Sunday, 25 March 2018

Black Financial Professionals Discuss Diversity and Inclusion on Bay Street

By Neil Armstrong

From left: Julian Franklin, Naki Osutei, Hazel Claxton, Andre Nunes, Tiffany Gooch and Delofante Atkins at the panel discussion, 'Black on Bay Street - Diversity & Inclusion.'

The Canadian Association of Urban Financial Professionals (CAUFP) wrapped up its No Boundaries Conference on March 23 with a panel discussion, “Black on Bay Street – Diversity & Inclusion,” at the Arcadian Court in Toronto.

Throughout the day participants convened in breakout sessions under the conference’s theme “The Future of Financing” to focus on emerging trends that are changing finance.

Writing on the future of finance in the day’s program, CAUFP notes that: “The World Economic Forum contends that disruption in the financial sector will not be a “one-time event,” but more a “continuous pressure to innovate” that will change the long-term structure of the finance industry.”

The panel included: Naki Osutei, director, partnerships & engagement, TD Bank; Hazel Claxton, EVP & CHRO, Morneau Shepell; Andrew Nunes, partner, Fasken; Julian Franklin, SVP/MD, Geometry Global; and Tiffany Gooch, consultant, Enterprise & Ensight Canada moderated by Delofante Atkins, manager, talent & inclusion, Matrix360.

Discussing what is means to be black on Bay Street, the centre of Toronto’s financial district, Gooch said it was a matter of using her access to create space for more people to be there too.

Nunes said it is being in a position of great opportunity but also of great responsibility and trying to make a path for those who are coming behind.

Claxton said while growing up in high school and when she entered corporate Canada she was the only black person. She learned how to navigate but it didn’t feel very different from the world she grew up in.

Franklin said he always felt that he belonged on Bay Street and that it was about being comfortable in his own skin.

Regarding misconceptions by their peers in the workplace, Nunes said there is the idea that he is the exception to the rule and that most other black individuals can’t do what he does. He noted that it is an uphill battle to climb “once we get in the door.”

Franklin said microaggression is an interesting thing and sometimes people can be pigeonholed which is tough to break. There is unconscious bias, he said, but he thinks organizational agility is keen in the workplace.

Claxton said her workplace is very male-dominated and what she learned, as an introvert, is that there is a bias towards extroverts over introverts.

Being an introvert and a woman meant she had to think about how she was going to operate differently. She had to strengthen her voice and so she did so through joining Toastmasters and other organizations.

Responding to a question about creating opportunities for other black individuals in their workplace, Osutei said sometimes there is fear and hesitation about coaching people who are coming up.

“We need mentors across the board and for different reasons,” she said.

Osutei referenced an instance in which she was championing covertly an intern in her workplace but tried not to get too visibly close to the person for fear that her colleagues would accuse her of preferential treatment.

The young black woman, who might have thought Osutei was cold towards her, was eventually hired and became a very good employee of the company.

Both Claxton and Nunes spoke about the importance of mentorship and sponsorship in the workplace.

“We have to be willing to be sponsored and nurtured by others,” said Nunes, noting that he had an unexpected mentor who wasn’t black.

Claxton, who plans to retire at the age of 58 this year, underscored the value of mentors and sponsors who help people in the workplace to understand the unwritten rules.

Franklin emphasized organizational agility, that is to use what is good out of those institutions to “pole vault” to where you want to be.

Gooch thinks it is important to focus on building the most authentic relationship as possible.

The CAUFP is a member-based resource organization providing a link between corporations and the black communities through education, information, and programs to facilitate economic empowerment.

For the past 20 years, the organization has established itself as a centre of excellence for the advancement and inclusion of black leaders in the Canadian financial services industry.

“We serve members and a network from across the GTA who are involved in a diverse range of finance-related professions, law, real estate, and consulting among others. While our mandate is focused on the black community, our membership and past Board members continue to include the broader visible minority community,” notes the CAUFP.

The organization held a “Black on Bay Ball” event last night to celebrate its 20th anniversary and to conclude its weekend of activities.

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Jamaican Author Garfiel Ellis Believed in the Power of Knowledge

By Neil Armstrong

Photo contributed       Garfield Ellis at the Miami Book Fair International.

Garfield Ellis, 57, author of six books, believed in the power of knowledge and that was something he gave to his children.

The effervescent writer passed away peacefully of cancer at the Scarborough General Hospital in Toronto on March 16 surrounded by his family. He was born on July 25, 1960 in Central Village, St. Catherine.

His daughter, Fiona, 25, says he was ill for many years and was diagnosed with a tumour that was inoperable.

“He would give the clothes off his back to help somebody who he loved. He loved really big. He loved with his whole heart.”

She says he always wanted to impact the next generation and would give his children books for birthdays.

“He wanted us to be well read and well learned and he thought that was the way to change our future,” said Fiona, who has two brothers, Garfield 27, and Odane, 20.

