Wednesday, 27 February 2019

BBPA Reveals the Names of the 2019 Harry Jerome Award Recipients

By Neil Armstrong

The Black Business and Professional Association (BBPA) has announced the names of the thirteen individuals and one company that are this year’s recipients of the prestigious Harry Jerome Awards.

Among them are a five-time Juno Award-winning reggae artist, the president of a women’s foundation, and a Caribbean food products company.

Exco Levi, who has been nominated for the Juno Awards seven times and won five times the Reggae Recording of the Year, is the winner of the BBPA Harry Jerome Award for entertainment; Paulette Senior, the president and CEO of the Canadian Women’s Foundation, won the trailblazer award; and Grace Foods Canada Inc., the business award.

The other recipients are: lawyer Leslyn Lewis -- professional excellence; Wendy Beckles, president and CEO of Shepherd Village Inc. -- leadership; Ray Williams, managing director and vice chairman, fixed income, currencies of National Bank Financial -- president; Traci Melchor, television personality -- media; Karen Burke, musician and co-founder of the Toronto Mass Choir -- arts; Dr. Dominick Shelton, an emergency physician at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre -- health science; Frances-Anne Solomon, filmmaker, writer and producer – culture; and Dr. Gezahgn Wordofa, founder of the Multicultural Association of Perth in Stratford, Ontario -- community service.

Also honoured are three recipients from Nova Scotia: Shaquille Smith, a basketball player and alumnus of Acadia University who is from North Preston -- athletics; Rustum Southwell, CEO of the Black Business Initiative (BBI) in Halifax -- lifetime achievement; and Ross Simmonds, digital marketing strategist who is from Preston -- youth entrepreneur.

Their names were announced at a media launch reception presented in partnership with Rogers Media and co-hosted by media personalities Tracy Moore and Darren Osborne inside the Rogers Velma Theatre on February 19.

The 37th annual BBPA Harry Jerome Awards ceremony, presented in partnership with TD Bank, will be held on April 27 at the International Centre in Mississauga, Ontario. The hosts will be Marci Ien, a broadcast journalists and one of the co-hosts of CTV’s ‘The Social’ and Donald McLeod, a judge of the Ontario Court of Justice.

Established in 1983 in memory of the late Harry Jerome, a Canadian Olympian
and social advocate, the event recognizes and honors achievements within the Canadian Black community.

The award is a fundraiser that supports the BBPA’s work in promoting the professional business advancement of African Canadians. The organization conducts programming in the areas of economic and entrepreneurial development and young professional training.

Nadine Spencer, president of the Black Business and Professional Association (BBPA)

“The 2019 Harry Jerome honourees are truly representative of this year’s theme 'GameChangers.’ This is about making a positive change within our community both
individually, and collectively as a Black community in Canada,” says Nadine Spencer, president of the BBPA.

Speaking at the event, Spencer said the awards are given to game changers who have applied all the professional best practices required for success.

Levi says the story of Jerome, a black man who faced many struggles but was able to beat the odds, resonates with him.

The artist migrated to this country from Jamaica and has pursued what he loves resulting in much success.

“I think of all the awards I’ve received this one is very important – all of them of them are important -- but I think this one is dear to my heart because it’s coming from a black story. I’m a black man and I’m just seeing me when I think about the Harry Jerome Award,” says the reggae singer who attended the launch one day before flying to Denmark to perform at a Bob Marley celebration on February 23.

His seventh Juno Award nomination in the Reggae Recording of the Year, 2019 category is for his album, “Narrative.” The Juno Awards ceremony will be held in London, Ontario on March 17.

In the meantime, Levi says there is more ahead for him to achieve since he is never complacent with telling himself that he’s already where he wants to be.

“In music or in life as a whole you can’t stop learn. It’s called growth and that’s what I’m striving to be, to be at the pinnacle of whatever we’re doing.”

Denise Jones, Exco Levi and Trevor Massey at the media launch of the 37th annual BBPA Harry Jerome Awards and a screening of the documentary 'Cool Black North'

Senior heads the Canadian Women’s Foundation which is Canada’s public foundation for women and girls.

“Being honoured by your own within your own community is one of the highest honours that can be bestowed so I’m deeply grateful for this recognition. 

