Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Professor Andrea Davis Receives University-wide Teaching Award at York University

By Neil Armstrong

Prof. Davis is flanked by
Chancellor Greg Sorbara, left, and Mamdouh Shoukri, President and
Vice-Chancellor. Photo credit: York Univetsity

“I take my teaching very seriously. I tell my students that teaching for me, I understand it in very simple terms. My teaching is my activism, so that it’s not just about coming into a classroom and sharing knowledge,” says Andrea Davis, Chair of the Department of Humanities, Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies at York University in Toronto.

She says if she were wealthy and didn’t live in a capitalist society, she would teach for free. “I love it that much, I wouldn't need to be paid.”

Professor Davis is the 2017 recipient of the President's University-Wide Teaching Award in the senior full-time category, which was presented to her at the spring convocation on June 20.

She is pleased that it was students from her first year course who nominated her for the award that recognizes the accomplishments of York's instructors.

 “The awards demonstrate the value York University attaches to teaching and recognizes those who, through innovation and commitment, have significantly enhanced the quality of learning by York students,” notes the university’s website.

The recipients are selected by the Senate Committee on Awards and will have their names engraved on the President's University-Wide Teaching Award plaques in Vari Hall.

Davis says being the recipient is rewarding but “what gets missing a lot is the ways in which racialized faculty -- and female racialized faculty, because there is another layer that they face -- take on significantly more responsibilities in teaching and mentoring and supporting students that other faculty don’t have to do.” 

In 2012, she was the recipient of the Ian Greene Award for teaching excellence.
She said many of her colleagues are great teachers but they can go into a classroom and engage knowledge and knowledge production and that is all that they do.

“I believe that I certainly do that and I do it very well, but I also have come to understand my place and location in the classroom as more than that just that. It’s really being involved in the making of confident, articulate, citizens.”

She gets about 200 students each year and 80% of them are racialized, many are black, and many are black women.

“Many of them are coming into a classroom where it’s the first time they’ve had a black female professor, or maybe, any black teacher at all. And so I have to help them to grow intellectually, academically, equip them to do well in the university. But I’m also playing another role of modeling for them a future that they are imagining and projecting through me.”

She feels that the president’s award validated what racialized and black faculty do in the university which goes beyond just imparting knowledge.

“My students often say that the course is about real life; that they feel as if they’re being equipped to live, and to be, and to walk in the world in a way that they weren’t equipped to do before.”

Speaking of her contribution to innovation, the former interim director of the Centre for Research on Latin America and the Caribbean (CERLAC) says she has tried very self-consciously strategically to respond to what she believes are curricular needs within her department.

Doing this in the department of humanities and her own research and teaching on black culture in Canada and in the wider Americas has led, for example, “to the creation of new courses that address these issues within largely a black diasporic context that takes into account the experiences of people of Caribbean descent, African descent, and so on in the Canadian context.”

She created a number of courses at the undergraduate and graduate levels.

Last year, she worked very hard with the support of colleagues in her department to create a new certificate program in Black Canadian Studies, which is going through the process of approval now. The expectation is that it will be launched in the fall-winter of 2018.

This is a unique certificate program in that it examines questions of black people’s experiences from a humanities perspective and not social science.

“A lot of existing courses at York that seem to address these questions are really courses about race and racism, which are really to me, questions about how other people perceive and relate to black people, and kind of re-educated them.”

Davis says this certificate makes an intervention into that position by insisting that the study of black people, their histories and cultures, is valuable within and of itself.”

It will focus entirely on black people’s cultural production, literature, film, music; black people’s voices, cultural expressions, and histories.

She said it's a pretty narrow but focused curriculum, the idea is to keep students together as a community so they’re likely to be in classes together at the same time and to build wraparound support programs.

The certificate will be working with the Jean Augustine Chair in Education and the Harriet Tubman Institute.

The Jean Augustine Chair in Education has committed to provide graduate students with workshops to help support their writing.

The Harriet Tubman Institute will help them to organize and host undergraduate student conferences where students can share their work, and opportunities to go out to community groups and share the work they’re doing in the university.

They are also developing a practicum course that would place certificate students in the offices of local government to see how those offices function.

The hope is that this will expand eventually to the graduate level and possibly that these students from the certificate program will go into the graduate programs in black studies, and come back eventually into the university as faculty.

“So that the diversity at the undergraduate level extends all the way up and then begins to produce a critical mass of new faculty in the university.”

Davis said there is not a single Black Studies program in all of Canada.

She said there are two – this one that will launch next year, Queen’s University is working on a minor and Dalhousie University is working on a minor but she doesn't know when they’ll launch.

Although Dalhousie has the James Robinson Johnston Chair in Black Canadian Studies, she says there isn’t an actual program in Black Studies yet.

“I think York still remains, it’s still believed it is the most diverse university in Canada, and I think it’s important that it takes leadership in this area,” says Davis.

