Saturday, 30 June 2018

City of Toronto's New Anti-Black Racism Unit Gives Update of Plans

By Neil Armstrong

The City of Toronto is seeking twelve Black Torontonians who would like to join the Anti-Black Racism Partnership & Accountability Circle to guide and support the full implementation of the Toronto Action Plan to Confront Anti-Black Racism.

This was among the updates shared by Aina-Nia Ayo’dele, manager, and Mohamed Shuriye, senior policy development officer of the city’s new Confronting Anti-Black Racism Unit at the Black Coalition for AIDS Prevention (Black CAP) on June 19.

Ayo’dele, a Jamaican who was the community consultant and project manager for the Action Plan, said they chose four community partner agencies to do follow-up sessions: Black CAP, Jamaican Canadian Association, Taibu Community Health Centre and a Somali group in Etobicoke.

She says since the unit was set up there have been several internal updates in the City of Toronto’s departments and staff from the Confronting Anti-Black Racism Unit are willing to visit any agency or group who wants to hear more about their work.

In December 2017, City Council approved the Action Plan that will be implemented over a five-year term, 2018 to 2022. The implementation will be based on five annual work plans, starting in Year One (2018), and a corresponding progress report.

The next steps include the establishment of the Anti-Black Racism Partnership & Accountability Circle comprised of diverse Torontonians of African descent to support the implementation of the Action Plan.

Each member will serve a two-year term beginning September 2018 and there will be four three-hour meetings a year. A two-day retreat and training session will be taking place September 15 and 16, 2018.

The unit notes that Black Canadians, defined as African descent or origin, African Black Caribbean, African-Canadian, Canadians of African descent, are eligible.

The application deadline is July 27 and those selected will be contacted in early August.

Ayo’dele and Shuriye also encouraged those in attendance to apply for positions on city boards or committees as Toronto residents are needed.

Outlining the process of arriving at the action plan, Mayor John Tory noted in the Toronto Action Plan to Confront Anti-Black Racism that the city took the many reports on racism that have been written over the past 41 years and put their recommendations in front of people for discussion.

Forty-one community conversations were held by the city in partnership with community organizations.

“We wanted to know which actions Toronto’s Black communities felt would make the greatest difference in their lives.”

These conversations drew more than 800 participants who shared their experiences, their priorities and their concerns.

The mayor noted that the Action Plan has five themes, 22 recommendations and 80 actions that the city will undertake.

The themes are: children and youth development, health and community services, job opportunities and income supports, policing and the justice system, and community engagement and black leadership.

“As some first steps, I met with senior staff, including Black leaders in the Toronto Public Service to begin identifying systemic barriers inside City Hall. I heard a lot about the culture change that needs to happen here, starting with comprehensive training of staff to recognize, understand and shift anti-Black racism thinking and practice,” Tory said.

He noted that aided by community expertise, this work will help seed systemic change that will positively impact service planning, policy development and customer service.

The Action Plan notes that Toronto is the most diverse city in the world. However, the experiences of Black Torontonians and studies continue to show that anti-Black racism still exists in the city, affecting the life chances of more than 200,000 people of African descent who call Toronto home.

It says city-community collaboration will be critical to implementing the plan and ensuring that the actions that are implemented work towards creating equitable outcomes for Torontonians of African descent.

[This story was published in the NA Weekly Gleaner, June 28-July 4, 2018.]

Thursday, 21 June 2018

Ontario's Pioneering Native-Born Black Judge Remembered for His Curiosity

By Neil Armstrong

Photo contributed    The late Justice George E. Carter

Justice George E. Carter’s love of language, respect and love for family, and paying it forward are among the fondest memories his family and friends have of him.

The Canadian-born black judge had a curious mind which his daughter, Linda Carter, says he demonstrated in a story he told about attending church with his mother as a child and wanting to know where the offering was being taken up the aisle when it should be going to God.