“This for me symbolizes the importance of standing up for justice and equality for all - and that it is absolutely possible to follow one’s passion to impact societal change and blaze a path to a successful career. I am very thankful to family, friends and colleagues who have shared this journey with me,” says Senior.
Over the course of her career, she has won several awards, including the African Canadian Achievement Award, the AfroGlobal Leadership Award and the Black Women Civic Engagement Award.

GraceKennedy, the Caribbean's leading food manufacturer & distributor, has expanded into Canada, the US and the UK providing the taste of the Caribbean.

Mary Anne Chambers, chair of the board of directors of Grace Foods Canada Inc., says the entire team is honoured to be recognized with this year's award for business.

“Through our dedication to ongoing innovation, the highest quality of products and excellent service levels, we are bringing the exciting flavours of the Caribbean to the homes of our consumers. Our presence in the major supermarket chains and in independent stores continues to grow as we expand our reach throughout Canada.

“Our commitment to the well being of the communities in which we operate is also embraced by our team through our support of national as well as local initiatives. This award makes us feel both proud and humbled and we will continue to work hard to achieve and exceed the goals that we have set for the business,” says Chambers.

Chambers and Lucky Lankage, president and CEO of the company, attended the media launch.

In 2018, Smith helped to raise $300,000 to build a professional-grade outdoor basketball court in North Preston, which is currently in construction and will be ready this spring.

Smith, who earned a business degree at Acadia, came up with the idea of upgrading the court where he played basketball during his childhood after noticing that it needed major repair work to be safe for local youth.

BBPA board members and recipients of the 37th annual BBPA Harry Jerome Awards

The BBPA Harry Jerome Awards is recognized as one of the most prestigious national award galas in the African-Canadian Community.

"We seek out game-changers in all industries in our community, who have
paved the way for others to grow and excel and whose commitment to
improving our community is unwavering” says Marcia Bowen, chair of the
Harry Jerome Awards.

The media launch was paired with an advance screening of the new
feature-length documentary “Cool Black North,” produced by Second Time Around
Productions Inc., in association with Citytv.

The special two-hour presentation, which aired on February 22, explores the unique and vibrant Canadian Black Community and its role in the country’s contemporary identity.

“This is the real reason I am in the film industry. I'm obsessed with telling stories about what it is like to be authentically Black in Canada. ‘Cool Black North’ is a much overdue celebration of who we are and how we continue to contribute to
Canadian society and making it a great place to live,” said Alison Duke, director of the film.

She thanked the BBPA and Rogers, noting that it, “It’s one thing to make a film about black people but to share it with the world takes it to another level.”

Duke also underscored the importance of having people from the Black community before and behind the camera in the “telling of our story.” She was proud to have had some of the youth from a group of budding filmmakers her company mentors onboard working on “Cool Black North.” 
Alison Duke, director of the documentary, 'Cool Black North'

Through a series of intimate profiles, the documentary showcases the pathways of some past Harry Jerome Awards recipients to success and what they all share -- overcoming obstacles to succeed at the highest levels in their respective fields.

“Most importantly, it is their commitment to helping others and giving back
to their communities that has earned them the recognition of the Harry
Jerome Award recipient. These incredible people paint a diverse and
compelling portrait of excellence in the documentary ‘Cool Black North,’” says the BBPA.

“It’s been a privilege spending time with such amazing people and having an
opportunity to share some of their stories,” said Aiken Scherberger,
executive producer.

Spencer said in 2016 when she won the Harry Jerome award for business, Mayor John Tory said, on stage, that it was important that the awards ceremony be televised because people need to hear the positive accomplishments of the Black community.

She commended Tory for musing with his friend, Rice Brace, president of Rogers Media, and making the documentary a reality.

Mayor John Tory

Mayor Tory said one of the reasons why he wanted to try and find somebody who would step up and make sure that the story of the Harry Jerome Awards, the winners, and the stories of Black excellence in Toronto are told was because he had attended the awards for 15 years and at least 7 or 8 of those he had stood up and said that the evening should be televised. He hopes that every school will show the documentary.

Tory said the real tribute belongs to Brace who stepped out and did what he asked in an email and a subsequent telephone conversation.

Brace said “Cool Black North” was one year in the making and that Rogers was pleased to be involved in the telling of this story.

The BBPA also presents the BBPA National Scholarships donating in excess of $150,000 scholarships annually to over fifty-five black students.

