a.m. at 505 Hood Road, Unit #5, Markham. Call 905-946-9998

An evening with Cornel West, Professor of Philosophy and Christian Practice at Union Theological Seminary and Professor Emeritus at Princeton University, on Monday, May 29, 7-8pm in TRSM 1-067 Auditorium. In this session, West shares his views on Race, Democracy, Justice and Love.

Press conference for Carifesta (happening in Barbados, Aug. 17-27) on Tuesday, May 30, 5:30 p.m. at Metro Hall, Toronto. [Date deferred until further notice -- info updated on May 28.]

The launch of the book, “Burnley “Rocky” Jones Revolutionary,” an autobiography by Burnley “Rocky” Jones & W. St. G. Walker will be held on Tuesday, May 30, 6:30 p.m. at A Different Booklist, 777 Bathurst St., Toronto. Special guest: George Elliott Clarke.

Lloyd Wilks, consul general of Jamaica at Toronto, invites you to the launch of Jamaica 55 Diaspora Conference 2017 (July 23-26 in Kingston, Jamaica) on Tuesday, May 30, 7-9 p.m. at the Eaton Chelsea Hotel, Rosetta Rd., 33 Gerrard St. W., Toronto. Keynote speaker: Senator Kamina Johnson Smith, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade of Jamaica. Dress: Business suit. RSVP by May 26 at 416-598-2064 or at

Media Launch of the 50th annual Caribbean festival (July 7-August 7) takes place on Thursday, June 1, 11:45 a.m. at the Ontario Science Centre, “The Hot Zone” Hall, 770 Don Mills Rd., Toronto. Keynote speaker: Eleanor McMahon, Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport. To RSVP and for further details, contact Stephen Weir at or Jefferson Darrell at

The 2017 Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences takes place at Ryerson University, May 27-June 2, presents "Black Joy: Resistance, Revolution & Radical Love" on Thursday, June 1, 12:15-1:15pm in TRSM 1-067 Auditorium at Ryerson University.
In this Big Thinking event, join award-winning performance poet and human rights advocate, Aja Monet, for a performance and conversation with activist, Desmond Cole. A public event.

The Official Pride Month Launch Party takes place on Thursday, June 1, 7-11:30 p.m. at the Art Gallery of Ontario, 317 Dundas St. W., Toronto.
Pride Toronto 2017 celebrates its official launch at the AGO with a visionary program created by the collective Blackness Yes, who have programmed the legendary Blockorama stage for nearly 20 years. The night brings together DJs artist projects, performances, talks, interactives, special installations and a performance by the New York-based hip hop artist Junglepussy to celebrate Black queer and trans lives, art and activism, and all things Pride!
Highlights include:
  • DJ sets by DJ Dabz and DJ Craig Dominic
  • Artist projects by Melisse Watson, Rodney Diverlus and Ella Cooper
  • A special installation of artist-designed banners created for the Blockorama stage
  • Pop-up talks by artists, activists and curators including Barak adé Soleil
  • Hands-on interactive art-making Nadijah Robinson  
  • An artist-designed program by Amber Williams King
  • A headlining set by Junglepussy at 10 pm in Walker Court
  • Plus, more surprises to be announced...
And of course, it wouldn’t be First Thursday without delicious food in our Night Market, drinks and dancing. Plus, don’t miss Out of the Vaults, our monthly one-night-only installation of rarely seen works from the AGO collection. Start your summer off with a celebration of community power at the AGO. All are welcome!
For all the latest details on First Thursdays, follow #AGO1st on Twitter and Instagram.
Follow Pride Toronto on social channels @pridetoronto.
Follow Blackness Yes on Facebook @blacknessyes and on Twitter @blockorama.

Operation Black Vote Canada invites you to Black Women Political Summit on Saturday, June 3, 1:30-4:30 p.m. at Toronto City Hall Members Lounge. Panel discussion moderated by Brittany Andrew-Amofah. Group discussion facilitated by Marva Wisdom. Space is limited. RSVP by May 26 at
Project for the Advancement of Childhood Education (P.A.C.E.) Canada will hold its annual Strawberry Social on Sunday, June 4, 1:30p.m.-4:30 p.m. at the Delta Toronto East Hotel, 2035 Kennedy RD., Scarborough. Keynote speaker: Senator Ruel Reid, Minister of Education, Jamaica. Call 647-352-7223 or email

Ontario's NDP Leader, Andrea Horwath, will host a town hall entitled: "Salon Talk: Listening and working with the African-Canadian Community" on Sunday, June 4, 2:30-4pm at Salon Paradise, 831 Bovaird Drive West, Brampton. The moderator is popular radio host and educator, Luther Brown. RSVP with Thadsha Navaneethan at or call 416-325-3068 by June 1.

