Wednesday, 30 May 2018

YWCA Toronto Honours Zanana Akande for Her Public Service

By Neil Armstrong

Photo contributed    Zanana Akande speaking at the 2018 YWCA Women of Distinction Awards at the Royal York Hotel in Toronto on May 24, 2018.

Zanana Akande, a strong advocate for equity and social justice, is pleased to be the 2018 YWCA Women of Distinction award recipient for public service.
The educator, policy shaper and community advocate says the YWCA is an organization for which she has had a great deal of respect “because of the marvelous work they do for women and girls.”
The award also seemed to her to be one of receiving an award “for those things that we should do, we should all do.”
“We all contribute; we all contribute in one way or the other. And when we see holes in the society, when we see flaws in the society we seek to correct them to fill those holes.”
One of the errors that she saw was that Black Canadians were omitted from the places where decisions were made and therefore the decisions that were made for “the community of women and the community of Black women were often omitted. Our voices weren’t heard.”
“We weren’t there, so I sought to be there to point it out and from there, people began to invite me to serve in various situations. And I used that service not only to speak to our needs and our wants but also to speak to our equity.”
She told them that the voices of women needed to be in the decision-making and that women had specific concerns about employment such as promotion and earning the salaries that aligned with their qualifications.
“All of those things were there and doubly so because I was speaking not only for women but for Black women also, so when you double the focus you double the needs sometimes because even after the society and community began to acquiesce and had more women involved very often they were not women of colour.”
Akande was among eight women who received awards at the Royal York Hotel in Toronto on May 24. 
The other recipients are: Dr. Pat Armstrong (health and education), Julia Deans (business), Lynn Factor (president’s award), Margaret Hancock (social justice), Marcie Ponte (community builder), Dr. Milica Radisic (health science), and Toyo Ajibolade, (young woman of distinction).

Born in a family of educators, Akande’s teaching career with the Toronto District School Board was a vindication of sorts for her parents (from St. Lucia and Barbados) who were denied the right to hold teaching positions in Canada. 

A former principal, she later entered politics and was recognized as the first Black woman to be elected to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario in 1990. 
In her appointment as Minister of Community and Social Services, she made political history in becoming the first Black woman to hold a cabinet position in Canada. 
Her time in office was instrumental in shaping public policies fundamental to the lives of marginalized women. 
She led a meaningful social welfare reform that materialized in increases to social assistance rates and benefits supporting women in shelters. She understood the importance of food security when she approved precedent setting governmental support for the food bank system. 
Her strong voice as a cabinet minister and as the parliamentary assistant to the premiere contributed to the passing of Ontario’s first mandatory employment equity legislation – legislation that would institutionalize rights and break down barriers for all women in the workplace. 
With the Ontario general election approaching, Akande is impressed and excited by the number of Black women – thirteen -- running for office. 
She said there were women who stood for election before she did and that was extremely important. She worked in their campaigns for seats in the various levels of the government but there were few of them.
Akande was excited about Rosemary Brown’s election in British Columbia in 1972 and felt that her voice would bring a great deal to the discussion that otherwise would not have been there.
“And to see now that it has grown to thirteen, I’m always impatient. Now that we have thirteen running, I’m pushing, I want it to be forty,” she said.
 “I won’t be satisfied until our voices are heard and our faces are seen in every institution, in every corporation, in every part of the society. And not only as window dressing but heard for the content that we have to contribute.”
She remembered Carolann Wright, another Black woman running in the 1990 Ontario general election for the NDP but Wright lost to Ian Scott of the Ontario Liberal Party. 

In 1988, Wright became the first Black woman to run in a municipal election for the position of mayor of Toronto.
Akande was looking forward to being in government with Wright and noted that there were many women in the government in which she served. 
“Many of them had cabinet positions and it was a different voice, and it was great to have the opportunity to work with them.”

Akande also co-founded Tiger Lily, the first magazine/journal in Ontario grounded in the voices and experiences of women of colour. This magazine proved to be a profoundly empowering forum for women within the racialized, immigrant and refugee community – shedding light on a richness of women’s experiences that would otherwise have remained invisible.

Since her retirement from public life, Akande has continued to be engaged in her community, lending her wisdom and her energies to various social justice initiatives. She is valued as a treasured elder on whose shoulders so many women will stand to achieve their deserved height in the world.

Zanana Akande in conversation with Marva Wisdom of Operation Black Vote Canada at A Different Booklist in Toronto.