“The BBPA exists for one purpose – to enable black businesses – because black businesses must succeed if we as a community are to rise above the systemic barriers that exist,” said Spencer.

She said one of the many reasons for black businesses to succeed and gain economic prosperity is that “we, black business owners, are sometimes the first employer that will hire a black person to give them the experience they need to better their economic situation for a brighter future.”

“The more we enable black businesses success is the more we’re able to secure a strong economic future of endless possibilities not only for youth but for the broader community as whole.”

Nadine Williams performing her poem 'We Belong' at the media launch of the 37th annual BBPA Harry Jerome Awards

The BBPA also holds the National Black Business Convention (NBBPC), alongside workshops and programs at the BBPA Centre of Excellence in downtown Toronto.

Monday, 25 February 2019

Photographs of Some Black History Month Events in the Greater Toronto Area

By Neil Armstrong

February -- Black History Month 2019 -- is coming to a close so I've selected some of the events I attended and captured in photos on my phone to share with you.

As usual, there were many events. These are only a few.

The Journey to Black Liberation Symposium, the Reflections of Love exhibition and the Black Liberation Ball were all part of Kuumba, Toronto's longest-running celebration of Black History Month at the Harbourfront Centre, Feb. 1&2. The symposium and ball were co-curated by Brandon Hay (Black Daddies Club/Toronto), Twysted Miyake Mugler (Toronto) and Michael Robertson Maasai Maison-Margiela (NYC).

The symposium was a series of conversations and workshops between various Black communities around the world with panels on race, politics, identity, love and belonging. The "What is Blackness? A conversation around race, politics and gender in the Black community" panel included: Sam Tecle, Nik Redman, Sarah Jama, Da'Shaun Harrison, Carvela Lee and the moderator was Yusra Khogali. The panelists for "What Are Black Fathers Teaching Their Sons About Love" were: Roger Dundas, David Miller, Troy Crossfield and Ed Gough Jr. with Andray Domise as the moderator.

The Black Liberation Ball was held at Longboat Hall and featured the legendary Renaldo Maurice Tisci, DJ Blackcat, Karim Olen Ash and more.

Journey to Black Liberation Symposium in the Studio Theatre, Harboufront Centre. Panelists left to right in the "Black People Being Honest: A Conversation About Monogamy, Polyamory and Black Love" discussion: Mark-Ché Devonish, Staxxxfacts, Kevin Patterson, Alicia Bunyan-Sampson, Tenika Bennett and Brandon Hay, moderator

A Different Booklist held the Black and Caribbean Book Affair at A Different Booklist Cultural Centre, Feb. 7-9.

Black and Caribbean Book Affair, from left to right are: Itah Sadu, Tea Mutonji, Simone Dalton and Clifton Joseph

Ndija Anderson-Yantha presenting her book, What Are You Gonna Do with that Hair?
Mayor John Tory's and Deputy Mayor Michael Thompson's Black History Month Reception was held at Toronto City Hall Member's Lounge on Feb. 8.

Khadijah Lopez, a graduate of the Remix Project, sings the anthems

Randell Adjei, author, inspiration speaker, arts educator and community leader performs his poetry

Jamaican Canadian Association's Boonoonoonos Brunch celebrating Miss Lou's 100, Feb. 10

Poets, Nadine Williams and Jermaine Cowie, performed at the Boonoonoonos Brunch at the Jamaican Canadian Centre

Elite Dance Troupe performs at the event to celebrate Miss Lou's 100th birthday

Marcia Brown, emcee, conducts a quiz with some of the guests

Olivia 'Babsy' Grange, Jamaica's Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment & Sport speaks at the event
The "Black Leadership, Partisan Politics & Social Activism" presented by the Jean Augustine Chair in Education, Community and Diaspora, was held at York University Feb. 8&9.

The Black Leadership & Partisan Politics panelists, left to right: Tiffany Gooch, Wendy Vincent, Adaoma Patterson and Yafet Tewelde. Moderaor, Yolande Davidson, is standing behind them
 The Peel United Cultural Partners' 18th annual Black History Month Concert was held at Century Gardens Recreation Centre in Brampton on Feb. 16. This is a collaboration of United Achievers' Club and the Congress of Black Women of Canada (Brampton Chapter).