In November, Ellis received the Una Marson prize at the 2017 Lignum Vitae Awards in Jamaica for his work, ‘Land We Love.’

“Through his illness and to his final days we had people calling us from all around the world telling us stories of how he helped them and changed their lives and what a mentor he was for them.”

She wants people to remember him as “a man who loved life, he had a search for knowledge, he was in love with literature.”

He was a very happy man and someone who was “smiling from ear to ear” with a signature “from the bottom of his belly type of laugh.”

Like her father, Fiona, who studied mental health and theatre at University of Toronto, has a love for literature.

After reading Marlon James’ novel, ‘Book of Night Women,’ she told Ellis that she wants to be Lilith in a play.

He suggested that she write her own and now she is aspiring to be a playwright, and to one day write a novel in tribute to him.

Ellis was the eldest of nine children, all born in Compound and grown up in Spaulding Gardens, Central Village.

His mother, Mable Oates, still lives in that community while his father is deceased.

Joan, his wife, says she met Ellis many years ago when they went to live in Eltham View and remained friends even while he went away to study.

“It was just one of those friendships that you know you have a bredren around the corner – it was that and it blossomed,” she says.

“He was an exception father, loved his children to death, and he was always a caring and a giving person.”

She said Ellis had a magnetism that people couldn’t help but fall in love with him.

“We spent the better part of two weeks at the Scarborough General and when he passed all the nurses came to his room just to bid him farewell. He had that sort of impact on people.”

They were in Jamaica for Christmas and Joan said when friends came to visit them the stories they told made her ask herself: “Am I married to this man?”

Ellis worked with the Caribbean Maritime Institute as a marine engineer and was active in the church.

One friend told him that he was his hero and made his love the sea because he grew up in Central Village and when he saw him in church his mother old him “this is the guy who you want to emulate.”

Joan said Ellis was from a poor family but they were all ambitious and he was a motivator and like a second father to his siblings.

“My heart is broken but I still feel this overwhelming gratitude to have had this life, to share with this man. He was exceptional,” she said.

A memorial service will be held in Canada but Ellis wants to be buried in Jamaica.

“I want to go back home because even going to that church [Christ Temple Apostolic Church] some youngster might just come and see what my life has been like and be a better person,” he told his wife.

Ellis studied marine engineering, management and public relations in Jamaica and completed his Master of Fine Arts degree at the University of Miami, on full scholarship as a James Michener Fellow.

He won the Una Marson prize twice, and also won the Canute A. Brodhurst prize for fiction 2000 and 2005, and the 1990 Heinemann/Lifestyle short story competition.

Ellis is the author of six published books: Flaming Hearts, Wake Rasta, Such As I Have, For Nothing at All, Till I'm Laid To Rest, and The Angel’s Share.

On Facebook, writer, Olive Senior described Ellis as a talented writer, and Itah Sadu, owner of A Different Booklist, said she visited him the night before he died.

“Happy that I had the opportunity to tell him that he will always be with us as we read and read his brilliant novels, writings, etc. He was a gifted man, a griot, a teacher and the coolest brother.”

She said he spent his honeymoon in 2013 at the Black and Caribbean Book Affair reading from his novel.

This story has been published in the North American Weekly Gleaner, March 22-28, 2018.

[ A Memorial Celebration will be held at the Covenant Funeral Home, 2505 Eglinton Avenue East, Scarborough on Saturday, March 24, 4:00-8:00 p.m.]

Film About Jamaican Farmworker Generates Discussion

By Neil Armstrong

Photo contributed   A still from the documentary 'Babe, I Hate to Go' by filmmaker, Andrew Moir.

A Canadian short film about a Jamaican farmworker was the subject of a recent panel discussion held at a university in Ontario to celebrate Black History Month.

Andrew Moir, 27, a producer and documentary filmmaker, was part of a panel at Brock University in St. Catharines where his 2017 film, ‘Babe, I Hate to Go,’ was screened on March 1.

The film tells the story of Delroy Dunkley, 52, a farmworker for 30 years, who usually spends six months every year working on farms in southwestern Ontario to support his family in Jamaica.

As the only breadwinner for his wife, Sophia, and six children, Dunkley, who works on a tobacco farm, discovers that he has cancer but keeps it a secret from his family. He subsequently died in 2015.

Moir knew Dunkley for about ten years before he started making the film because the Jamaican worked on his uncle’s farm in Mount Brydges over that time.

“Delroy was my uncle’s right-hand man,” he says.

Moir says when he graduated from film school six years ago he wanted to make a documentary portrait of the farm where his uncle worked because tobacco farming in southwestern Ontario is a dying way of life.

Over the first year of shooting he got to know Dunkley much better and it was shortly after, in 2014, that Dunkley was diagnosed with cancer.

“That’s where it began, this slow shift to make a documentary about him and his family and base the story more in Jamaica,” says Moir noting that he had been working on the film for the past five years.

He says the short film that was released last year is a small chapter in a much larger story.