Davis holds a BA (first class honours) from the University of the West Indies, and a MA and PhD from York University.

She was a Top 30 nominee in TVOntario’s competition for Best Lecturer in 2007.

“It is my responsibility not so much to tell students what to think but to help them develop critical thought, to help them have an opinion about themselves and the world and be able to defend that opinion, the ability to write well, the confidence to articulate well, and then to use that knowledge to help walk in the world with clarity -- their own clarity, whatever that means for them.”

Davis finished her PhD in 2002 and got hired at the University of Ohio in their African American Studies Program.

She had packed up her stuff and was ready to leave, her son was eight then, but Rinaldo Walcott, who was at York in the position she now occupies in humanities, took up an offer at the University of Toronto.

The job went on the market; she applied and ended up with two positions.

“I decided to stay at York for a number of reasons. One, because I felt like I really understood the politics of place and here, and my positionality in relationship to them, and that I could do some good work here. And I was conflicted about whether or not I really wanted to live and work in the United States, and so in the end I decided to stay in Canada.”

She was a teaching assistant and then got a contractual limited appointment, which is a full-time position but not tenured track, before she finished her doctoral studies. 

Davis is a tenured associate professor and is hoping to go forward for full professor in a couple of years.

Professor Davis receives her award from Chancellor Greg Sorbara with Mamdouh Shoukri, President and Vice-Chancellor looking on.  Photo credit: York University

In Jamaica, she attended Wolmer’s Girls School where she did languages which seemed to only have two main outcomes – “to get married and become a real cultured wife or go on to the UN but that for me was a route for the upper middle class students; poor girls don’t have access to those kinds of jobs. Then the other option was possibly to teach.”

Davis didn’t see herself immediately as a professor but thought she would go into high school teaching.

“I think that’s where I would have been if I had stayed in Jamaica but when I went to the University of the West Indies I did really well as I had at Wolmer’s. I was a very good student.”

One of her professors, David Williams, in the department of literature wanted to know what she was going to do with her life after she got first class honours for her BA.

“I couldn’t articulate it very well and he was quite horrified so he just showed up one day with these application forms for the Canadian Commonwealth Scholarship and said to me, ‘I’ve already sent in my letter of recommendation’ so he forced my hand and I had to apply, and I got it.”

The scholarship took her to York University and the “rest kind of dictated itself.”

Williams, and Claudette Williams in Spanish were her mentors at the UWI, Mona Campus.

Davis’ research focuses on the literary productions of black women in the Americas. 

She is particularly interested in the intersections of the literatures of the Caribbean, the United States and Canada and her work encourages an intertextual cross-cultural dialogue about black women's experiences in diaspora.

Davis co-edited with Carl James the anthology, “Jamaica in the Canadian Experience: A Multiculturalizing Presence,” that charts the political, economic, historical and cultural connections between Canada and Jamaica.

She is also working on a comparative study that theorizes the complex ways in which gender, place and voice intersect in black women's discursive practices.

[An edited version of this story is in the North American Weekly Gleaner, June 29-July 5, 2017 issue.]

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Principal of Africentric Alternative School Focuses on its Vision

By Neil Armstrong

Luther Brown, Principal of the Africentric Alternative School, in his office at the school which is located in the Sheppard Ave. W and Keele St. area of Toronto, Canada.

 Luther Brown, principal of the Africentric Alternative School (AAS) in Toronto, has been in that role since Feb. 1 and he describes it as being a good experience.

 “The parents are welcoming and supportive, staff are enthusiastic and showing a sort of energy that I feel is a good energy to lead us in the direction we want to go. The students are bright; we don’t seem to know that. As a large group, to find so many students who are bright is not a regular occurrence.”

There are 110 kindergarten to grade 8 students attending the school which opened in September 2009 and is located in the Sheppard Ave. W. and Keele St. area.

Brown says there is a wide array of students, in terms of abilities and how they give back, but he thinks that in relation to the places he has worked “my gut estimate of kids who are really good thinkers, we’ve got a lot of them in the building.”

This is part of the reason he wants the staff to be clear about helping them to become leaders so that all of the students who graduate from there will create change by leading.

When he was appointed principal, Curtis Ennis, Toronto District School Board (TDSB) superintendent for the school, noted Brown’s strong sense of community and the fact that many grassroots organizations know him and his work.

He also described him as a strong listener and a supporter of young people.

Brown said this connectedness to the community has been beneficial for him.

“It’s very helpful, I think, because when people already have an idea of who you are and have a positive connection with that idea, that translates into let’s be supportive even if we’re skeptical.”

People have told him on many occasions that he is “the right man for the job.”

His first teaching job at was Brookview Middle School in the Jane St. and Driftwood Ave. area where he did so for a few years before becoming the vice principal.