Carter, 96, passed away peacefully on June 7 surrounded by his family at home in Toronto. A funeral service was held at the Glendale Chapel on June 12 and interment followed at the Beechwood Cemetery.

Born on August 1, 1921 to parents, John Carter and Louise Braithwaite Carter, who were from Barbados, he was the oldest of 14 children and worked as a train porter to help pay his tuition at Trinity College, University of Toronto.

He graduated with a B.A. in 1944 and that same year went into the Canadian army where he served active duty in the infantry corps and went to camps, like Ipperwash, during World War II.

In 1945, he articled with B.J. Spencer Pitt, the only black lawyer practising in Ontario, and in 1948 graduated from Osgoode Hall Law School.

Carter subsequently opened his own Bay Street office which covered real estate, family and criminal law. He practiced law for 31 years before being called to the bench in 1979.

As a judge he served for 16 years on the Ontario Provincial Court and was later appointed to the Ontario Court of Justice.

“You have to document your history. If you don’t document your history somebody else will do it and make it theirs, basically,” says Linda who made a documentary film, “The Making of a Judge,” about her father in 2010.

Sunday nights after dinner was when he would tell stories for years and she felt they had to be documented.

“I know he went through a lot of racism, a lot of stuff at that time. At the time even the beaches were segregated,” she said about her father and his 13 siblings growing up in Toronto.

Justice Carter saw Marcus Garvey and heard him speak and his wife got an autograph.

Roy T. Anderson, who is making a film entitled “Marcus Garvey: The Untold Story” interviewed Justice Carter about the Pan-Africanist and founder of the Universal Negro Improvement Association.

"I was 16-years-old when I entered that church. That was the first time I saw the man in the flesh. I’m sitting in the pew, and he’s coming down the aisle. The place is full of people. It’s crowded. I guess they wanted to see this man...,” said Carter about Garvey visiting the African Methodist Episcopal Church on Soho Street in the 1930s.

Linda loved hearing her father talk about his father’s love of language and how his dad went to work on the Panama Canal and he took a trunk of books with him.

“Daddy use to say grandpa used to always say ‘get it in your head, get it in your head because once it’s in your head nobody can take it out.’ So the love of knowledge, education – those were very important to him,” she said, noting that Justice Carter spoke Latin, German and French.

She said he believed in helping people. “The house was always full. If somebody didn’t have a family the Carters would adopt them and still doing that.”

Linda said Christmases were wonderful when his six sisters would be around and they cooked for about forty family members.

The family still gets together for birthdays and Father’s Day, and they have planned a Nine Night for June 16.

“One of the things that dad said, that he was glad to get on the bench so that he can help his people there because he saw that there was a lot of young people in the courts and they needed help,” she said, noting that Justice Carter would want people to remember him by helping one another.

Kathy Grant was introduced to Carter by her mother in 2005 at the annual Harry Jerome Awards. Like  him, she has a love for history and would talk to him almost daily from 2010 when they reconnected at the screening of the film about him, to this year.

“There were always so many stories to tell, like stories about the Home Service.”
On April 27, 2014 a bronze bust was unveiled in the Osgoode Hall Law School Library commemorating Justice Carter’s leadership and contributions to Canadian society.
Carter was a recipient of the Harry Jerome lifetime achievement award, Osgoode Hall Law School of York University award for excellence, and honorary life membership to the Ontario Judges Association.

He was honoured by the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers (CABL) and is a recipient of Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee medal and an honorary doctorate from Queen's University.

Justice Carter was predeceased by his wife, Kay, and was the father of Linda (Tom), Evan (Ann), Jacquie (Michael) and Ralph (Holly).

He was grandfather to Jessica, Micah, Emily, Annie, Kathleen and Andre, and was the great-grandfather of Aina and brother of Doris. 