Zanana Akande and Rita Cox at the 5th annual Underground Railroad Freedom Train Ride on July 31,  2017.

Clem Marshall and Zanana at the 'Welcome to Blackhurst St. Exhibition' in 2016.

Zanana with Angela Robertson and Debbie Douglas at the Toronto Reference Library at a Legal Aid Ontario meeting with the Black Community in September 2017.

In April, Mayor John Tory announced that he will present the Key to the City to seven distinguished individuals who have made significant contributions to the City of Toronto.
This represents the highest honour that the city can confer on an individual or a group.

Akande is among the recipients, the others are: Susan Gapka, community activist;
Wilmot (Wil) and Judy Matthews, philanthropists; Pat Moore, community advocate;
Peter Oundjian, musician/conductor; and Fran Sonshine, philanthropist.

She has served many organizations over the years including the YWCA, Centennial College, Harbourfront Centre and the Urban Alliance on Race Relations. 
The mayor is presenting Akande with a Key to the City for dedicating her life's work to addressing equity issues in the community and improving the social, economic, cultural and political status of women in Toronto.

"This group of outstanding individuals is made up of leaders, community builders, trailblazers and role models. They have enriched our city in untold ways and we are forever grateful for their work and commitment toward making Toronto a better place," said Mayor Tory.

Akande will officially receive her Key to the City at a presentation that will be announced when a date is confirmed.

Since amalgamation, fifty-nine Keys to the City have been presented by mayors of Toronto. 
The mayor awards the key to inspiring individuals from diverse backgrounds who embody the spirit and potential of Toronto and have contributed significantly to civic life. 
On June 9, she will be the keynote speaker at Operation Black Vote Canada’s Black Women’s Political Summit in Toronto. The free event is sold out.
“As we go into the municipal election in October and the federal election in 2019, we feel that it is important that we mobilize to create change that will benefit us, our communities and support those in our community who have put their names forward to run,” says the organizers.
The summit will focus on different types of political engagement and building coalitions and mobilizing for municipal and federal elections.
The event is for Black women who are interested in finding out how they can use their economic and political resources to make a difference in their community.

Aboard the 5th annual Underground Railroad Freedom Train Ride on July 31, 2017.

At the unveiling of benches in Ontario Square, Harboufront Centre for 12 Black Canadians who were honoured for their contributions to African Canadian history in various fields. It happened on Nov. 10, 2014.

Sunday, 27 May 2018


Blockorama at the Wellesley Stage at the Toronto Pride Festival 2017. SWV is the headliner at the 20th anniversary of Blockorama on Sunday, June 24, 2018.

Sony Centre presents ‘Rudder 6.5 Toronto (Calypsonian David Rudder celebrates his 65th birthday)
June 9, 8:00 p.m. at Sony Centre for the Performing Arts, 1 Front Street East, Toronto.

Durham Caribbean Festival, June 16. Ajax Downs.

Toronto Pride Festival, June 22-24.  Toronto – Blockorama celebrates its 20th anniversary at Pride on Sunday, June 24, noon-11:00 p.m. Headliner: SWV (American R&B trio) at Wellesley Stage (in the parking lot across from Wellesley subway station. A free event presented by Blackness Yes!

Irie Music Festival, June 22-23. Mississauga Celebration Square.
Featuring Junior Kelly, Patrice Roberts, Sattalites and more.

Scarborough's biggest Canada Day Festival on Sunday, July 1, 12-9pm at Bridlewood Mall, 2900 Warden Ave. (Warden & Finch), Toronto. Contact HSDC at 416-345-1613

Barbados On The Water Festival, July 7&8, Harbourfront Centre, 235 Queens Quay W., Toronto. This is one of the largest Barbados summer promotions.

Afrofest, the largest free African music festival in North America celebrates its 30th anniversary. Saturday, July 7, 12pm-11pm; Sunday, July 8, 12pm-8pm at Woodbine Park, 1695 Queen St. East, Toronto.

Afrofest 2017 at Woodbinbe Park in Toronto

Salsa on St. Clair – one of Canada’s biggest Latin-themed cultural celebrations -- marks its 14th anniversary on July 7 & 8.

Toronto Caribbean Carnival, July 7 – Aug. 12. Grand Parade (the carnival’s largest event) – Aug. 4.

CARABRAM, Brampton's annual multicultural festival, July 13-15. The Caribbean Pavilion is at the Chris Gibson Rec. Centre, 125 McLaughlin Rd. N., Brampton.