That was where his administrative career was launched which took him “in a circuitous way back to Jane & Finch.”

“It is a good feeling to be connected again in this community the way I am,” says Brown who lived in that community for “generations” where he knew people like media personality, Dwight Drummond, and singer, Julie Black, who have excelled in their work.

In the “Africentric Alternative School Research Project Year 3 (2013-2014),” Dr. Carl James and others recommend that: “A clearly articulated vision of the school, although an ongoing process, is necessary for the school and community to work together, without public misconceptions detracting from the school’s success.”

Brown says the morale in the school is good, and that the idea that the research generates is helpful particularly to him as someone who is coming in new.

“It gives me the opportunity to help to fashion what the vision can become because it already had a vision. The vision might not have been articulated in ways that the people wanted to feel it, and as well it was an early evolving vision and so people would have all kinds of opinions about what it should be. I take my cues from the birth of the school. It was a fight to have black students, en masse, achieve at high levels. It was a fight to have a school where students feel connected, feel cared for, feel loved, and feel that they’re wanted.”

He says if one listens to most of the conversations that were public, those were the contentions that parents brought forward, not just to the TDSB, but to Canada, in general.

They wanted their children to be treated in a certain way, so according to Brown, “This school has to have a vision that seeks to meet those desires.”

That means high academic expectations, a good social environment, “we have to be connected with our culture, and we have to be able to understand that the African culture is not a uniculture. It’s kind of like African music, it’s polyrhythmic in many different ways.”

Brown says they have to look at a broader spectrum and then have to focus.

“What we’ve been doing as a staff is we’re looking to say, okay, we’re going to focus on academic excellence, on students wellbeing, and on building our community relations.”

The other aspect of this vision is to ensure that, internally, they are clear about it.

As a result, partnering with Professor James, they had a staff retreat at York University on May 23, while back at the school students were engaged with an arts education program run by Just BGRAPHIC and supply teachers.

The purpose of the retreat was to re-examine the vision, determine which aspects to focus on, and to look at what their teaching practice will be.

“We know that there are some practices that work for students. If you’re going to teach me, tell me what you want me to learn, tell me how you’re going to know if I have learned it, give me feedback to help me get it, and things like those are critical in our day- to-day practice. Those are the things we were looking at.”

He said they looked at how to engage the community and he believes that “when classrooms connect with their parents on a regular ongoing way that is parent engagement. I believe that when we come together as whole school and bring parents out for particular events, that is parent engagement.”

In welcoming the announcement that Brown was the new principal, Yolisa Dalamba, an active parent and member of the school council, said she hoped he would “work with us to restore academic excellence, healing and cultural pride in our school that makes up for all the turbulence, especially our students, have endured since the school doors opened.”

She noted that they have very high expectations of him “to work in partnership with parents and other stakeholders to uphold and realize Africentricity in our philosophy, pedagogy, and political and cultural practice, infused with the pan-African and anti-colonial legacies of resistance left by our ancestors. Some of those include anti-oppression, decolonization, resisting white supremacist values and breaking down systemic barriers.”

Brown said if the AAS as an Africentric school cannot interrogate white supremacy without being fearful then they have a problem.

“But we also have to define that white supremacy isn’t just the notion of the KKK, etc. It’s an understanding of the power relationships that occur in society where one race is highly dominant in just about every area. It’s not a hard research activity to find out. One could look at television and see how people are represented, see who delivers what, see who decides on images and who decides on knowledges that get shared and so on.”

It also means considering the person of African ancestry who is female and has a different experience from the African Canadian who is male.

Brown says this brings into perspective the intersectionality of different things “coming together and every piece has its own impact.”

“We have to look at it from an Africentric standpoint where we interrogate all of those things.”

The retreat examined texts, contexts, for example, visits to exhibitions and galleries to consider how the knowledges are presented, and to determine if erasure is happening to someone, using a social justice lens.

“The reality is there are not going to be many texts or many exhibits that, in our current context, will be fully inclusive. And therefore we have to create that inclusion – which is a legacy of white supremacy because it means I have to work harder to get to what is considered norm. Norm is a constructed thing.”

“I think as a school we have to be clear about our Africentric lens and be clear that we use it on a regular basis.”

Brown believes that teachers ought be modeling the way things are supposed to be, and as principal if he can’t inspire people to see and engage the vision “then we’re kind of in trouble.”

“We also have to challenge the status quo, challenge the norm because the norm and the status quo exclude us in large measure. If we don’t want to be excluded, we have to challenge it.”

Brown says fundraising events, like the school’s annual gala, are helpful because they allow the school to do things that it typically couldn't do.

“Partners for fundraising – we look for that and we’re encouraging and asking people to do that. So trips are one example of what we could do,” he said, noting that they are seeing a lot of literature about coding but it is expensive so partnerships are necessary.

Just BGRAPHIC recently came in and did an afterschool computer design arts program for 15 kids.