[This story has been published in the North American Weekly Gleaner, June 21-27, 2018. Correction: Justice Lionel Locksley Jones, born in Edmonton, Alberta was the first Canadian-born Black justice. He was appointed to the provincial bench in Alberta in 1977. An earlier version of this story said Justice Carter was the first Canadian-born Black judge. A correction has been made in this version. ]

Blockorama Celebrates its 20th Anniversary at Pride with SWV

By Neil Armstrong

Photo contributed.    In 1993, SWV's success led to 11 Billboard Music Award nominations, four American Music Awards nominations and a Grammy nomination for Best New Artist. 
Blockorama, the largest and longest running stage at the annual Pride Toronto Festival, is celebrating its 20th anniversary and organizers say it is the best party at Pride.

They also say it is a family reunion and while people have tried to replicate “the recipe so many times…it’s unique and the energy is inescapable.”

Nik Redman (DJ Nik Red) and DJ Craig Dominic of Blackness Yes!, -- the organizing committee that created the event in 1999 – are the team leads for Blockorama and they are promising a fitting celebration with R&B legends, SWV (Sisters with Voices), as the headliners.
Redman has been volunteering and deejaying at Blocko for 20 years, 16 years as part of Blackness Yes!
Twenty years ago, there was nothing intentional for the Black queer and trans community at Pride, he said.  
“The group of friends who were all community activists and organizers felt it necessary to create a space that would be a celebration of Black diaspora queers and also offered a “safe “ space for those in the community who were not quite out to come and celebrate their lives with DJs, dancers, drag queens from the Black diaspora.”
Dominic has been involved with Blockorama as a performer since 2009 and became a member of Blackness Yes! a year later, shortly after the first Blockobana when he inquired about becoming part of the team.

Blockobana takes place on the Sunday of the Caribbean Carnival (some still call it Caribana) weekend in Toronto. It was the brainchild of DJ Blackcat about eight years ago and will be held in Regent Park as the anchor event of what Palmer describes as the burgeoning  “black pride” weekend.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              The The history of Blockorama has not been without its challenges dealing with Pride Toronto.
Some years ago, Pride Toronto moved it from its original Wellesley stage to the parking lot of the Beer Store on Church Street, then subsequently to George Hislop Park on Isabella Street, and had plans to move it to the Alexander St. Parkette.
These decisions and concerns about funding cuts came to the fore in 2010 when a community meeting was held at The 519.
Photo contributed      DJ Nik Red of Blackness Yes!, organizer of the annual Blockorama celebration.

 Redman notes that throughout the years the relationship with Pride has been sometimes like distant relatives.
“Blackness Yes! has endured in the past awkward meetings with folks at Pride who didn’t know we existed. Then there were the people who felt we existed but only as a checkbox on their diversity report card, not as a community partner that should be respected.”
Despite this Redman notes that there were also people at Pride who did their best to advocate for Blackness Yes!  
“Now we are acknowledged as one of the teams central to Pride Toronto, but some things are still an uphill battle.” 
Redman says it seems like Pride is competing with Blocko on their other stages and although it has been 20 years they are still not getting the respect they deserve. 
Photo contributed         DJ Craig Dominic of Blackness Yes!, organizer of the annual Blockorama celebration.

Dominic said the same reason Blocko was important in 1999 is still the same today – “a Black space made by and for all Black people to celebrate Blackness.”

“ You can find a lot of black sprinkled throughout the festival now but we all know the saying: ‘Everybody loves Black culture, not everybody loves Black people.’ Well, we do!”

He believes the issues today more revolve around erasures and microagressions.