Moir travelled to Jamaica five times over three years to shoot the film in Top Hill, St. Elizabeth.

He became very close with Dunkley’s family and was there when he passed away.

Moir said after he stopped shooting the film and had time to process what was going on he asked himself larger questions about the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP).

He said the program is integral to Canada’s agricultural economy and a big part of the Jamaican economy. He thinks there is always room for improvement with the program.

The film was finished in the spring of 2017 and premiered at the Hot Docs Canadian international documentary festival. It went on to different film festivals in the world.

‘Babe, I Hate to Go’ premiered on CBC in July and garnered a lot of attention on the internet. In November, it was released on Facebook and Moir said that’s when a lot of Jamaicans started watching. 

Photo contributed        Filmmaker, Andrew Moir, participated in a discussion at Brock University where his documentary, 'Babe, I Hate to Go,' was screened.

Another panelist, André Lyn, a social justice advocate, has visited several farms across southern Ontario to engage with the farmworkers who work in Canada yearly under the SAWP.

He says what the documentary showed that is hardly spoken about is that these men actually have families and they are connected to them.

“They don’t just come to Canada, earn money, send it back, go back to see them for about four months. It showed an intimacy that we don’t regularly see. It showed humanness that is a big piece of their life.”

Lyn says in the SAWP they are just seen as these precarious, disposable workers who come and work, get some money and go back home and kind of fade until the next season they come back.

“It raised the point, which we know, about them not showing the vulnerability of being sick. It took him [Delroy] a while to really acknowledge that he wasn’t well. There’s a particular fear around that because the minute you are not well and your employers know, the likelihood that you could be repatriated is so high.”

Lyn said Dunkley willed himself to be healthy enough to continue working because he knew he had a family.

“The piece that is uncommon too is the compassion and care that the employer had of him because he could have been sent home almost immediately when he wasn’t well and probably not working as hard as expected.”

Lyn noted that there is no pathway to citizenship for the workers and that it was written in the bilateral agreement back in 1966 that “they did not want these black men to be staying in Canada because they didn’t want them to be cohabitating with the white women.”

Many of them have been coming to Canada for more than twenty years, eight months every year.

Lyn said they pay into Employment Insurance, Canadian Pension Plan, and income tax but have very limited access; they no longer get parental benefits.

He said one of the things that as advocates, researchers and anybody who supports the workers know is what the workers have told them explicitly –“As much as we want things to change and to have improvements, please do not jeopardize our current income.”

A Jamaica Information Service report of a send-off ceremony for farmworkers in Kingston in January quotes Shahine Robinson, Minister of Labour and Social Security, saying the government is committed to the creation of jobs for all Jamaicans, noting that for 52 years, the SAWP has steadily provided employment opportunities for Jamaican workers.

She noted that for the 2017 calendar year, a total of 9,367 workers travelled to Canada, both under the SAWP and the Low Skill Programme.

[This story has been published in the North American Weekly Gleaner, March 22-28, 2018.]

Audience Gets a Preview of Upcoming White Privilege Conference at Ryerson

By Neil Armstrong

Photo credit: Clifton Li  From left: Jeewan Chanicka, Rinaldo Walcott, Denise O'Neil Green, Eddie Moore, Jr. and Ritu Bhasin at 'Soup and Substance' at Ryerson University on March 12, 2018.

As Ryerson University gets set to host the White Privilege Conference Global –Toronto from May 9-12, interested individuals had an opportunity to participate in a sneak preview of it.

At its regular ‘Soup and Substance’ series on March 12 in POD 250, Jorgenson Hall, the Office of the Vice-President, Equity and Community Inclusion presented a discussion with some of the speakers at the conference. This will be the first time that the conference is held outside of the United States.

The title of the event was: “Are Canadians Too Polite? Addressing Global Perspectives on White Privilege and Oppression in Canada and Beyond.”

Dr. Eddie Moore, Jr. founder of the White Privilege Conference; Ritu Bhasin, president of Bhasin Consulting Inc. and a leadership and diversity specialist; Jeewan Chanicka, superintendent of equity, anti-racism and anti-oppression at Toronto District School Board; and Dr. Rinaldo Walcott, associate professor and director of the Women and Gender Studies Institute, University of Toronto fielded questions from Dr. Denise O’Neil Green, vice-president, equity and community inclusion.

“There’s been quite a buzz I would say across the country, in terms of the concept of white privilege and just privilege in general, within our country going all the way to BC, to Ontario. Across the nation and around the world events are occurring that are impacting our campus, our communities in very diverse ways,” said Dr. Green.

The aim of the conference is to explore how Canadian politeness impacts existing challenges with privilege and oppression.

In defining white privilege, Moore said it is an honour and privilege, a perk someone receives simply because of their skin colour.

“At the White Privilege Conference we cover the concept of privilege comprehensively. We believe that everybody has privilege and we’re just affected by it in very different ways. And white is a perk associated simply with skin colour as well as other privileges as far as class, race, gender, so and so forth.”