“TDSB has a partnership protocol so people can participate in that,” he says.

In terms of how the students are doing, academically, Brown said he is not happy with their results as measured by the Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO), however that’s going to change.

“A change gonna come because once we become focused on the things that are good for students academically, and once we can help teachers to become comfortable in their space and to think about teaching as their first call, rather than conflictuous situations. My job is to sort of shield them so they can do what they have to do and to interpret what the outside is sending in to say, okay, this is what I think is coming from outside and let us find a way to respond to it appropriately.”

He thinks people are moving in the right direction right now. “We’re working to develop our long range plans that will allow everybody, prior to September, to say this is what I’m going to be teaching and parents will know.”

Brown has not been able yet to outreach to community organizations because he “is trying to learn the building and try to understand what our needs are and be focused.”

He describes the AAS as a “warm energetic place.”

One of the things I love about this place, we know who our parents are; they are the rowdy ones who went to the board and said give us a school. They’re the ones who stood back and decided there’s a path to a school and we’re going to pursue that. And they’re the ones out here who were agitating -- so all of that mix help to make this school happen.”
The principal said it is the children of these parents who are in the school and they come from places such as Oshawa, Mississauga, Brampton, they come from all over.

“These kids have opinions and they are not ashamed or afraid to share their opinions with you -- we don't want to silence those voices,” he emphasized.

[An edited version of this story has been published in the North American Weekly Gleaner, June 29-July 5, 2017 issue.]

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Plans Afoot to Celebrate the Legacy of Miss Lou in a New Documentary

By Neil Armstrong

Standing, left-right, are: Grace Lyons, founder and musical director of the Heritage Singers; Fabian Coverley, co-executor of the Louise Bennett Coverley Estate; and storyteller, Letna 'Miss Letna' Allen-Rowe. Seated is Pamela Appelt, co-executor of the Louise Bennett Coverley Estate at the shooting of a teaser trailer for the upcoming documentary, "Miss Lou Say So!"
 Jamaica’s cultural ambassador, Louise Bennett Coverley, will be celebrated in a new documentary made here in Canada, and also in the naming of a park in her hometown of Gordon Town, St. Andrew.

Recently several artists and civically engaged Jamaican Canadians gathered in Mississauga, Ontario for the taping of a teaser for the documentary, “Miss Lou Say So!,” that is expected out in 2018. The teaser should be ready by July this year.

This is the brainchild of the Louise Bennett Coverley Estate for which Fabian Coverley and Pamela Appelt are its co-executors.

Born on September 7, 1919 in Kingston, Miss Lou passed away in Toronto on
July 26, 2006. Her husband, Eric Coverley, born in 1911 passed away in 2002.

“We, Coverley Holdings Inc. (CHI) & International Agencies Management Inc.
(IAMI) (Is Anancy Mek It) have been charged with the mission to ‘maintain the legacy and memories of Eric & Louise Bennett Coverley,’” says Fabian.

“One of the ways to accomplish this mandate which is an achievable, doable,
meaningful task, to preserve, our culture, heritage, and folklore, we have
joined forces with individuals, that are as passionate on the subject, as we
are to undertake a video/documentary in a professional, successful
presentation, that will be educational, entertaining and beneficial to our
culture and heritage.”

Their aim is to educate and reacquaint millennials and their children, schools and institutions about the Jamaican culture.

"The past gives a reflection of the future. You have to know where you have
been to lay the foundation for the future," say the creators of the project.

CHI / IAMI, Anansi Moving Images Inc., Act from the Heart, and GNM Genesis
are in the process of developing the full length video/documentary.

The production team includes: Clayton Coverley, Ian Farquharson of Anansi Moving Images Inc., Suzanne Coy of Act from the Heart, Nadine Miller of GNM Genesis, and Dayan Robinson.

 “With the advancement in technology, social media, and generations, we are obliged to advance the knowledge and techniques available to us to educate the young, mature and elderly, together,” says the team.

Preliminary short interviews were shot during the week of June 4 to 10 for the “Miss Lou Say So!” trailer.

“Something of this undertaking is not done alone, but with some passionate people involved. As you know and have realized, Miss Lou is bigger than any one individual,” says Fabian.

He said they are guided by Appelt who has been “tallawah” to him and his family from inception.

The teaser, which will be used to promote the full length video/documentary, will be no more than 120 - 180 seconds long. The documentary is expected to
be 60 - 90 minutes long.

The teaser involved persons singing a line from one of Miss Lou's legendary songs, "Dis long time gal mi neva see you.”

The documentary, which will involve in-depth interviews on culture, heritage, impact and Miss Lou, should be released in the summer of 2018.  The creators will also be traveling to Gordon Town, Jamaica; Fort Lauderdale and West Palm, Florida; and New York City to shoot footage.