Jamaican Canadian Association will hold its Jamaica 55 Independence Gala under the patronage of the High Commissioner for Jamaica to Canada, Janice Miller, on Saturday, Aug. 5, 6:30 p.m. at 995 Arrow Rd., Toronto. Keynote speaker: Justice Donald McLeod, Ontario Court of Justice. Call 416-746-5772.

The Consulate General of Jamaica in partnership with the Jamaican Canadian Association presents Jamaica’s 55th anniversary of Independence Flag Raising Ceremony on Sunday, Aug. 6, 12:30 p.m. at The Podium Roof, Toronto City Hall, 100 Queen St. W. A reception follows at the Council Chambers-Members Lounge.
This will be followed by the Independence Church Service at Revivaltime Tabernacle, 4340 Dufferin ST., Toronto. RSVP at

La'Riatsila Dance Theatre's "Infused" a sold-out event

By Neil Armstrong
A Review

"Take Me to Zion"     Photo credit: Christopher James Cushman

"Take Me to Zion"   Photo credit: Christopher James Cushman

"Point of View" by the Elite Dance and Company        Photo credit: Christopher James Cushman

"Affinity"       Photo credit: Christopher James Cushman

La'Riatsila Dance Theatre's "Pulse"       Photo credit: Christopher James Cushman

Anticipation was high on Sunday (May 21) outside the doors of the Dancemakers Studio Theatre in the Distillery District in Toronto as some of the almost 100 patrons arrived an hour before showtime to see La’ Ritsila Dance Theatre’s third dance production, “Infused.” The show was sold-out and several patrons had to stand to experience the event.

Founded in 2014, the company presented “Intransit” in 2015 at the Winchester Theatre, and in 2016 mounted “Urban Shadows” at Dancemakers theatre.

The first half of “Infused” featured dancers Dana Neita, Justine Lewis, Akua Delfish, Chelcia Creary, Jhodi-Anne Stephens, and Tamika Wilson-Brito performing “Melting Pot.”  

Using elements of Indian, African and European movement styles that are abstracted and fused to create a contemporary blend, “Melting Pot” choreographed by the company’s artistic director, Alistair Graphine, and Terry Hall, showcased the dancers’ interpretation of the synthesis of these different forms in a city – Toronto -- where many peoples/cultures meet.

After this was “Affinity” featuring Graphine, Allatunje Connell and Shavaun Brown who personified the elements -- earth, fire, and wind – demonstrating the strength of each, and the relationship created when the elements are combined.

Wearing costumes depicting the colour of each element and moving to the sound of dramatic music, the dancers boldly represented the traits of these natural forms.

“Pulse,” one of La'Riatsila’s first works when the company started in 2014, was remounted.

Choreographed by Graphine, it tells the story of the birth of a dance company striving to exhale.

“A pulse and a heartbeat are proofs of life and this piece speaks of the joy, peace, soul, and celebration of life.”

The entire company of thirteen dancers, including Gillian Alleyne, Alisa Lewis, April Mullings, and Tamla Young, is featured in this piece which has five sections: "Stream of Life, Beyond, Sistah in Sorrow, Love is Love, and Onward.”

In many ways these pieces – “Melting Pot,” “Affinity,” and “Pulse” – were telling the story of the fledgling dance company and its pursuit to harness a community of dancers from different backgrounds, a supportive network, – all working together to create a sustainable presence in Toronto.

After the 15-minute intermission, Elite Dance and Company presented “Point of View” choreographed by Stacey-Ann Vassell.

“Point of View” is a series which includes “a collection of dances inspired by the political views that bombard the daily lives of our social being. From the innocent child to the impressionable youth, they find themselves having to conform to the many ideologies, thus creating a sense of identity crisis. To become free, however, they come to understand that they must be defiant, take a stand, and rise up above all obstacles.”

Showcasing the talent of younger dancers than La’ Ritasila Dance Theatre, the Elite Dance and Company is an interpretive Christian dance group dedicated to promoting spiritual ad interpretive dances.

Under the artistic direction of Vassell, the group works in disciplines such as ballet, jazz, tap, modern, lyrical and Afro-Caribbean drumming and dance styles.

“Infused” concluded with “Take Me to Zion,” a spiritual journey with some of Jamaica’s folk religious practices and customs such as Pocomania, Kumina, Dinki Mini, and Revival.
Pocomania, sometimes referred to as Revivalism, is an African form of religion with elements of other religious traditions. Enslaved Africans brought this form of religious practice to the Caribbean region. It is viewed by many as a form of rebellion and protest against European religions and the political status quo.