Moore, who created the conference twenty years ago, said it is something that is far bigger than him and it was a desire to create a space where these kinds of conversations can happen.

He said as a practitioner learning the professoriate and doing a PhD he was going to conferences and presenting at them, but he felt they were all diversity conferences.

“I like entry level 101, 201, but I felt like diversity was the only topic where we were staying at the basic level,” he says noting there was no growth process so he wanted to create a place to grapple with issues at the highest levels when it comes to diversity.

He said what they realized after nineteen years is that white supremacy is actually a global phenomenon.

“I know that there are some differences in the way things play out here in Canada than they do in the States but the fact that people walking around in the US thinking racism doesn’t exist has some strange similarities to what you’re talking about.”

He noted that the fact that even people of colour are afraid to talk about this is not something that’s just happening in the US.

“So we felt like this would be the right time to actually take the White Privilege Conference on a global journey to be in partnership with folks who are really willing to grapple with the highest level.”

Moore said what he has learned putting on the conference is that “when you’re really good at this work people will put your life in danger and so that’s been the greatest threat as the father of a 7 year old and 6-month old.”

“But the one thing I vow for the remainder of my life is I will not be afraid of white supremacy. I’m just not going to let it dominate my life.

“We need more white folks committed to understanding white supremacy and I’m not one that always believes white privilege is bad. I think actually you can do some good things if you understand privilege.”

Photo credit: Clifton Li  In conversation from left are: Eddie Moore, Jr., Ritu Bhasin, Jeewan Chanicka and Rinaldo Walcott.

Bhasin attended the conference, for the first time, six years ago and heard a speaker talk about how white supremacy is the ideology that white people are better than people of colour and people from indigenous communities and white privilege is how it manifests.

“It’s the manifestation or examples that we see in our day-to-day interactions and systemically where white people are given unearned privileges or advantages based simply on the colour of their skin.”

She said there were about 2,000 people, majority of whom were white, who came to understand systems of supremacy, power and privilege.

“By attending the conference it unlocked for me ideas and a spirit and a philosophy I had repressed in me since I did my undergrad and was in school in university. Because I entered into the workplace and corporate world, and in teaching diversity and inclusion to corporate Canada, US, globally, I had started to minimize and sanitize my own message.”

She said the White Privilege Conference “unlocked it, it revealed it, it was always there within me cause I was talking about it on evenings and weekends and it just basically changed my frame of teaching permanently.”

“For me, attending the White Privilege Conference personally has been transformative. It literally has changed the way I teach and think and present my ideas.”

Bhasin said conference presented an avenue where she could finally talk directly and openly and safely about the fact that white supremacy permeates every part of her existence and the existence of the collective – people of colour and people from indigenous communities.

She could do this with people who get it “or may not get it but are wanting to get woke, or wanting to be part of the solution and not the problem.”

The other thing that the conference did for her was to brings into the space “intersections – an area that we don’t explore in a lot of other diversity and inclusion, and equity and equality circles.”

Chanicka focused on the “way that privilege plays out in the context of the systems and structures that govern us.”

“When we think about the fact that this part of Turtle Island that was colonized and today we call it Canada, the people who colonized this part of Turtle Island had particular beliefs about the people and the land that they colonized.

“It included Indigenous People being uncivilized and so they had to take them away from the land and civilize them through residential schools. Interestingly enough, as they took them away from the land that allowed the creation of land as a resource to be commodified as well.”

He said privilege plays out and intersects in many ways and those people who colonized the land created the legislation “that we follow today, those beliefs permeate everything.”

Chanicka said everyone has varying amounts of privilege and noted that he has male privilege and there are things that he will never have to think about that women will always have to think about and people who identify as women.

“The thing about privilege, when we talk about it, is that your privilege does not make you a bad person but recognizing that privilege exists is an important thing.

“I don’t want you to feel bad that you’ve never had to have these experiences but recognize that though we share the same world we do not share the same experiences of the world.  And when we can have these as academic conversations -- which are great because it helps to change things -- I also want you to recognize that for some of us it ain’t academic. We don’t get to check out at 5 o’clock and go home and kick up our legs. We live this every single day, every minute, every moment that we walk down the street we live this.”

Chanicka debunked the myth that having these conversations will divide people.

“We were already divided. All the people who were saying that they are shocked that these things are going on in Canada, there is no shock when you have had to live this -- there is no shock.”

Commenting on a piece he wrote in the Huffington Post about the burden of the oppressed, he said it is “that we have to live the oppression, we have to identify that the oppression exists, we have to then convince you that it exists, we have to worry about your feelings because we’re convincing you that we’re suffering at the hand of the oppression. And then we have to come up with the solutions for it. That is the burden of the oppressed.”

He wants individuals to start from a place of what they bring into the conversation and then “think about how we can centre the most marginalized voices.”

Dr. Walcott said white privilege is about the accretion and the ways in which all of the structures put into place, post-Columbus, come to accrue to a particular way of white people being able to move through the world.