“Pride Toronto tries to walk a delicate balance between the corporations and community and I recognize that is not easy but at some point, they must realize that Pride belongs to the community,” says Redman.
In January this year, Pride Toronto held community consultations on Blockorama & Blackness Yes!"
Redman says these were consultations driven by Pride Toronto and “we as a committee are still looking at the information and waiting to meet with Pride about next steps.”
In 2016, as the honoured group, Black Lives Matter Toronto, held a sit-in protest at the Pride Parade where it issued nine demands to Pride Toronto.
Among the demands were the doubling of funding for Blockorama to $13,000, and full and adequate funding for community stages including logistical, technical and personnel support. 
On its website, Black Lives Matter Toronto has crossed these out indicating that they have been achieved.
Over the years, Blockorama has attracted international artists like Diana King, Destra, Alison Hinds, En Vogue and Evelyn "Champagne" King.
Also on the bill have been Canadian artists such as D’bi Young, Zaki Ibrahim, LAL, Witch Prophet, Tika, Shi Wisdom, SATE, formerly known as Saidah Baba Talibah, Trey Anthony and Keisha Chante.
To choose their headliners, Blackness Yes! devises a wish list and although some of those artists get “scooped” from them and end up on other Pride stages – something that is frustrating for Redman, they put out feelers and see who are available and affordable.
Pride Toronto notes that Blockorama has provided a loving space within the festival that respects intersections, accessible needs, the importance of programming and community-led space.
Redman says the feedback from patrons to the annual event has been very encouraging with many saying, “It feels like home for a lot of us and Blocko continues to shatter myths.”
“People insist on it now because that’s how they celebrate Pride at Blocko,” he said.

His involvement is sustained by “seeing the joy on someone’s face the first time they find Blocko and community. There is something very inspiring and electric that happens in the space.”

Dominic says Blocko is essentially the last community-led space at Pride. “It’s a force and a culture that has to be seen and witnessed. There’s an authenticity in the love people bring to the space, I find.”

Blockorama, a free event, will be held on Sunday, June 24, 12:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. at the Wellesley Stage. SWV is scheduled to perform at 8:30 p.m.

SWV was founded in 1992 in New York by three best friends, Cheryl "Coko" Clemons, Tamara "Taj" George and Leanne "Lelee" Lyons. Their debut album, "It's About Time," was a smash hit selling over 13 million copies worldwide and spawning three Billboard chart topping singles, "I'm So Into You," "Weak" and "Right Here."

The group disbanded in 1998 with each member pursuing different interests, but
since 2005 SWV has reunited from time-to-time for special performances.

In 2011, the group finally recorded its fourth studio album, "I Missed Us," which earned it a 2013 Grammy nomination for Best Traditional R&B Performance. 

This achievement has inspired SWV to head back on the road for a make-or-break comeback tour, which was chronicled in the hit WE tv docu-series “SWV Reunited.”

[A shorter version of this story has been published in the North American Weekly Gleaner, June 21-27, 2018.]


Thursday, 7 June 2018

First Fundraiser for Documentary Film About Marcus Garvey Held in Toronto

By Neil Armstrong

Photo contributed    Filmmaker, Roy T. Anderson and co-producer, Alison Anderson of Black Star Line Films who are working on the documentary film, "Marcus Garvey: The Untold Story."

The creators of the documentary film, “Marcus Garvey: The Untold Story,” have travelled to six countries and interviewed more than seventy-five people, with a few more remaining.

They need  $75,000 to complete the 90-minute feature-length film about Jamaica’s first national hero, Pan Africanist icon and founder of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA).

Roy T. Anderson, director, writer and producer, and wife, Alison Anderson, co-producer of Black Star Line Films travelled from their home in New Jersey to hold the first in a series of fundraising events for the film in Toronto.

The next fundraiser will be in either Harlem or Buffalo, New York on the weekend of August 18 to celebrate the Pan Africanist’s birthday.

Garvey was born on August 17, 1887 in St. Ann’s Bay, Jamaica and died in London, UK on June 10, 1940.

“We’ve finished pretty much all of our interviews but I have three or four key interviews left,” Roy says, which include Chuck D of Public Enemy; Ilyasah Shabazz, one of Malcolm X’s daughters; and hopefully reggae singer, Chronixx, and one other in Jamaica.

Once these are done, he will concentrate on filming dramatizations and re-enactments that will help “to tell the story in a more meaningful way. Rather than just the still images on set, you’ll see moving images which I think is much more dynamic and hard-hitting.”