Muhtadi International Drumming Festival, July 21-22. Regent Park, Toronto, 600 Dundas St. E., Toronto. A free event.

Island Soul, Aug. 3-6. Harboufront Centre.

Harbourfront Centre, a key cultural organization on the waterfront of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, situated at 235 Queens Quay West.

JAMBANA One World Festival, Sunday, Aug. 5, Rose Theatre, Brampton featuring the reggae band, Third World & Monday, Aug. 6 at CAA Centre (formerly Powerade Centre), Brampton, featuring Luciano and more.

MANIFESTO Festival of Community & Culture, Aug. 9-19, Toronto. Chronixx and his six-piece band, Zinc Fence Redemption, will headline a free show at Nathan Phillips Square on Friday, Aug. 17.

Jerkfest, Aug. 9-12. Centennial Park, Etobicoke. Featuring: Fab 5, Chaka Demus & Pliers.

Rastafest, Aug. 18. Parking lot of Toronto Plaza Hotel, 1677 Wilson Ave., Toronto.
Health & Wellness Community Fair, 1:00-5:00 p.m.
Live Entertainment, 5:00-10:00 p.m. Free Admission

Veg Food Fest, Sept. 7-9.  North America’s largest celebration of all things veg. Harboufront Centre, Toronto.

13th annual CaribbeanTales International Film Festival, Sept. 15-21, throughout Toronto.

10th annual Telling Tales Festival ‘Embrace the Power of Stories’ takes place on Sunday, Sept. 16, 10am-4pm at Westfield Heritage Village, Rockton, Ontario.
Teen Tales, Sunday, Sept. 23, 2pm-4pm, Hamilton Public Library, Central Library.
Free Admission.

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Viola Desmond Awards at Ryerson University Honours Five Women

By Neil Armstrong

Photo credit: Clifton Li.   From left: Pamela Appelt, patron of Viola Desmond bursary and awards program; Deborah Mepaiyeda, Mayann Francis, Susanne Nyaga, Malinda Smith, Vivian Barbot, Emily Agard, Denise O'Neil Green, vice-president of equity and community inclusion, and Darrell Bowden, education and awareness coordinator, Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion at Ryerson University.

Five women were honoured at the 10th annual Viola Desmond awards and banquet celebrating Black faculty, staff and students at Ryerson University in Toronto.

Organized by the Office of the Vice-President, Equity and Community Inclusion, the event, which is usually held in March, was staged on May 11 as a part of the White Privilege Conference Global – Toronto, a 4-day gathering with the theme: “Are Canadians Too Polite? Addressing Global Perspectives on White Privilege and Oppression in Canada and Beyond.”

The five are Melani Knight who received the Malinda Smith Faculty Award; Emily Agard (Vivian Barbot Staff Award); Susanne Nyaga (Mayann Francis Ryerson Student Award); Shanique Peart (2018 Viola Desmond High School Student Award); and Deborah Mepaiyeda (2018 Viola Desmond Bursary).

The 2018 honorees were Malinda Smith, professor of political science at the University of Alberta; Vivian Barbot, first black female to hold a leadership role in the Bloc Quebecois; and Mayann Francis, the first African Nova Scotian to serve as lieutenant governor of Nova Scotia.

Denise O’Neil Green, vice-president, equity and community inclusion said Desmond was in her early thirties when she stood up to racial segregation – a segregation that was accepted as a part of Canadian society.

“She made history in the cinema in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia and we are now benefitting from the courage and bravery she showed.”

Green said Desmond’s sister, Wanda Robson, who was in attendance told them that education was her sister’s passion.

“Viola resisted and created a way to move past the obstacles that were put in her way. Viola’s story reminds us that advocating for change is important and to bravely call out discrimination and unfairness in spite of fear. And she did this long before Rosa Parks.”

Green said what she loved about the awards event is that it makes “the invisible visible” – meaning that the “contribution of black women, specifically Black Canadian women, is often hidden in plain sight and what this award does is acknowledge and bring into the light the wonderful trailblazing innovative shero work by members within and beyond the Ryerson community.”

Photo credit: Clifton Li     Melani Knight, left, receiving the Malinda Smith Faculty Award from Professor Malinda Smith of the University of Alberta.

Knight said Malinda Smith is the scholar that she aspires to be, describing her as “fierce.”