“For me, you can’t really think about white privilege without really seriously combatting the accreted histories of colonialism, of transatlantic slavery, of land theft and of ongoing forms of colonization that continue to force people to move around the globe.”

He said what is important and always difficult is “on the one hand we have to be able to be clear and critical of the structures that continue to support the history of that kind of European colonization, and at the same time we also have to recognize that structures function through people.”

“How do you begin to make sense of how individuals and structures work to reproduce a world where some of us are fundamentally shut out?”

Walcott said there is a particular order and regime of the world that presents itself in white, hetero-identified men and from there the rest of it flows.

“For the kind of question, like how do we think about the benefits of white privilege, we can see them all around us in terms of questions of leadership in our institutions, leadership in our political public sphere. We can see them as I like to say continually in the ongoing commotion of white male mediocrity that gets passed off to us as brilliant, as significantly contributing and so on.”

He said this is also seen in the ongoing ways in which “we’re now involved, especially in universities, as institutions in debates around freedom of speech and freedom of expression.

“The logics of white privilege and white supremacy logics ask us to not notice certain kinds of practices and structures. And the work of those of us who are trying to think these questions do is to make clear how those structures are working. What they put into place? What they ask us to contend with and what they ask us to be silent about.

“And so the work of thinking through this is to excavate how that works, is to turn it over, to open it up in the most glaring fashion to scrutiny and it’s in fact when we open these things up to scrutiny that then the logics comes of we’re into division.”

Agreeing with Chanicka, he said “you can’t divide something that’s already divided, you can’t tell people who are not invited to the table that the table is there for them when the door to the room with the table is locked.”

Both Walcott and Chanicka referenced the election of Doug Ford as leader of the Ontario PC Party in their analysis of white privilege.

Dr. Walcott said human life can be organized differently.

“This is not a work simply about excavating and showing up structures that are exclusive, that are violent and so on. This is work which deeply open the sense that we’ve got ideas of how to organize human life differently.

“Human life doesn’t have to be organized in this way, that we can organize human life in more egalitarian, collective, communal ways and that there are cultures still with us that have done that over time. What we have here is a kind of contest of how we’re going to live together in the present and in the future and what that will mean.”

After a symposium at Brock University in St. Catharines in 2016, the full conference is making its international debut with its first appearance in Canada at Ryerson.

The university aims to lead transformative and solutions-based discussions about the impact of privilege as it relates to issues that focus on, and that go beyond race.

“The colourblindness of how we want to be doesn’t help us really come to grips with being more advanced in the area of equity, diversity and inclusion. We don’t want to be stuck at the level 101, we want to advance further,” said Dr. Green in her introductory remarks.

For more information about the White Privilege Conference Global – Toronto, visit

[A shorter version of this story has been published in the North American Weekly Gleaner, March 22-28, 2018.]

Sunday, 18 March 2018

Some Upcoming Events in Toronto in March, April and May 2018

The 2018 Toronto Storytelling Festival which started March 2-4 continues March 19-25 at various venues in the city, including A Different Booklist at 777-779 Bathurst Street. Among the storytellers are: Gcina Mhlophe, a well-known South African freedom fighter, activist, actor, storyteller, poet, playwright, director and author; Sharon Shorty of the Tlingit, Northern Tutchone and Norwegian people, from the Raven Clan and raised in the storytelling tradition of her southern Yukon community; Duane Gastant’Aucoin, a Wolf/Yanyedi member of the Teslin Tlingit Council, and more.

The African Canadian Leaders Network presents a community meeting on “The Plight of African Refugees in Israel,” on Tuesday, March 20, 6:00-9:00 p.m. at Culture Link, 2340 Dundas St. West, Toronto. (Across from Dundas West subway station). Check Eventbrite for more information

The Urban Alliance on Race Relations will hold its AGM at Toronto City Hall, Committee Room 4, on Wednesday, March 21, 5:30-6:30 p.m. The UARR has partnered with the Toronto York Labour Council and National Council of Canadian Muslims to hold a public forum, “Access to Justice: Solidarity and Action,” 7:00-9:00 p.m.

Access to justice is the most pressing issue facing Black, Indigenous and racialized communities in Canada today. But are we moving forward? How can we work in solidarity to ensure our communities are centered in the justice system? Join us for an evening with local activists and change-makers to explore strategies for sustaining our energies and working in solidarity to impact systemic change.
Idil Abdullahi - Ryerson University School of Social Work and Black Legal Aid Clinic
Lisa Myers - Indigenous Artist and Educator
Azeezah Kanji - Noor Cultural Centre, Toronto Star
Shree Paradkar, Toronto Star race and gender columnist

To request accommodations, please contact by March 19, 2018. The venue is wheelchair accessible and has all-gender washrooms. Check Eventbrite for more information.

Black Business and Professional Association presents the “Black Roots Bear Fruits: The History of Black Businesses” on Friday, March 23, 4:00-7:00 p.m. (Opening Reception); Saturday, March 24, 10:00 a.m-5:00 p.m. and Sunday, March 25, 10:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m. at 180 Elm St., Toronto.