Anderson has a producer partner in Jamaica, Natalie Thompson, who is trying to secure funding locally for that; the other dramatization will take place in the US, a unique scene which involves the Ku Klux Klan (KKK).

Garvey met with one of its leaders so Anderson decided to include that encounter to provide context and advance the story.

Natasha Henry, president of the Ontario Black History Society and a historian, said it is crucial to document, preserve and share the long, rich history of Blacks in Canada.

“The history of Marcus Garvey in Canada, which links us to a wider global community, has much more to be unearthed.”

She noted that there were fifteen UNIA branches across Canada, including one in Toronto at 355 College Street.

“These spaces were important in nurturing Black intellectual thought, social and political activism, and rich Black cultural traditions.  Canada has an integral legacy in the Garvey movement that needs to be captured in this groundbreaking film project.”

The historian said after his 1927 deportation from the US, Garvey came to visit Canada through Montreal.

Though Canadian immigration banned him from speaking in public and ordered him deported back to Jamaica, until then they allowed him to visit Toronto where he received a big welcome at Union station. He was deported on November 7, 1928.

Garvey returned to Canada in 1936 using it as the UNIA headquarters until 1938.

 “Canada played an important role in keeping Garvey’s ideas on the international stage,” said Henry.

She noted that Garvey delivered speeches in cities like Windsor and St. Catharines and that “his most popularized words “emancipate ourselves from mental slavery” were spoken in Nova Scotia in 1937 and memorialized by Bob Marley in ‘Redemption Song.’”

The educator said one of the core tenets of Garvey’s philosophy was to advance the conditions of Africans by increasing racial pride and fostering a collective African memory that could only be accomplished through education.

“This film makes a major contribution to educating Black people, most importantly our children, sharing Garvey’s impact that spans just over 100 years.”

Anderson, a Hollywood stuntman, has directed, written and produced two earlier films, “Akwantu: the Journey” and “Queen Nanny: Legendary Maroon Chieftainess.”

He described the work that he does with Alison as a labour of love because the films are self-funded and “are our children.”

“I can’t do this by myself so I’m reaching out,” said Anderson, noting that the project has the support of Dr. Julius Garvey, younger son of the celebrated Pan Africanist, who is featured in the film.

His goal is to complete the film by 2019 and to present it at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Narrated by legendary Emmy Award-winning actor, Keith David, the film will feature interviews and commentary from renowned leaders, scholars, and other prominent personalities such as: Dr. Garvey, actor Danny Glover, singer David Hinds (Steel Pulse); radio personality and dub poet, Mutabaruka; former Prime Minister of Jamaica, Edward Seaga; former United States Congressman, Charles Rangel; Samia Nkrumah, daughter of Ghana’s first leader, Kwame Nkrumah; leading Garvey scholar, Professor Rupert Lewis; and white supremacist leader, Jared Taylor.

Anderson also interviewed Torontonians: Betty Clarke whose mother ran a bed and breakfast where Marcus Garvey stayed for several weeks in the summer of 1937; Canada’s first native-born Black judge, George Carter, 97, who was 16 when Garvey visited his church; entrepreneur and former owner of Flow 93.5 FM, Denham Jolly (whose memoir, In The Black, references Violet Williams, Garvey’s secretary in Toronto who rented Jolly a place in the 195Os); and Itah Sadu, owner of A Different Booklist.

"Marcus Garvey: The Untold Story" was also filmed in parts of Nova Scotia (Halifax, Glace Bay, Sydney, New Waterford) and Anderson interviewed several people such as: Theresa Brewster, chairperson for the Glace Bay UNIA Museum; John Tatrie, author, Redemption Song; MLA Tony Ince, Minister of African Nova Scotia Affairs. 

Garvey is much loved in that province. The filmmaker spoke with many folks about Garvey's historic speech in October 1937 that inspired Bob Marley's Redemption Song

[An edited version of this story has been published in the North American Weekly Gleaner, June 7-13, 2018.]