“She’s an activist scholar that continually in her research, teaching and community work calls for us to examine power,” said Knight about Smith.

Knight, an associate professor and undergraduate program director in the Department of Sociology, said the awards ceremony “legitimizes that we exist, acknowledges the labour that we do as black women.”

Agard is the director of SciXchange at the university and is passionate about making science accessible, engaging and inclusive of all groups.

She said she is very thankful to be in the position where she has the privilege of doing the things she loves to do.

 “I don’t really go out doing these things for the award, they’re just very rewarding, just seeing all the youth and just seeing all the people enjoying the science that we bring to them.”  

Nyaga, who is from Kenya, is completing her Bachelor in Social Work and will graduate in October.

She was the president of United Black Students at Ryerson and also recently served as the first black woman president of the Ryerson Students’ Union, representing over 40,000 students.

“One thing that came to light this year was the importance of mental health,” she said.

Nyaga said a look at the history of the Black Community indicates that black women are the “backbone to our movements” such as the Civil Rights Movement, Black Panther Movement and Black Lives Matter, “which is a movement that is led by trans and queer black folk.”

“But my question is who is supporting the black woman, who is supporting our mental health?”

She said it is important to support “our black women who are leaders” because black women are challenged more when they are in positions of leadership than anybody else, and face misogyny, sexism and anti-blackness.

“Let’s acknowledge how strong they are but let’s also acknowledge that they’re multifaceted human beings. Let us move away from just only seeing their strengths but allowing black women to be vulnerable, allowing black women to be emotional..,” she said.

Mepaiyeda, a third-year computer science student, is the president of the group, Women in Computer Science.

She noted that the gender imbalance in the computer science program spurred her passion. Peart was unable to attend the ceremony.

The event was the first time that the $10 bank note bearing Desmond’s image, which will be in circulation later this year, was at a public event held in Toronto.

Produced by the Bank of Canada, it is the first time a black woman is appearing on Canadian currency.

Photo credit: Clifton Li      Wanda Robson, sister of Viola Desmond, speaking at the 10th annual Viola Desmond awards and banquet held at the Mattamy Athletic Centre, Ryerson University in Toronto on May 11, 2018.

Speaking on behalf of Desmond’s family, Robson shared a story of her sister’s forthright nature in speaking up for her when they both lived in the United States in the 1950s.

She was ecstatic that Desmond’s image is appearing on the $10 bank note. No other woman, except the Queen of England, has ever appeared on Canadian currency.

Ontario Liberal Party Candidate for Whitby Says She Knows How to Ask the Right Questions

By Francine Buchner

[I am sharing this story written earlier this year by my colleague, Francine Buchner, about Ontario Liberal Party candidate in Whitby, Leisa Washington. It was written for the North American Weekly Gleaner.]

Photo contributed     Leisa Washington, Liberal, Whitby
Whitby candidate, Leisa Washington, was born in Canada to Jamaican parents - her mother is from St. Elizabeth and father from Spanish Town. 

From being the first female agent for Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA) and agent for the National Basketball Association (NBA) in 2014, Washington is hoping to find success in the June 7 elections. 

Washington, who is a newcomer in the political arena, says overcoming challenges is something that she is used to. 

Her mother was diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. As a six year old, she had a lot of responsibilities on her shoulders. 

Washington said she knows how to negotiate and she knows how to advocate. "I know how to ask the right questions," she said. 

She said that she negotiated and advocated for the rights and worth of her players, and plans to do the same for her constituents, if she gets elected. 

"You're dealing with sports and athletes and money - dollars, endorsement deals, marketing deals and now, I'm going to be advocating and leading a community for fairness and opportunity to build an inclusive and just society," said Washington. 

Washington's campaign is centred on "more effective change," "equality, fairness and opportunity" for everyone. 

She said that she would be focusing on better transportation, creating jobs and an employment hub and social housing, make life more affordable - an inclusive and just society. 

Washington spent five years working with Abilities Centre, a charitable organisation. 

She said that she wants to be heard so that the communities that she has served can be heard. 

She established Camda Sports Foundation, which focuses to provide opportunities for struggling youth helping them to achieve their goals and dreams in sport, education, arts or music, as well as helping to relieve poverty by providing financial assistance. 