“For the love of Haiti,” a fundraising event, will be held on Saturday, March 24, 6:30pm at Malvern Methodist Church, 2 Morningview Trail. Toronto. Call 416-903-5192

Communities for Zero Violence presents “March for Our Lives” on Saturday, March 24, 10:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m. Starts at Toronto City Hall, march to University Court House Plaza.

Dr. Gervan Fearon, President & Vice-Channcellor, Brock University

Canadian Association of Urban Financial Professionals (CAUFP) celebrates its 20th anniversary with a "Black on Bay Gala" on Saturday, March 24, 7:00 p.m. at the Arcadian Court, 401 Bay St., Toronto. Keynote speaker: Dr. Gervan Fearon, President & Vice-Chancellor, Brock University. Hosted by Justice Donald McLeod.

Dr. Avis Glaze, recipient of the UWI Vice Chancellor's Award.

The 9th annual University of the West Indies Toronto Benefit Gala will be held on Saturday, April 7 at The Ritz-Carlton, Toronto. Ambassador Susan E. Rice will receive the Luminary Award; Raptors head, Masai Ujiri (G. Raymond Chang Award); YMCA (Chancellor’s Award); and the Vice Chancellor’s Award recipients are: Dr. Victor S. Blanchette, Dr. Avis Glaze and Dr. Michael S. Pollanen.

The Jamaica Diaspora Crime Intervention and Prevention Task Force presents a town hall meeting on how the diaspora can aid in Jamaica’s crime-free future on Saturday, April 7, 3pm at the JCA, 995 Arrow Rd., Toronto. Guest speakers: Pearnel P. Charles, Minister of State in the Ministry of National Security; Lloyd Wilks, Consul General; and Dr. Rupert Francis, Global Task Force Lead.

Just Think 1st presents “Disrupt the Disruption” City Popup on Saturday, April 7, 12:00-5:00 p.m. at Toronto Reference Library, 789 Yonge St., Toronto. An afternoon of food, conversation, prizes and more. Register at Free Admission

Marlon James at the Toronto Reference Library with Prof. Hyacinth Simpson of Ryerson University.

ROM Speaks features a keynote presentation by Toronto-based poet, writer and lawyer, NourbeSe Philip on Tuesday, April 10, 7:00-9:30pm, Doors open at 6:30pm. Reception to follow at Royal Ontario Museum, Queen's Park Rotunda, Level 1.

Operation Black Vote Canada in partnership with several black organizations presents the Black Community Provincial Leaders Debate with Kathleen Wynne, leader of the Ontario Liberal Party and Andrea Horwath, leader of the Ontario New Democratic Party on Wednesday, April 11, 6-9pm at the JCA, 995 Arrow Rd., Toronto. Moderated by Royson James. Register at

Authors Marlon James and David Chariandy will be in conversation on Tuesday, April 17, 7:00-8:00 p.m. at the Bram & Bluma Salon, Toronto Reference Library, 789 Yonge St. James will discuss his work and career with Chariandy, author of the novels “Brother” and “Soucouyant.”

The second annual Canadian Reggae Music Conference will be held on Friday, April 27, noon-9:00 p.m. and Saturday, April 28, noon-6:00 p.m. at Metro Hall, 55 John Street, Toronto. Free Admission. [On Friday evening, I’ll host a conversation with keynote speaker, Lloyd Stanbury, entertainment attorney, music business consultant and author of “Reggae Roadblocks: A Music Business Development Perspective” published by Abeng Press in 2015.]

The 2018 Jamaica National Group Expo will be held on Saturday, April 28 at the Pearson Convention Center in Brampton, Ontario and on April 30 in Montreal, Quebec.

The Black Business and Professional Association (BBPA) presents the 36th annual Harry Jerome Awards on Saturday, April 28 at the International Centre Conference Centre, 6900 Airport Road, Mississauga, Ontario.

White Privilege Conference Global – Toronto (WPC Global – Toronto) will be held May 9-12 at Ryerson University. WPC Global-Toronto will unpack the concept of white privilege, as well as address the often problematic and dominant narratives that operate throughout our society. Through a series of workshops and panel discussions led by international thought leaders, we’ll share strategies for tackling these challenges, as well as those that go beyond race. Do you want to help build a more inclusive world? WPC Global – Toronto is for you. Register today! #WPCRyerson #WPCGlobalToronto
This is presented by the Office of the Vice-President, Equity & Community Inclusion.

The Diner's Corner in Toronto started their Buffet Brunch recently. This is the spread they offer on weekends. Enjoy!

Friday, 16 March 2018

New Book Deals with Regrets and Reconciliation

By Neil Armstrong

[Garfield Ellis passed away this morning (March 16, 2018) at a hospital in Toronto so I am re-publishing this story that was first published in the North American Weekly Gleaner in April 2016. A Memorial Service will be held on March 24, 4:00-8:00 p.m. at Covenant Funeral Home, 2505 Eglinton Avenue East, Scarborough.]