Pioneering African Canadian Filmmaker Launches First Book

By Neil Armstrong

Photo credit: Ethar Ismail      Roger McTair with his new book, "My Trouble With Books."

One of Canada’s pioneering Black documentary filmmakers has fulfilled his lifelong aspiration to write a book.

Roger McTair, 75, a Trinidadian-Canadian who immigrated to Canada in 1970, has been in the vanguard of telling stories about the Black and Caribbean communities in Canada.

On May 25, family, friends and well-wishers packed The Theatre Centre in Toronto for the launch of McTair’s book, “My Trouble With Books,” a collection of 13 short stories set in Trinidad and Tobago, Toronto and the tourist fringe of Barbados.

The idea for the book was a long time in the making and became a reality at the prompting of his son, Ian Kamau, and Roger’s sister, Dionyse McTair, who collaborated on the project.

Kamau said back in the early 2000s his father was diagnosed with an illness that was potentially life-threatening.
McTair spoke a lot about how he felt grappling with mortality because the doctors had given him a limited time.

“One of the things that he spoke most about was his writing and that he didn’t necessarily have the opportunity to be able to release a book of his own work,” said Kamau, noting that the launch was “my father’s actualization but also my own and our own.”

McTair told his son that when he retired the thing he wanted to do was to write a book and Kamau promised to help him achieve that goal.

What he didn’t expect was that his father would retire abruptly from teaching media writing at Seneca College at York University for 18 years in the summer of 2014.

His health had declined to the point where he was no longer able to write, type, and read, as well as he faced challenges concentrating.
Kamau, who is a hip hop and spoken word artist, said completing the book was a fight because his father is a perfectionist and would go over the same story several times believing in the mantra “writing is rewriting.”

Photo credit: Ethar Ismail  The audience at the launch of Roger McTair's book, "My Trouble With Books," at The Theatre Centre in Toronto.

The night of the launch was one of storytelling, he said, noting that there are unpublished writings of his father, including many poems and short stories.

Carl James, Jean Augustine Chair in Education, Community and Diaspora; Dionne Brand, award-winning poet and novelist; Dionyse McTair and Kamau read stories from the book.

Veteran librarian, Rita Cox, said the space of The Theatre Centre was important because it was the Queen & Lisgar library in the 1950s – precursor of the Parkdale library – which is in a different location.

McTair resided in Parkdale and the library was where she saw him most in the late 60s, early 70s,” said Cox, who started what is now the Rita Cox Black and Caribbean Heritage Collection in 1972 at the Parkdale library.

“We were overawed at the early success of those films that they [McTair and his then wife, Claire Prieto, film director and producer] made and we were very proud of their work. They dealt with subjects that hadn’t been dealt [with] before.”

His films include: Journey to Justice (2000), Jennifer Hodge: The Glory and the Pain (1992), Home to Buxton (1987), and Home Feeling: Struggle for a Community (1984).
She said McTair’s films are important and she is glad that his writings have finally
found their way in print.

“I treasure Roger’s laconic sense of humour.”

Brand said McTair, who is also a poet and writer, schooled her in poetry. In editing one of her books, he said to her, “Dionne, the world really need that line?”

As a professor in the School of English and Theatre Studies at the University of Guelph this is now something she asks her students in poetry classes.

Brand said McTair helped to make and nurture “Black life-making in this city” and thanked him for “building the imaginary life of Black people in this city.”

She lauded him for his precision, genius, fastidiousness, and congratulated Kamau for prying “this book out of his hand.”

James said McTair likes writing and he always felt that the filmmaker didn’t write enough.

Kamau, who is a writer in residence at The Theatre Centre, said he is working on a project that he and his father wrote.

At the end of the night McTair said he has more stories for books that his sister will edit.

“I’ve written all my life. I’ve made films all my life – that’s what I do,” he says in a video that was shown at the launch.

His sister concurred: “That’s his life, his breath. He is a writer.”