Liberty Silver performs at the 18th annual Black History Month concert organized by Peel United Cultural Partners

Wakanda Is Now, a group from Durham, performs at the concert

Natasha Henry, president of the Ontario Black History Society, was the guest speaker

Some of the patrons at the Peel United Cultural Partner's 18th annual Black History Month concert

The media launch of the 37th annual BBPA Harry Jerome Awards was held on Feb. 19 in the Rogers Velma Theatre in Toronto.

Nadine Williams opens the media launch with her poem "We Belong"

CHFI's Darren Osborne and Cityline's Tracy Moore host the Harry Jerome Awards media launch and screening of the documentary, "Cool Black North"

Nadine Spencer, president of the Black Business and Professional Association

Mayor John Tory addressing the media launch

Members of the BBPA board of directors and recipients of the 37th annual Harry Jerome Awards. The awards ceremony will be held on APRIL 27 at The International Centre, 6900 Airport Road, Mississauga, Ontario.

Alison Duke, director of the documentary "Cool Black North"

Denise Jones, Exco Levi -- recipient of the Harry Jerome Award for entertainment, and Trevor Massey

Wednesday, 20 February 2019

Symposium Explores Black Leadership, Partisan Politics and Social Activism

By Neil Armstrong

Photo credit: Vanessa Thompson    A rapt audience at the 'Black Leadership, Partisan Politics & Social Activism' hosted by the Jean Augustine Chair in Education, Community & Diaspora at York University in Toronto

Community leaders, activists, academics and students recently gathered at York University in Toronto for the “Black Leadership, Partisan Politics & Social Activism” symposium to discuss the limitations and possibilities of political representation and social activism for advancing Black communities.

Organized by Professor Carl James, the Jean Augustine Chair in Education, Community & Diaspora, the two-day event held on February 8 and 9 kicked off with a conversation with professors David Austin of John Abbott College in Quebec and Amoaba Gooden of Kent State University in Ohio, facilitated by Professor Tamari Kitossa of Brock University.

The Chair aims to advance access, equity and inclusivity to education through community engagement and collaborative action.

While some may be critical of the tactics of some Black Canadian activists, James believes different voices, approaches and tactics are needed to help advance Black communities.

“As we look throughout history, people have used different means to get the conversation going and to bring about the social change they need. The Black community is not any less in doing so,” says James.

 “Our community is diverse with people having different political approaches to issues. We need to engage everyone and accept the fact that there are different approaches to get where we need to go.”

There were two panels on the second day, each exploring different themes – “Black Leadership & Partisan Politics” and “Black Leadership & Social Activism.”

Tiffany Gooch, public affairs consultant, says conversations like these are happening across the country in smaller communities.

Her main message was that “we’re conscious of the power we have and the work that we’ve been able to do, and that in some ways there are regions of our country that still need that help and how we can share those promising practices and help others build capacity.”

She says wellness is also important while doing this work underscoring “caring for our health and our mental health, and really caring for others through that knowing all of the different pressures that we have in what we’re doing.”

Yafet Tewelde, a PhD candidate, Social & Political Thought at York University and a community organizer, thinks the call has to be “how do we push our people to go out and build up those numbers.”

“While I’m running I’m hoping that my run can also be something that is also encouraging that kind of work. That is the work to me,” says Tewelde, who is seeking the nomination for the NDP in York South Weston in October’s federal election.

He believes the leadership must come from the masses and the building of powerbases will not happen unless there is actual work on the ground -- not on social media.

“What I’m really focusing on is building a base in York South Weston that can be mobilized to support the candidates in York South Weston, that can be mobilized to stand up for issues that whoever is in office or whoever the so-called powerbrokers are have to respond. That’s really what the goal is.”

Seated left to right: Tiffany Gooch, Wendy Vincent, Adaoma Patterson and Yafet Tewelde. Standing behind them is Yolande Davidson

Wendy Vincent, director of communications of Operation Black Vote Canada, emphasized that elected officials, regardless of skin colour, are accountable.

“If we do not have black agendas in the person of a black leader being pushed forward or being articulated we could still hold our other officials accountable and hold their feet to the fire as black people because we voted for them. We’re paying their salaries, we are paying for them to be in our communities by way of constituency days, by way of town halls, there’s accountability there.”