Authors Marlon James, left, and Garfield Ellis at an event at the Bram & Bluma Appel Salon, Toronto Reference Library on Feb. 18, 2016 where James was interviewed by Cameron Bailey, TIFF's artistic director. Photo credit: Eddie Grant

A new novel, The Angels’ Share, is a story about the search for redemption and the discovery that redemptive peace comes with acceptance and forgiveness.

That’s according to its author, Jamaica-born, Toronto-based Garfield Ellis, who describes the writing of it as being an on-and-off process.

He started it ten years ago, then stopped to work on something else, and went back to it.

“In terms of the setting for the book, when I decided where to set the story, it was after I went to Calabash one year and heard somebody say that the people of that community would never see themselves in the novels that read at Calabash. And so, I decided that the next novel I write I’m going to set it in southern St. Elizabeth.”

Ellis says he had the idea of a father and son story and trying to explore the kinds of decisions that men make in their lives and how they affect their sons.

“And perhaps, in a way, trying to get my own son to understand the decisions that I make.”

He says this is a theme in the book where it is very difficult for a father, who does not live in the same home as his son because he made a pragmatic decision somewhere early in his life, to try to have his son understand why he did that.

This, even though during the whole time it hurts his son so much not be a part of his father’s life, says Ellis, about exploring the estrangement between father and son.

The book did not require a lot of research like his other books, but he was very meticulous about the setting.

“The setting of the book is a road trip and so I drove the entire trip. I took photographs of the landscape, I went to Appleton Estates and did the whole tour and took photographs. For me, setting is very important,” says Ellis, who always wants his books to feel authentic.

Everton Dorril, a rising star at a Jamaican beverage company, immediately fears the worst when his stepmother, Una, calls one morning to tell him his father, Nigel, is missing.

Everton soon discovers that his father has run off to track down a woman he has been in love with for thirty-five years.

An “outside” child born to his father’s mistress, Everton deeply resents his father and hates the idea of jeopardizing the most important moment in his career to go find him, but feels he has no other choice.

Everton discovers that his father, frightened and unhappy with the failings of the past, is seeking closure and reconciliation.

The theme of memory is prevalent in the book and according to Ellis, “when you’re coming to terms with your mortality it’s the memories that keep you.”

He says memories are important and it is futile to try to go back in one’s life to fix some memories.

“So part of it is also acceptance, understanding what memories are and trying to create as many memories as possible.”

Ellis, who is the author of five published books, says there a lot of things in this book, “that when I look at it again, I say to myself I have no control over this book. This book is in and of itself its own thing.”

He says the scene in which Angela’s name is defined as being Spanish for “angel” was written before the book’s title, The Angels’ Share, was decided and everything works out perfectly.

The angels’ share is the term used for the natural process of evaporation and fermentation when rum is left to age in massive copper casks at the Appleton Estates and, “no matter how we fill it, when we get back years later, 10 or 15 percent is missing from the top.”

Some years ago, a friend of Ellis in his late 60s had a major surgery and for a while did not expect to live through it. After his recovery, he asked him what regrets he felt while he was laying there on what he thought would be his deathbed.

His reply was, “airs” – moments during his life as a diplomat, aristocrat and lawyer when he had acted superior or aloof to others.

“When you’re aging, when you come face to face with your mortality and you get scared, what do you do?”

The book has also become an exploration of Ellis’ own regrets regarding an elder son who lived with his mother away from him.

“I was supposed to now try to understand how he thought and whether or not it is important to him and what he felt.”

He says it happened as it should and there are always countless opportunities for things to work out within that time frame and “you can’t regret things because they happen the way they should.”

Ellis launched his book, under the patronage of Lloyd Wilks, Jamaica’s consul general at Toronto, at the Consulate General of Jamaica in February.
From left: Paula de Ronde, Garfield Ellis and Olive Senior at a Literary Event at the Consulate General of Jamaica in Toronto on Oct. 9, 2014.

From left: Garfield Ellis, Cherita Girvan-Campbell and Olive Senior at a Literary Event at the Consulate General of Jamaica in Toronto on Oct. 9, 2014.

 The book is published by Akashic Books and is endorsed by Marlon James, winner of the 2015 Man Booker Prize, who was recently in the city for a Toronto Public Library event.

[Garfield Ellis launched his novel, 'The Angels' Share,' at the Consulate General of Jamaica on Feb. 25, 2016.]  

Friday, 9 March 2018

Canada's First Black Youth Robotics Team Launched

By Neil Armstrong

Some members of the ACCN TECHTRONIX, Canad's first black youth community robotics team. Photo contributed

A group of 25 youth – members of Canada’s first black youth community robotics team – will enter the 2018 FIRST Robotics international competition this spring and needs the help of the wider community.