Record Number of Black Candidates Running in Ontario's 42nd General Election

By Neil Armstrong

Photo contributed    Jill Andrew, NDP, Toronto-St. Paul's

Photo contributed     Makini Smith, Liberal, Oshawa

Photo contributed    Dionne Duncan, PC, Hamilton Centre

Photo contributed    Grad Murray, Green, York South-Weston

There is a marked increase in the number of Black candidates running in Ontario’s 42nd general election on June 7.
Twenty-one candidates will be on the ballots compared to fifteen in the 2014 election. Thirteen are representing the Ontario NDP, six the Ontario Liberal Party, one for the Ontario PC Party and one for the Green Party of Ontario.

In 2014, there were seven Liberals, four New Democrats, two Progressive Conservatives and two Greens.

Among this year’s 21 candidates are Jill Andrew (NDP, Toronto-St. Paul’s), Makini Smith (Liberal, Oshawa), Dionne Duncan (PC, Hamilton Centre) and Grad Murray (Green, York South-Weston).

“This is the most that we have had running in a provincial election in Ontario and we believe that some of the work that we have been doing in the community have helped to bring interest and awareness about running for elected office,” says Velma Morgan, chair of Operation Black Vote Canada.

“We know representation matters and we are hopeful that many of them will get elected,” she said.

In August 2016, Andrew, an award-winning equity advocate, inclusive fashion educator, writer, speaker and columnist, got very sick and had to undergo surgery to save her life.

She said the care that she got in the hospital was deplorable and if she didn’t have benefits the medication that she takes would cost nearly $1000 every two months to replenish.

That experience at the hospital led her to consider being a part of the change she wants to see. “I have to see what I can do as a community member to ensure that no one is having the type of experience I’m having when they’re down and out and when they need support more than ever.”

Earlier that year she spoke at an International Women’s Day event about the experience of being a woman, a racialized woman, a queer woman, violence against women and the lack of representation or misrepresentation of women at times.

Some people asked her if she had ever considered politics; she told them she had, remembering that when she was 20 years old a former boss, Sandra Lallman, told her that she had a strong voice and strong opinions.

“You should share those, have you considered politics?” she asked.

“But, of course when you’re 20 years old and you don’t see much representation that looks like yourself, you sometimes don’t realize that the dream can be yours. It can be a plan, it doesn’t have to just be something abstract,” said the co-founder of Body Confidence Canada, an organization that advocates to end size and appearance-based discrimination, harassment and bullying. 

Andrew said residents of Toronto-St. Paul’s are concerned about education, affordable housing, pharmacare, dental care and seniors care, among other issues.

She said Ontario NDP leader, Andrea Horwath, wants to make Ontario a sanctuary province “where folks can be free to get help, where folks can have a home if they’re running from danger.”

As a 15-year-old student Andrew was told that she should work with her hands and become a hairdresser when she mentioned that she wanted to do law, medicine, veterinary studies or attend university.

“This moment right here is a moment that I haven’t seen in my lifetime. It is going to inspire young girls, inspire young boys, Black youth, racialized youth, Indigenous youth, LGBT youth. It is inspiring us to recognize that we have a right to a seat at the table,” said the PhD candidate at York University.

Smith, an entrepreneur and author, says she chose to represent the Liberal Party because as a single mother she had to work hard to put herself through school. She noted that the government is now helping 235,000 students pursue their education with free tuition, which includes 13,000 single mothers.

The personal development coach said she has seen, first-hand, the impact that the Liberal government has on people’s lives.

“When I go to pick up my son’s asthma medication, I don’t pay a cent and neither do thousands of other families in Oshawa, thanks to OHIP+. And, I know that when my son is playing outside at school I don’t have to worry about the quality of air because of his asthma ever since our government got rid of the cold-powered electricity plants.”

She paid people in Oshawa are concerned about issues like affordable housing and the opioid crisis, which she describes as a public health crisis.

“Representation matters. When we add diversity to the table we have a better chance to fight for fairness and opportunity for everyone,” says Smith about the increased number of Black women, in particular, and racialized candidates, in general, running in the election. “Without a seat at the table we have no say.”

Smith said, “win or learn,” come June 7 she is very passionate about empowering people’s lives and improving the quality of their lives. “That’s what I’ve been doing before I came into this election and that’s what I’ll continue to do after the election.”

Duncan is the vice president of healthcare and client advisorship at the Rosas Center focusing on development and core advancement at the business operations level.

She services and supports patients who have brain injuries and require direct assistance with rehabilitation, medication, community support and extended life management.

“Duncan is focused on many issues for Hamilton Centre including the healthcare crisis, senior support, housing, education and dealing with mental health and the rising homeless issue in the region,” notes the PC ‘s website.