Vincent says the themes of the symposium are part of the larger conversation about black civic engagement.

“We, black people, can feel left out but we need to remind people and keep it present for people about how we can be at the table, how our conversations can be and stay on the table, and push our agendas as black communities forward.”

Adaoma Patterson, president of the Jamaican Canadian Association, noted that political leadership is not just about being a candidate or being elected but that there is a big mechanism behind a candidate.

“As a community, we need to focus on being part of the entire pipeline of the formal electoral process – riding associations, presidents of associations, the strategic policy positions within parties, all those key decision-making positions that many of us aren’t even aware of.”

She says political leadership is also about the organizing done at the grassroots level for informal community organizations.

“We have a role to play as a community in organizing, in expanding the definition of leadership, thinking about what a leader is – even just that whole assumption that we have to wait for somebody who is famous to be a leader -- that it’s more than that.”

Patterson says in the last couple of years more people have engaged in the formal process, which is good, but there’s a whole mechanism and areas in which the community is not participating as fully.

“Times are difficult and as much as governments say the economy is great, our people, particularly people who are marginalized, who are poor, hustling, working two and three jobs they don’t see the connection between their lives and the things that are happening and the decision-makers so there’s a divide,” she notes.

In terms of the political process and parties, Patterson thinks it’s a bit of a closed shop because parties don’t really talk about the opportunities to become involved and to push for change.

Gooch, Tewelde, Vincent and Patterson where panelists in the morning discussion about black leadership and partisan politics moderated by Yolande Davidson, director of the Jamaican Canadian Association.

The afternoon panel about black leadership and social activism included Valarie Steele, an activist and community organizer of the Black Action Defense Committee; Sandra Hudson, founder of Black Lives Matter Toronto: Anthony Morgan, a lawyer and activist; and Desmond Cole, an activist and freelance journalist. The moderator was Sam Tecle, PhD candidate, Sociology at York University.

Steele says the Black community survived and is surviving because of activism and advocacy.

“It has to be there because no one has yet apologized to us for slavery and trying to make it right so there can be no absolution without contrition. Until that happens and the field is level -- which I’m sure that’s not going to happen in my lifetime -- we have to continue to fight, and fighting intelligently.”

She says activism is a vital part of allowing the Black community to survive “because I am not ever going to believe that we are not prosperous. We are a very prosperous community and in spite of being held back in so many ways, in income, in job security, we still continue to climb.”

 Steele says there will always be the resisters and the beneficiaries but it’s a great combination because “as we resist chances are some of the things we’re fighting for we don’t really necessarily want it ourselves but we want it for our community.”

Photo credit: Vanessa Thompson    Seated left to right are: Valarie Steele, Sandra Hudson, Desmond Cole and Anthony Morgan

Hudson noted that there are many assumptions out there about partisan politics and social activism being mutually exclusive.

“I don’t think that that’s true and I think there’s a lot of assumptions to work through that I think people might be surprised to hear how often things actually need to overlap in order for us to be successful.”

She believes that “each of us wherever we’re working from needs to have an appreciation for one another – from one another’s position and the connections that we have as a result of where we’re working and how we’re working on making change for our communities.”

Hudson thinks there are many reasons for the assumptions about partisan politics and social activism being mutually exclusive.

“I think one of those reasons that really concern me is that it sometimes benefits people in power who are not from our community to make it seem like there is no way for us to connect if we’re involved in partisan politics with people who are involved in social activism.”

She thinks that the party establishment, at times, or people who are in power who are not part of Black communities don’t want to be pushed too hard and so make it seem that one group is reasonable and another unreasonable thus pitting them against each other.

“We have to make sure that when we’re hearing those critiques we’re asking: where is it coming from, is it really coming from our community, is it coming from an outsider community, and why do people want that to be the prevailing thought about the different people who are involved.”

The symposium had Morgan, thinking about the continuities of resistance and the ways in which underground community organizing, advocacy and engagement have led to some of the most significant developments and policy changes within Canada.

He reflected on the Black Action Defense Committee and its agitations and collective mobilization of Black communities ultimately leading to Ontario adopting its first modern policing legislation with police oversight.

Morgan notes that it wasn’t perfect but that’s not because of their advocacy as there were other forces that were involved that made it so.