On February 12, the African Canadian Christian Network (ACCN) partnered with FIRST Robotics Canada (FRC) and Microsoft to launch the team at Ryerson University in Toronto.

Earlier that day some members of the ACCN TECHTRONIX team, joined by their parents and mentors from the university were on Breakfast Television to demonstrate the operation of their robot.

“To think that it only took five weeks to put that robot together, it’s incredible. It shows you what teamwork does, what mentoring does and it’s just a great effort and great achievement,” said Tom Duever, dean of Ryerson’s Faculty of Engineering and Architectural Science.

On January 6, NASA announced the 2018 Build Challenge giving teams around the world six intensive weeks to build their robot.

The students were trained and mentored by Joseph Amankrah, technical instructor at the university, and engineering students of Ryerson’s Rams Robotics and Formula SAE teams in robot-building.

“It’s a joy to see these young minds open up to learning new things. It’s a privilege to work with them,” said Amankrah, the team’s lead coach.

Since January, the team has been learning Solid Works, a CAD modeling software; coding, algorithms, and machine shop work as they plan, design and build the robot.

They have been meeting at the university on Saturdays 10m-8pm, Sundays 1pm-6pm and on Wednesdays 4pm-8pm.

“Black students participate in robotics competitions in school, but to have their own community team is powerful,” said ACCN Chair, Reverend Alvin Nicholson. 

An ACCN TECHTRONIX member at work on the design of their robot.  Photo contributed

Maria Muiruri, 13, of St. Isaac Jogues Catholic School, said she already had a little bit of experience in robotics and thought it was a cool thing to do so she joined the team.

During the summer she went to a camp through her school board where they built a robot and she did a coding program at the public library.

“I’m excited to see how the robot does and fingers crossed we may get to nationals and internationals. But really I’m just glad that we all got to come together as a group and really work hard to build this robot. We’ll just know that we did everything we could in our power and we’ll be proud of ourselves either way.”

Aki John, 14, of Neil McNeil High School, said his mother thought it was a good idea for her sons to become involved in building a robot.

“I thought it was a good idea because we could start building robots and I learnt a  lot about how to build robots, and I think it will help me in my future.”

His brother, Ocean, 15, of Higher Marks Educational Institute, said the opportunity gave him skills for choices in life and having learnt about building, if he wants to be an engineer it might be good for him.

“It’s amazing because I personally always wanted to know how a robot is made and me finally being a part of it, it’s like a dream come true. Finally putting effort into something for so long you’re kind of excited to see how it’s going to be like in real life and I’m very excited,” said Anu Oshodi, 11, of Beverly Acres Public School.

She loved the mixture of girls and boys on the team noting that “girls could do exactly like guys do and guys could do exactly what girls do cause they’re all equal; no one’s higher, no one is lower, it’s equality.”

She said robotics is a good thing to learn to know about prospects in the future but although she wants to be a businesswoman or a lawyer, it was good to get her hands dirty.

Her mother, Veronica Oshodi, said there are less women in the science field so for Anu it is a huge opportunity because it will help to hone her skills in sciences at school.

“What she has learned here so far at the robotics with ACCN it has boosted her confidence and she has taken it back to her school. She tells her friends about all the tools, all the parts that she assembles together with her team. It will create a career path.”

She said coming from Nigeria to Canada is a huge plus for providing this opportunity which they would not have had in Nigeria.

Nadine Lewin, whose 15-year-old son is a part of the team, said he went through a lot of the regular angst and lack of direction as a young black male growing up in a single-parent home.

“We were unbelievably blessed when a member of ACCN saw potential in him and brought him into this program. And in the six weeks I’ve seen my son go from completely scattered to so unbelievably focused.”

He didn’t want to go to school in grade 9 and during the second week of being on the team told her that maybe he will go to George Brown College, and then recently he told her that maybe he will go to Ryerson and take the engineering program.

“It’s a complete 180 from where he was at the beginning of this program. I don’t even think that the ACCN, Ryerson or the mentors truly understand what they’ve done for my son, what they’ve done for me,” she said, noting that her parents are happy to see the breakthrough. 

Another ACCN TECHTRONIX member being mentored by a Ryerson University student on the use of the equipment in the engineering department.  Photo contributed

Cheryl Lewis, executive director of ACCN, said TECHTRONIX was created to nurture black youth’s pursuit of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) careers, and to demonstrate to them that they have what it takes to be at the STEM table.

ACCN has launched GoFundMe and Canada Helps fundraising campaigns to help the team prepare for the competitions ahead.

The ACCN is a network of black churches working with communities, government and institutions to improve life outcomes for black youth and families since 2006.

To date, through its highly successful education program, ACCN has secured more than $18 million in scholarships and financial aid for talented black students to attend top independent schools in Toronto. They have also created a mentoring program for the students to give back to their community.

A demonstration of the robot at Ryerson University in Toronto.

Some of the ACCN TECHTRONIX team members  who were at the launch of their robot at Ryerson University in Toronto.

[This story has been published on the Gleaner's website]