It says she “is committed to focusing on eradicating the issues pertaining to poverty, homelessness and opioid abuse in Hamilton Centre, and is dedicated to improving community wellness and harmony.”

Murray likes the Green Party’s vision of jobs, people and planet. “I find a lot of my ideologies coincide with the Greens and our motto is the same – ‘Doing politics differently.’  We put our electors before our political party,” he says.

He said politics and politicians have a stigma with people and he wants “to change the way we see politics, I want to change the way we view politicians. I want to bring a voice to those who don’t feel they got one. I want to bring authenticity, “the funk” and the real people powered change.”

 Affordable housing is the most important election issue in York South-Weston, he says, noting that he came from affordable housing and it has helped him a lot.

“When on average, four years ago, Canadians spent 42% of their income on housing it makes it hard to save, prepare for retirement and live a joyful life. We need more affordable housing, laneway housing, tiny homes, co-op homes and other innovative solutions.”

 The Greens have proposed that 20% of new developed units be set a market rate so that people can live in quality more up-to-date homes.

He noted that the cost of electricity is another issue and the government should start looking at cost-saving measures and passing those on to the people.

This includes purchasing power from Quebec at one-third of the price. Murray spent some time in Montreal and said that the electricity bill stuck out the most to him when he compared the lower price there versus the cost in Toronto.

Murray said residents sense his authenticity and that makes conversation much easier on the campaign trail.

He said having more racialized candidates run in elections sends a message, “not only to Queen’s Park, but to our community as a whole.”

“It sends a message to our youth that we can make a difference. Many of us come from backgrounds that require us to overcome obstacles and we use that experience to make changes for the better,” says Murray who has a degree in political science.

At the beginning of May a special video, part of a larger “Get Out The Full Vote” (GOTFV) campaign, was released ahead of this year’s provincial and municipal elections in Ontario. 

“Our campaign, called #WeVote, will complement the work members of our coalition have been engaged in already, such as The Canadian-Muslim Vote’s “2018 GOTV” campaign, Operation Black Vote Canada’s recent Black Community Provincial Leaders Debate, the World Sikh Organization’s advocacy training through the Sikh Youth Leadership Institute, and the Tamils in Public Service’s ongoing focus on advocating for women of colour in politics and government.
“#WeVote aims to appeal to racialized voters who do not see themselves represented in politics, feel disempowered by the political system as it stands, or feel that their opinions do not matter. We want to let political parties know that we are engaged, we vote, and that our vote makes a difference in electoral outcomes,” said Morgan and other members of the coalition in an opinion piece in the Toronto Star.

They noted that it is well documented that racialized communities experience unique barriers to civic engagement. “We are under-represented at all three levels of government, and especially in municipal politics.

On May 25, the Jamaican Canadian Association and other collaborators will hold a “Black Provincial Candidates Meet, Greet & Support” at the Jamaican Canadian Centre where candidates will share their plans and community members can support them.

Two days after the provincial election, Operation Black Vote Canada will hold a “Black Women’s Political Summit” in preparation for the municipal election in October and federal election in 2019, on Saturday, June 9, 10am-3pm at 136 Isabella Street in Toronto.

Photo contributed   Mahamud Amin,  Etobicoke North

Photo contributed     Nikki Clarke, Mississauga-Malton

Photo contributed  Faisal Hassan,  York South-Weston

Photo contributed  Monique Hughes, Ajax

Photo contributed   Marjorie Knight, Cambridge

Photo contributed    Laura Mae Lindo, Kitchener Centre

Photo contributed    Dwayne Morgan, Scarborough North

Photo contributed    Felicia Samuel, Scarborough-Rouge Park

Photo contributed    Andrea Vasquez Jimenez, York Centre

Photo contributed  Fitzroy Vanderpool, Kitchener South-Hespeler

Photo contributed    Melissa Williams, Newmarket-Aurora
Photo contributed  Granville Anderson, Durham

Photo contributed  Remy Boulbol, Windsor-Tecumseh

Photo contributed   Michael Coteau, Don Valley East

Photo contributed   Mitzie Hunter, Scarborough-Guildwood

Photo contributed    Leisa Washington, Whitby

[A shorter version of this story has been published in the North American Weekly Gleaner, May 24-30, 2018.]