Kumina originated in the Congo and was brought to Jamaica by the free Africans who arrived between the 1840s and 1860s. According to Dr. Olive Lewin in her book “Rock it Come Over,” Kumina expresses the strongest African retention of Jamaican folk culture, and provides powerful clues about the religious and social customs of the African ancestry. The three most important elements in a Kumina session are dancing, singing and drumming. The drums are believed to be the most important because of the control they have over the spirits.

 Dinki Mini is usually performed after the death of a person until the ninth night. These ‘Nine-Night’ sessions are lively and are held usually to cheer up the bereaved. The focus of the dance movements is on the pelvis. The hips are suggestively rotated by both male and female dancers. That erotic rotation is a story told by the hips about the ability to reproduce, a victory over death.

Revivalism began in Jamaica between 1860 and 1861 as a part of a religious movement called the Great Revival. It is a combination of elements from African and European religious influences and has several forms, the two major forms being Revival Zion and Pocomania. 

The Revival ritual involves singing, drumming, dancing, hand-clapping, foot-stomping, and groaning along with the use of prayers to invite possession. It also includes music and songs from orthodox religion.

This was very interactive for the audience as many got involved in the call-and-response of the ‘shepherd,’ ‘mother,’ and ‘revivalists’ of the worship gathering.

The drumming of Mikhail Parson and N’Dere Nimon spoke eloquently in increasing the tempo of the movement of the dancers within the rituals and spiritual setting of the folk customs. The costumes fittingly embellished the re-enactment of these folk traditions in dance.

Overall, the night was enjoyable and filled with the artistry of skillful dancers, however, Graphine, as choreographer, artistic director and dancer, will have to work on some technical issues for future shows. 

Things like lighting, a precise sound track, and a strong production/creative team will help this company to spread its wings and soar in the future.

Although a labour of love, he will have to tap into the many seasoned choreographers and dancers with whom he has worked to solicit their help and reduce his many responsibilities. Some are more than willing to help the company achieve its goal.

Nevertheless, kudos to the company for providing a good show on the Victoria Day long weekend. 

A very proud father was there to see his young daughter perform and asked for permission to record her. Her performance made his day.

Alistair Graphine celebrates an early birthday with dancers and friends

[After the show, Alistair held an early birthday celebration with some of the dancers and friends. His birthday is on May 28.]

Friday, 19 May 2017

African Canadian Coalition Concerned about Inadequate Mental Health and Addiction Services

By Neil Armstrong

Nene Kwasi Kafele, who is also a member of the African Canadian Mental Health Coalition, speaking at the opening of A Different Booklist Cultural Centre on April 7.

A coalition of concerned members of the African Canadian community is calling on the Centre of Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) to “stabilize, expand and fully resource” the Substance Abuse Program for African Canadian and Caribbean Youth (SAPACCY) inside the institution.

It also wants CAMH to build a strong strategy and plan to address mental health and addiction issues facing members of the African Canadian community, to build  respectful and transparent partnerships with the community, and to establish a representative African Canadian consultative body to assist in guiding this work and to bring credibility to the process.

On April 27, the coalition held a town hall meeting at Scarborough Civic Centre Council Chambers in Toronto to discuss its concerns.

“CAMH’s mission is to serve the most marginalized and stigmatized people in our community and our society. It’s in our DNA. If any members of our community are not receiving the mental health treatment they need, it’s part of our organization’s duty to address it,” says CAMH in response to the matters raised by the coalition.

The coalition is concerned about the diminution of SAPACCY, Canada’s only public funded ethno-specific mental health and addictions program for African-Canadian Youth.

Among its concerns are: the “over-representation of African-Canadian clients in clinical programs at CAMH, the lack of leadership and appropriate response to address anti-Black racism at CAMH, serious gaps regarding CAMH’s clinical environment, and poor treatment of African-Canadian clients in CAMH’s clinical care.”

The coalition also pointed to the “lack of African-Canadian representation on the board of trustees and senior leadership at CAMH, and deaths and over-restraint of African-Canadian men in the care of CAMH.”

CAMH says it is keenly aware of the way that the social determinants of health impact different groups in the society.

“There is no question that the health needs of the African and Caribbean origin population across the province are not being met. In Toronto, these communities have been particularly underserved when it comes to mental health care and supportive services. Systemic and institutionalized anti-black racism is a very important component of the prejudice and discrimination experienced by these communities.”

CAMH says it is dedicated to advancing health equity at CAMH – “recognizing the fact that anti-black racism has led to a disproportionate burden of discrimination toward our African and Caribbean origin communities.”