 “My Trouble With Books” is self-published and available on Amazon and at A Different Booklist in Toronto.

[This story has been published in the North American Weekly Gleaner, June 7-13, 2018.]

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

Toyo Ajibolade Receives the YWCA Toronto Young Woman of Distinction Award

By Neil Armstrong

Photo contributed       Toyo Ajibolade, 2018YWCA Toronto Young Woman of Distinction Award recipient.

Toyo Ajibolade, a mentor, coach and third-year student at Ryerson University, is the recipient of the 2018 YWCA Toronto Young Woman of Distinction award.
Ajibolade, who is studying marketing management, has turned the game of basketball into an empowering playing field.
She has developed Lady Ballers Camp – a girl-centred organization providing recreational and accessible basketball and sport programming to youth, particularly those from marginalized and racialized communities.
 “Being an organization that focuses on providing affordable programming to young women and girls that is also driven and led by a group of young people has had it share of obstacles,” she says.
There have been challenges with funding, finding spaces and even just being recognized as a youth-led organization, she said, noting that the award was “important in validating our work as women and our voices as leaders.”
“ It is important to continue encouraging these spaces, so we can hear more diverse stories, have more inclusive voices in our dominant discourse and then we can create more comprehensive changes across all industries.”
At 16, Ajobolade was selected as the youngest recipient of Girls Action Foundation’s Leadership Capacity Grant program.
 She used that opportunity to create the “DUNK Like a Girl” initiative, a program combining basketball training and fitness with interactive workshops, focused on issues affecting all girls such as gender stereotypes, relationships, violence, and self-care.
She was among eight women who received YWCA Toronto Women of Distinction awards at the Royal York Hotel in Toronto on May 24.
The other recipients are: Zanana Akande (public service); Dr. Pat Armstrong (health and education), Julia Deans (business), Lynn Factor (president’s award), Margaret Hancock (social justice), Marcie Ponte (community builder), and Dr. Milica Radisic (health science).

“All the women that I’ve had the pleasure of sharing this stage and receiving this award with have all made important contributions to their diverse fields. Contributions that have inspired not only girls and women, but entire communities. That’s why Melinda Gates said, ‘when you invest in women, you invest in the people who invest in everyone else.’

"So, let us all continue to support each other, motivate each other, and uplift each other so we as a community can make a better present and an even better future for every single person in it,” said Ajibolade ending her acceptance speech.
Her primary objective is to be a bridge for young racialized women who are limited not by skill or determination, but by finance and opportunity.

In 2013, she was a recipient of the Leading Women, Leading Girls, Building Community Award from the office of the Ontario Women’s Directorate for her dedication “to making the experiences had by people around her better and her ability to build bridges in the community.”
Two years later, in December 2015, Ajibolade wrote a very compelling grant application to Maple Leaf Sports Entertainment (MLSE) for Lady Ballers Camp and received the Toronto Raptors Community Action grant for this young organization.
In 2017, Ajibolade was given the Citizen’s MVP award for community service by the Toronto Raptors.

Friday, 1 June 2018

Ballet Creole's New Work is a Tribute to a Black Canadian Slave - Chloe Cooley

By Neil Armstrong
A Review

Photo credit: Peter Lear    Gabriella Parson as Harriet Tubman in Ballet Creole's 'Cry Freedom.'

Although Ballet Creole’s new dance production, “Cry Freedom,” was not held during 2017, the sesquicentennial of Canada, it provided an important lesson about a significant figure – a Black woman – in the country’s history of slavery.

“Cry Freedom” was presented at the Harbourfront Centre in Toronto as part of their NextSteps series.

To celebrate Canada’s 150th anniversary, the company presented a multimedia dance and drama show commemorating the story of Chloe Cooley, an enslaved woman in Upper Canada.

Her struggles in 1793 served as the catalyst for the passing of the first legislation in the British colonies to restrict the slave trade, setting the stage for the Underground Railroad.