Sunday, 20 May 2018

Felicia Samuel is Charting Uncontested Political Course

By Neil Armstrong

I am sharing some stories about Black candidates in the upcoming Ontario general election that I wrote earlier in the year.

Photo contributed      Felicia Samuel, Ontario NDP candidate, Scarborough-Rouge Park.
A teacher, community activist and trade unionist is hoping to become the new Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP) for Scarborough-Rouge Park in the outcome of the June 7 Ontario election.

Created in 2015, this is the first time that this electoral district is being contested and Felicia Samuel, a candidate for the New Democratic Party (NDP), wants to be elected to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario.

“As a teacher I’ve seen all of the things that we need and we’re asking for and never seem to get, so I realize that a lot of it comes down to funding,” says the Elementary Teachers of Toronto executive officer.

Samuel has worked on campaigns for public education and in her community work she realized that transit needs required funding and things become a problem when no money is allocated to address them.

She said this is especially the case in East Scarborough, noting that: “We need more money coming to communities, coming to education, coming to healthcare, just public services, in general.” 

Having spent her career working to help people succeed and reach their full potential, Samuel said she wants to be at the table to help make those decisions happen.

“I believe that the NDP is the party that will make it happen and that’s why I decided to get into it.”

In her current union work, she supports members when they are having difficulties in their schools. 

Since elected to that role, some have encouraged her to enter provincial politics.

Initially, Samuel was quite satisfied with staying in her union job but as she became more involved in it and saw how important government funding was to many programs and community groups with whom she liaises, she decided to give it a try.

“I have great politics; I care about people. I’m a hard worker so why not me, especially when we see how underrepresented women, especially racialized women, black women, black people are in politics so I thought why not.” 

The lifelong resident of Scarborough said for decades transit has not been improved in Scarborough.

She acknowledged that it has not been a provincial priority but the NDP is talking about cost sharing public transit with municipalities.

Samuel identified other needs of her riding such as jobs, noting the prevalence of precarious youth employment, and affordable housing because many immigrant families and families are living in one house trying to make ends meet.

“There are many families living in some of these houses. It’s not safe but it’s not affordable anymore. The average home cost in that area is around $700,000 and Scarborough used to be cheap to live.”

Another concern of constituents has been the rising cost of Ontario Hydro and the NDP’s plan to buy back what was privatized.

Samuel said this new experience is boosting her confidence in public speaking.

“Engaging people, going door to door is not as bad as people think. People are willing to listen, they’re willing to support, even if they can’t support just yet because they’re waiting to see the other platforms.”

Samuel had the labour movement has invited her to speak at different union events and people have donated to her campaign.

“Of course, I need more donations because now that organizations can’t donate getting people to give individual donations has been a bit of a challenge. And, I talk to other candidates -- that’s a pretty consistent one.”

A trustee for the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, Samuels volunteered with Respect Scarborough, a now defunct group, which developed out of the Toronto and York Region Labour Council to bring activists from the community together around some common issues. 

She is also active in One Love Malvern, a collaboration of groups in Scarborough dealing with issues such as food security and transit.

 “It’s time for more diversity in our government. The diversity in our government needs to represent the diversity in the population. And in my current role as a union leader we’re not there yet as racialized people. We are so skilled, we have so much to offer and sadly, in many respects, we’re still being kept out, we’re still being barred,” says Samuel who is of Barbadian and Trinidadian heritage.

She studied Italian, French and Spanish abroad, and has received the June Veecock Leadership Award and Elementary Teachers of Toronto Steward Award for her advocacy work.

Vijay Thanigasalam is the Ontario PC candidate running against her in Scarborough-Rouge Park.

Meanwhile, the other black NDP candidates are: Faisal Hassan, York South-Weston; Mahamud Amin, Etobicoke North; and Nikki Clarke, Mississauga-Malton.

Dionne Duncan, who is of Guyanese heritage, is the Ontario PC candidate for Hamilton Centre going up against NDP leader Andrea Horwath who is the MPP for that riding.

She is currently a vice president at the Rosa’s Centre, which provides services to adults with physical, intellectual and developmental disabilities. 

Duncan is also a facilitator at Peel Halton Dufferin Acquired Brain Injury Services, where she supports patients with brain injuries.

The African Canadian candidates for the Ontario Liberal Party are: Mitzie Hunter, Scarborough-Guildwood; Granville Anderson, Durham; Michael Coteau, Don Valley East; and Leisa Washington, Whitby.

[This story was published in the North American Weekly Gleaner.]