“To do this, CAMH is working to bolster our understanding of the clients we serve. We can’t fully address the issues of unequal access to health care on our own, but we’re firmly committed to working in partnership with the African and Caribbean origin communities and health service providers, among others, on sustainable solutions. Some aspects of the solutions will be delivered through CAMH, many others will require system enhancements and support from all levels of government.”

CAMH says since June of 2016, a number of its leaders and board of trustees have been meeting with representatives of organizations from the African and Caribbean communities and have been corresponding with them on an ongoing basis about the SAPACCY program.

The coalition says SAPACCY has gone from a 6-person staff team with strong internal leadership and championing, prevention and community engagement programs, collaborative partnerships and utilising an Africentric, anti-racist framework, to a one-person team with no formal presence or partnership in the community

However, CAMH says the staffing and resources at the SAPACCY program are not being reduced, but instead they have actually increased the number of clients seen in it.

CAMH says SAPACCY arrived in CAMH in 1999 and has had stable funding and staffing for many years.

In 2015, CAMH made changes to its Child, Youth and Emerging Adult Program “to better link SAPACCY with the other CAMH youth addictions and mental health services, providing youth with more options for care and support. The result has been a two-fold increase in the number of youth served by SAPPACY. In addition, CAMH serves this population through our Urgent Care Service, Emergency Department, and our partnerships with walk in youth clinics in the community.”

Regarding enhancing diversity at the board and senior leadership level, CAMH said this is an important area of focus for it.

“The Board of Trustees has a formal process for identifying new members, and diversity is a priority for recruitment. In the past we have engaged organizations like DiverseCity to support the search and we are working hard to enhance our process.”

It said with regard to claims of over-representation in its inpatient community or specific outcomes, “the state of socio-demographic data in hospitals is still emerging, and the current state of reliable data is weak.”

“CAMH is working to shift this situation. We do not have demographic data that supports claims of poorer treatment outcomes for black patients at CAMH, but we take seriously the concerns of the community and we are always trying to improve. Health equity research studies have indicated that black and other racialized groups tend to access services at a later stage, when symptoms may be more acute, and there is a need for better access to community-based services.”

The institution said together with community members it worked on a funding proposal that could have allowed then to acquire additional SAPACCY staff who would work at two community based health clinics in underserved areas of the city.

“This would have augmented the existing SAPACCY services at CAMH. While the proposal was supported by some community partners, others had a different vision with a desire to expand SAPACCY within CAMH.

“We are disappointed that we weren’t able to reach an agreement on a common path forward, but we remain dedicated to advancing health equity at CAMH for all those we serve. At the same time, we recognize the fact that anti-black racism has led to a disproportionate burden of discrimination toward our African and Caribbean origin communities and are committed to an enhanced focus in this area,” it said.

However, the coalition says this is not accurate and that its advocacy triggered a number of suggestions.

“CAMH’s director of health equity decided on his own to develop a proposal that would essentially “off-load” SAPACCY to the community in a very troubling manner. He developed a draft proposal document that ignored input and concerns from the coalition, arbitrarily selected two agencies with no transparent process, had no process for determining critical priority service needs to be addressed and sought to submit this as representative of our needs. Contrary to information provided, the funders indicated that no commitment to anything had been made so there was actually no agreement to fund.”

The coalition said what was more troubling was that at that time CAMH “made it very clear that there would be no expansion of SAPACCY inside the hospital and no changes to their approach, despite the fact that more and more African Canadian youth clients in the community needed psychiatric, clinical and case management supports and despite the concerns about racism and program neglect concerning SAPACCY at CAMH.”

“CAMH agreed then seemed to refuse our request to bring together a group of community members (clinicians, advocates, researchers, planners, funders, policy folks, etc) to build a fully considered, comprehensive mental health and addictions strategy and plan for the African Canadian. The coalition has been told that this is “not a simple thing” because system and policy issues need to be considered,” the coalition said.

It believes that all of this is “a stalling tactic (in the hopes that our advocacy will subside) and that the hospital has no real interest in meaningfully addressing this issue; that they will provide a piecemeal, superficial and innocuous carrot (under the amorphous guise of “Health Equity”) to the community, given their recent track record, clear discomfort and aversion to directly and clearly addressing Anti-Black racism. Although this exposure of CAMH requires in our view, bold and assertive leadership, transparency and full engagement, the strategy of containment, avoidance and corporate-speak seems to prevail.”

The coalition said CAMH refuses to clearly address calls for information about deaths of African Canadian men in their forensic care and over-representation of African Canadians in their clinical programs.

It also asserts that CAMH has no strong, credible or progressive internal leadership on this issue.

[An abbreviated version of this story was published in the North American Weekly Gleaner.]