The plan is to have famous Jamaicans such as Usain Bolt, Ziggy Marley, Grace Jones, Sheryl Lee Ralph and Mutabaruka “narrate animated retellings of Miss Lou’s Anansi stories.”

It will also involved internationally renowned artists singing snippets of Miss Lou’s folk songs, interviews of people who knew her and studied her work, and performances.

Meanwhile, as a legacy project to celebrate Jamaica’s 55th anniversary of Independence the government of Jamaica has endorsed an initiative from the Jamaica 55 Canada steering committee which is chaired by Appelt.

Speaking at the 30th anniversary of P.A.C.E. Canada’s Strawberry Social in Toronto on June 4, Olivia ‘Babsy’ Grange, Jamaica’s minister of culture, gender, entertainment and sport, announced that in partnership with the committee there would be “the Miss Lou Square, a statue, and the development of the Gordon Town Square in honour of Miss Lou.”

She said York University will be hosting a lecture series for Jamaica 55 and she hopes the Jamaica’s education minister, Senator Ruel Reid, will be one of the presenters.

For Jamaica 50, the legacy projects here were the publication, “Jamaicans in Canada: When Ackee Meets Codfish,” and the Lifelong Leadership Institute where from grade 8 students are assisted right through to university.

[This story is in the June 22, 2017 issue of the North American Weekly Gleaner.]

Here is some information that Fabian sent yesterday about another filming of the teaser.


Friday, 16 June 2017

Panel Focuses on the Global Struggle for LGBTQ Human Rights

By Neil Armstrong

Left-right: Latoya Nugent, Carlos Idibouo, El-Farouk Khaki, Kimahli Powell, and Debbie Douglas at the "Until We Are Free: The Global Struggle for LGBTQ Human Rights" panel discussion at The 519 in Toronto, Canada on June 15, 2017. Photo credit: Keith Cunningham

“Until We Are All Free: The Global Struggle for LGBTQ Rights,” one of the human rights panel discussions being held during Pride Month, shone a light on some of the grassroots organizing efforts taking place around the world. 

The event was held on June 15 at The 519 agency on Church Street in Toronto, Canada.
Moderated by Debbie Douglas, executive director of the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants (OCASI), the panel consisted of Latoya Nugent, an LGBTQ human rights advocate and activist in Jamaica and the co-founder of the Tambourine Army, which organized the country’s first major protest against sexual abuse.

The other panelists were: Kimahli Powell, executive director of Rainbow Railroad, an organization that helps LGBT people escape state-sponsored violence globally; El-Farouk Khaki, a refugee and immigration lawyer, and human rights activist on matters including gender equality, sexual orientation, and progressive Islam; and Carlos Idibouo, co-founder and executive director of Apha Gender Omega, and an LGBTQ rights activist.

Nugent noted that there are several pieces of legislation that discriminate against LGBTQ people in Jamaica, and although the buggery law has received a lot of attention, there are ones related to property rights, same-sex domestic partnerships, and so on.

For example, same-sex partners who are in relationships for 5 or 10 years wouldn’t be guaranteed leave from work to mourn the death of a partner.

“Despite that we do see some progress. This year, we’ll be celebrating Pride for the third time since 2015,” says Nugent, noting that even though Jamaica isn’t the most friendly place for LGBTQ, “we are members of humanity, we are Jamaicans like everybody else.”

Reflecting on the last five years, she said they have built supports of activism with organizations such as The 519 and Rainbow Railroad.

Although the violence is real and discrimination is real, Nugent said that things are bad for some and not so bad for others, and that they are learning to do their advocacy differently.

They have also increased the kinds of social justice work that they do which is resulting in a change in people’s perception of LGBTQ people.

Addressing the issue of sexual violence affecting women and children, and focusing on the intersectionality of advocacy are some of the strategies embraced by activists on the ground in Jamaica.

Idibouo, who is from the Ivory Coast and came to Canada in 2006, said it is very difficulty for some African countries to move forward on LGBTQ rights.

As a Francophone, he said in his work helping organizations in other countries he has found that language, which is a part of the identity of French-speaking African countries, can become a difficulty if things are said and written in English and people cannot understand them. 

Khaki said the Canadian society is founded on injustices that continue to this day. 

Representing refugees from 130 countries, he spoke of the intersectionality of HIV and human rights.

He noted that the internet creates safe spaces, but with increased queer activism there has been an increased backlash. Khaki said that with election of Trump nuanced safe spaces for queer people are being erased.

“What I see in Canada – white supremacy – is the freedom of its circulation.” He noted that ignorance, hate, and bigotry did not go away.

A spiritual activist, Khaki said it is incumbent on everyone in society – and there’s a long way to go – to ensure civil liberties and the dignity of each other.

Regarding Islam, gender justice, and queer liberation, he said he founded Salaam in 1991, as a support group for queer Muslims.