Since its inception in 1990, Ballet Creole has been forging a new language in the dance world, a blend of the old and new world, and a creolization or melding of diverse dance and music traditions.

“Cry Freedom” is its bold move to include actors and spoken word in its world premiere to tell this important but little-known story.

It was apt that the show opened with spoken word “Our Unconscious Self” by Husam Alaghbari and a storytelling scene, “Reflection,” of an elder sharing her wisdom with kids young enough to be her grandchildren.

She tells them of their forebears and the movement soon shifts to Act 1 “Africa,” where we see the gathering of the vibrant Baga and Malinke communities.

Master drummer, Amadou Kienou, a descendant of the Dafin people, complements the narrative and movement that unfold on stage.

He is a djeli or griot, an oral historian charged with the role of preserving and transmitting his people's history, culture and values.

On stage the lives of Africans shattered by captivity, the slave ship, the auction block and the plantation are depicted in scene 1 of Act 2 “Unforgiven Time” with images of slaves shackled onboard ships, being sold and dance accompanying a video of life on the plantation.

It is within a space of displacement in Canada, in scene 2 that we witness the “Consciousness of Chloe Cooley” – her resistance to slavery is demonstrated by performers: actress, storyteller and playwright, Djennie Laguerre; Yuhala Muy Garcia, Chelcia Creary and Denise Cavalier.

Photo credit: Peter Lear         Ballet Creole's 'Cry Freedom'

Photo credit: Peter Lear        Ballet Creole's 'Cry Freedom'

Luther Hansraj, a multidisciplinary theatre artist/actor, plays Lieutenant Governor John Graves Simcoe, Gabriella Parson as Harriet Tubman (a seminal figure in the Underground Railroad), and the Freedom Train is performed by dancers: Alistair Graphine, Shavaun Brown, Rohan Christian, Falciony Patino, Sani-Abu Mohammed, Yuhala Muy Garcia, Gabriella Parson and Chelcia Creary.

Nawa Simon, Denise Cavalier, Djennie Laguerre, Walter Maclean, Richard Guttierez and Aisha Daniels were also a part of the train.

The 95-minute production also featured in scene 3 the 1812 Richard Pierpoint “Coloured Corp” with Parson and Laguerre with choreography by Anthony “Prime” Guerra, choreographer, dancer and dance elder.

Kienou’s artistry in drumming accentuated the live music score for Ballet
Creole's new work accompanied by the talented Creole Drummatix, the company’s music ensemble.

Through his musical prowess, he helped in bringing the story of Cooley to life.

 The music and choreography were inspired by and reflected aspects of Cooley's story, capturing her bravery, the repercussions of her actions, and how it relates to the Canada today.

Scene 4 paints a portrait of the present day through five pieces: “Freedom?,” “My Black,” “Goddam,” – performed to Nina Simone’s ‘Mississippi Goddam’ -- “Our Legacies” and “Hymn to Freedom” named after one of Oscar Peterson’s most significant compositions.

“Cry Freedom” was presented in collaboration with the Ontario Black History Society (OBHS) and the Canadian Caribbean Association of Halton.

In a message in the programme, Natasha Henry, president of the OBHS writes: “It is likely that Chloe did not know she left such an indelible mark on our history, since she was sold away. She represents the long history of how the amplified voices of Black women have and continue to stir an awakening and influence change. The 225th anniversary of the famed Chloe Cooley incident serves as a call to honout our ancestors. We must speak, write, sing and dance Chloe Cooley and the many other Black women and men into remembrance. Ballet Creole’s remarkable production, Cry Freedom does exactly that.”

I concur. Ballet Creole told a story worth remembering.

Ballet Creole’s executive and artistic director, Patrick Parson, the dancers, musicians, actors, spoken word artist, choreographers and creative team  should be commended for shining the light on this important figure in Canadian history – and “Cry Freedom” should be embraced by school boards and presented in schools. 

[This review has been published in the North American Weekly Gleaner, May 31-June 6, 2018.]