Khaki, who co-founded the Unity Mosque with his husband, Troy Jackson, said it is a safe space, noting that there is room for everybody.

Powell said Rainbow Railroad fielded over 200 requests in the past six weeks and heard some horrible stories of persecution by the state.

He noted that there are 72 countries where laws persecuting LGBTQ people are on the books, and his organization provides a lifeline for individuals who do not want to stay in their countries.

Rainbow Railroad, which was founded in 2006, has moved 98 people around the world since January. 

These are people who were forced to flee at very little notice with only the clothes on their backs, said Powell, talking about the situation of LGBTQ people in Chechnya, a country he visited recently.

He also alluded to LGBTQ Ugandans who have been in refugee camps in Kenya for a long time, and the situation affecting Syrians.

Powell is urging Canada to have a robust strategy to help refugees and not to just move from one crisis to another.

Nugent said she felt the love and empowerment from people in the community, locally and globally, when she was recently arrested.

She noted the significance of strategic alliances on the ground to help control the narrative about LGBTQ people, and results in debunking the narrative of the Religious Right.

The Tambourine Army has exposed the abuses of persons of the Church resulting in the clergy seeming to have less access to the decision makers in government. However, the Church has been a barrier to LGBTQ rights in Jamaica, notes Nugent.

Powell said there are some newcomer Jamaicans in Argentina who are now learning Spanish – these are LGBTQ refugees that his organization helped to get out of Jamaica.

He lamented the fact that there are legacy refugee claimants who have been living here for many years and whose lives are in a limbo as they await a refugee hearing.

These legacy files, visa access, and the suspension of some legal aid services for refugees by Legal Aid Ontario, effective July 1, were some the issues examined. 

Sebastian Commock, a staff member at The 519 who has been rallying support for LGBTQ legacy claimants, said a new advocacy group was recently formed to assist in this effort.

Commenting on the difficulty of accessing visas by refugees, Nugent said it's a betrayal of the foreign policy commitment that Canada has made to the world.

Regarding the visa application process and the costs associated with it, Nugent hopes that Canada will establish a new waiver application process, which will help those affected by poverty and other vulnerabilities – those who really need to leave. 

She notes that solidarity from Canadians, relationship building, and engaging the LGBTQ community in the global south are very important to activists working on the ground.

On Wednesday, June 21, the Pride human rights conference entitled: “Transfeminism: Beyond Bodily Binaries Towards Gender Fluidity” will be held at The 519, 7-9pm.

The panel will be moderated by Dr. Laura Mae Lindo, director of Wilfrid Laurier University’s diversity and equity office with expertise in anti-oppression pedagogy and education.

Panelists include Professor Jack Halberstam, academic and author of Gaga Feminism: Sex, Gender, and the End of Normal; Professor Kathryn Bond Stockton, specialist in queer theory and author of Beautiful Bottom, Beautiful Shame: Where “Black” Meets “Queer”; and Professor Anne Sauvagnargues, specialist in the philosophy of Gilles Deleuze.

The conference is presented by Pride Toronto in partnership with the 10th International Deleuze Studies Conference and The 519.

The “BQY Bloq Pawwty” will be held on Friday, June 23, at Alexander Parkette beside Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, 7-11pm. BQY (Black Queer Youth) represents Black, African/Caribbean, and multiracial youth, and has been operating and providing a safe space for Black Queer Youth since 2001.

“This is their fifth youth showcase for Pride Toronto and as always, they will be demonstrating the talent, culture, and art of being Black with high energy performances. Come and support our youth and celebrate the beauty that is Black culture,” notes the Pride Guide 2017.

At Yonge-Dundas Stage that night the focus will be on classic disco featuring the “living legends of 70s and 80s era of disco – Boney M. featuring Liz Mitchell. Step into another era where disco dominated the charts.” Boney M. performs at 10pm.

On Sunday, June 25, 12-11pm, Blockorama, organized by Blackness Yes! and entering its 19th anniversary will take place at the Wellesley Stage, across from Wellesley subway station.

“A celebration of Black, Caribbean, and African communities, Blockorama has set the stage for one of Pride’s biggest, most well-attended, and most lively events,” says the Pride Guide. DJs include Blackcat, Craig Dominic, Pleasure, Nik Red, Carm, and Vaughan. 

The hosts are Lali Mohamed, an African writer and public speaker who is deeply connected to social justice advocacy, and Zinduru (aka Kim Ninkuru), a performance artist from Bujumbura, Burundi, based in Toronto.

The headlining acts are Cakes da Killa, an American rapper based in Brookly, New York, and the prolific American singer, Evelyn ‘Champagne’ King, whose songs, “Shame” (1978), “I’m in Love”(1981), and “Love Come Down (1982) were hits.

For more information about Pride Month activities, visit

[Tonight, June 16, Debbie Douglas received the 2017 Community Service Award from the Transformation Institute For Leadership & Innovation at the Royal York Hotel in Toronto. Congratulations, Debbie!]

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Jamaica's Education Minister Celebrates P.A.C.E Canada's 30th Anniversary

By Neil Armstrong

Diana Burke, a past president of P.A.C.E. Canada, left, presents a book written by author, Itah Sadu, right, to Senator Ruel Reid, Jamaica's Minister of Education, at the PACE Strawberry Social held at the Delta Toronto East Hotel on June 4, 2017. Sadu was also the host of the event.       Photo credit: PACE Canada

Jamaica’s Minister of Education, Senator Ruel Reid, says Jamaica has been credited by the World Bank as having one of the better early childhood education systems in the world.

However, he noted that there are some missing links to be addressed while endorsing the work that Project for the Advancement of Childhood Education (P.A.C.E.) Canada is doing.

Reid was the keynote speaker at the organization’s 30th anniversary major fundraiser, a ‘Strawberry Social,’ held at the Delta Toronto East Hotel in Scarborough, Ontario on June 4.

Also attending the event was Olivia ‘Babsy’ Grange, Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport whose mother, the late Raphaelita Walker and others who passed away were remembered for their contributions to P.A.C.E.

Reid said having appointed the energetic Chair of the Early Childhood Commission, Tricia Williams-Singh, her task is “to make the important connection to make sure we get the foundation right because all the investment that you’ll make in early childhood if you don’t get it right it is not going to achieve the desired goal and objective.”

He said colonial societies, such as Jamaica, did not have access for the majority of its people to education, and that at the early part of the twentieth century only about 11% of the entire global population were literate.

“And so one of the challenge we have in education is that there really hadn’t been a time or a template in how you’re going to effectively educate your entire population.”

He said in the 1970s there was a greater awakening in education in Jamaica.

“The basic school system was actually a bridge to begin to expose our people in Jamaica to educational opportunities.”

Reid said as the minister of education he has to do something dramatic to “make sure we get the value for your investment.”

He noted that in Jamaica today only 15% of the workforce have tertiary education, and a couple years ago it was only 2% in the English-speaking Caribbean who went to a university.

Eighteen per cent of the workforce have technical qualifications, and 67% have no secondary certification.

“And so to correct this unfortunate analogy we have to correct at the bottom so while students actually attend, generally, basic schools, that’s not where early childhood begins.”

He said would-be parents would have to be educated that there is a relationship between prepared and good parenting and developing a healthy and agile mind that’s ready to learn.

Senator Reid said they are now “preaching to the gospel in Jamaica the critical first 1000 days of a child because we all know by age 3 there is 80% of brain development.”

“There is a relationship between the development of the brain, the readiness for the brain to learn and overall education outcome,” he said, noting that part of his job is to educate the population about that.

The minister said he has to correct the aspiration – the big picture – because the world is in the fourth industrial revolution which means every Jamaican “needs more and more education, skills training and certification to be able to navigate this fourth industrial revolution in an age where we’re gonna have artificial intelligence.”

Sandra Whiting, President of PACE Canada, speaking at its fundraising event, the PACE Strawberry Social. Photo credit: PACE Canada

President, Sandra Whiting, said it seemed like only yesterday that Dr. Mavis Burke and a team of dedicated women got together to make PACE Canada a reality.

“Over the 30 years hundreds of teacher scholarships both in Jamaica and Canada have been disbursed; our Tech De Bus continues to visit schools; we have supported over 300 basic schools with everything from books, equipment to stoves and kitchen equipment-all donated by our generous Adopt-A-School sponsors and we continue our partnership with the Boys & Girls Club of Scarborough.”

Awards were presented to Michelle Campbell, Delrine Jones, Ken Bowen, Sharon Wynter-Bowen, Dr. Vincent Conville, Nadine Spencer, Vivienne Nelson-Campbell and Patricia Gloudon. Paul Barnett was appointed a patron of P.A.C.E. and Dr. Ralph Masi received a special 30th anniversary award.

Founded in 1987, P.A.C.E. Canada promotes early childhood education with a special focus on children of pre-school age (ages 3 to 5) in situations of racial, cultural or economic disadvantage. Its goal is to mobilize and support community-based efforts to help young children succeed.

Operation Black Vote Canada holds Black Women's Political Summit

By Neil Armstrong

Participants of the Black Women's Political Summit organized by Operation Black Vote Canada at Toronto City Hall Members' Lounge on June 3, 2017. Joining them is Toronto city councillor, Kristyn Wong-Tam.     Photo credit: Vyola Ink Design and Print

In aiming to expand the talent pool of black leaders in government at the municipal, provincial and federal levels, Operation Black Vote Canada (OBVC), a nonprofit and non-partisan organization, recently held a Black Women’s Political Summit at Toronto City Hall.

Established in 2004, its goal is to simplify and demystify the path to public office in Canada.

Approximately 40 women gathered in the members’ lounge on June 3 to hear opening remarks by Jean Augustine, the first black woman elected to the Parliament of Canada, a panel discussion, and a group discussion.

Velma Morgan, a board member of OBVC, said she hoped the summit would present some ideas about why black women aren’t running and some tools to help them do so at all three levels of government.

The organization will be re-launched in September.

Delores Lawrence, the first chair of the OBVC, introduced Augustine who said it was her motion that got the statute of the Famous Five that’s erected on Parliament Hill.

A group of women from Calgary had approached her with the notion that those women in 1923-1925 were struggling to get women recognized as persons in Canada.

It was also her work through the Bank of Canada to get the women on the $50.

“I also want you to note that there are a number of things that you will do as a voice, as an activist, as someone who is out there making some things happen that you will not get the full credit for and that others will get the credit. This is the way that you roll in the political arena, that everything is not about you but everything is about the changes you want to make in society,” she said.

Augustine told the women that the political arena is a good place to be where they can make change in society.

She told them that they can’t wait until the last minute to put their name in and then run around to try to solicit help.

“You have to build a team, you have to know where the monies are going to come from, you have to know how to do the ask.”  She learnt to do the latter from watching her male colleagues.

Brittany Andrew-Amofah, a public affairs commentator and community organizer, moderated a panel including Toronto District School Board trustee, Tiffany Ford; Che Marville who ran for the NDP in Oakville in the 2015 federal election; Sharon Joseph, founder and executive director of Breakaway Relief Foundation, a nonprofit social services and employment agency; and Angela Wright, a historian and writer who sits on the social services policy advisory council for the Ontario PC Party.

Ford, the only black female on the school board, said she ran in the municipal election because she cared about her school, Westview Centennial Secondary School, and wants to encourage young people to become more engaged.

She was motivated by Augustine and her mother, both of whom are Grenadian, and replaced the long-serving and retired TDSB trustee, Stephnie Payne.

Ford, who co-chairs the TDSB’s Black Student Achievement Advisory Committee, and chairs the expulsion hearings, said it is important to make a change in the system while there.

“We need more black women to be a force – we are a force.”

She ran as an independent with a budget of only $5000 and knocked on any doors, noting that she resonated with the community because she lives there and was the only black person on the ballot within the Jane and Finch community.

Marville said politics isn’t just about power but it is about community.

Her uncle, Ovid Jackson, was a member of parliament under Jean Chretien and served as mayor of Owen Sound in a community that was 98% Anglo-Saxon, she said.

“Politics is about how we actually work and live together,” said Marville who noted that she was one few people of black descent running in Oakville. She ran because she was an active member in the community.

She said politics is nasty and unkind but it is worthy, and that networking and building relationships are important.

Marville said many of the people who did not agree with her politically supported her. She urged the women to have authenticity, honesty, and truthfulness.

“As a woman, running is not always easy and not always safe,” she cautioned.

Wright worked as a political staffer and on many campaigns. She said rules are not always followed or enforced.

“To win an election, you need two things – money and people. Money must come from direct ask and fundraising,” she said, also urging: “Do not take advantage of your volunteers because they will not come back.”

“People will say horrible things about you and people you thought would be your friends will be your enemy,” she said.

Describing herself as a very grassroots individual, Joseph said she started a Breakaway Relief Care, a not-for-profit agency, which evolved into a foundation from the basement of her home.

She was concerned about the loss of the lives of young people because of crime and so she started documenting things.

Joseph called a meeting with the police in the Jane and Finch community to discuss the correlation between crime and poverty, and also started a peace walk that continued for seven years.

She was a candidate for Ward 7-York West in the 2010 Toronto municipal election and ran against seven Italian men.

Joseph said she found it easier in residential areas than where there were apartment buildings, emphasizing that it is important to takes notes when talking to constituents.

Augustine advised that they should talk to the political party about running in a winnable riding and not be the sacrificial lamb, as if they’re desperate.

She also advised them to have a strategy for signing up people. She found people who knew people in each section and had a ‘kitchen cabinet’ of four or five people in the community who were very supportive.

The retired politician also encouraged them to make sure that they educate their canvassers – “let them know what your perspective is.”

Augustine also urged them to say hello to everybody on the street when campaigning.

There was also a group discussion facilitated by Marva Wisdom, another board member of OBVC. 

Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam announced the launch of Women Win Toronto (#WomenWinTO), a training program to "prepare women from diverse backgrounds (including trans and gender non-conforming individuals) who are working towards social justice in Toronto to run winning campaigns in the 2018 municipal election."

The launch took place at the Multi-Faith Centre, University of Toronto on June 7. Applications opened on June 8.

[A shorter version of this story has been published in the NA Weekly Gleaner, June 15, 2017 issue.]