The event also brought to his mind the 1992 Yonge Street uprising and how that led to the strengthening of the Anti-Racism Directorate, to the African Canadian Legal Clinic, and a host of other initiatives that were meant to support the healthy development of Black communities. 

He says many of these were subsequently wiped out by the Mike Harris government, and a fast-forward to the present finds him working at the City of Toronto in the Confronting Anti-Black Racism Unit.

Morgan says the catalytic moment was Black Lives Matter and their protest at the Toronto police headquarters in 2016, which took the city by surprise, though it shouldn’t have.

“It forced the city to really take seriously what’s happening with Black communities in a way that it had not before, and so I think about those continuities between the resistance on the ground and how it leads to structures for policy change and program implementation for Black communities.”

Morgan says resistance and the building within communities have to continue.

“I think that’s the biggest message because this government too shall pass and so we have to -- but not by hoping and praying -- but through advocacy, organizing and continuing that tradition.”

Cole said the symposium is important for him because activism has become a part of his life as a journalist and a writer.

 “I can’t really do my work thinking and talking about issues of black life without also having a direction for action, for actions that I can take and that other people can take, big and small, in our communities on a regular basis.”

He says activism is not just about holding a sign in the street. While it can be that, it is also a gathering, like the symposium, where people can talk about politics and challenge each other politically.

This is a form of necessary activism and a prerequisite for good organizing in our community, he says.

“When we’re talking about what kinds of issues we organize around, why we pick those issues, why we don’t do other things, why we choose or not choose to align with political parties we’re paving a ground for better understanding amongst one another to then do more effective work.”

He says he does not like the political system but participation of some sort in it is a necessary evil although he does not think it is the answer.

 “I certainly don’t think that voting and electing governments and trying to hold them accountable is the panacea. It’s not as though if we were able to control a larger share of a political party, for example, that I believe that all kinds of things would start to change for us. I do organize around elections, I do encourage people to vote but for me the majority, the lion’s share of the work is not about that. There are people whose day-to-day lives are in a state where participating in formal political process is not their priority and I don’t blame them.”

Photo credit: Vanessa Thompson Panelists of the 'Black Leadership & Social Activism' discussion - Valarie Steele, Sandra Hudson, Desmond Cole and Anthony Morgan -- reacts to closing remarks from Jean Augustine

Cole is a proponent of organizing in workplaces, universities and colleges and around various matters, including healthcare.

“We have to have our own organizing base so that when the time comes for things like elections we can poll them, we can influence them and not the other way around.”

Professor Kitossa says these events open up space for having conversations about different types of leadership.

“We can engage mothers, siblings, fathers, into a conversation that what they’re doing at home advocating for their children, that too is a form of leadership because they are the first example for the youth who are going to become the formal leaders of organizations and in formal politics for tomorrow.”

 He says these conversations can expand to “how we talk about leadership to leaderships” and more people can be invited into realizing that they are actually doing leadership every day.

One of the core messages from his conversation with Professors Austin and Gooden concerns young people that are PhD students working in universities and the challenges that they face, in terms of doing community work, and what that means for their ability to complete their own graduate work.

“We had a conversation about how do we effectively resource and how do we put pressure on administrations and universities to ensure that Black and African Canadian students have access to the resources that enable them to do the altruistic work in community, but which also helps them to have access to resources that enable them to complete their programs.”

Kitossa said these students are taking on work that their white colleagues and peers don’t have to do.

Photo credit: Vanessa Thompson   Jean Augustine in whose honour the Jean Augustine Chair in Education, Community & Diaspora is named speaks at the symposium

Meanwhile, in preparation for the October federal election Operation Black Vote Canada recently launched “Dinner and Politics” in Ottawa and will do so at a later date in Toronto.

The focus of the campaign is to encourage small or large groups of Black Canadians to host a dinner sometime in the next three months, so between February 3 and May 3, and talk about their political intention for 2019, says Gooch.

There are kits on OBVC’s website to learn how to be a host and the hope is that what happens at these dinners turns into political action.

As it usually does prior to an election, the JCA will hold a workshop for candidates and for the people involved in their campaign to get them understanding what to do regarding fundraising, the key ingredients that make a successful campaign, when do they have to start and how far in advance, says Patterson.

The association will organize this in June or July in the lead-up to the federal election.

Saturday, 9 February 2019

Emerging Black Women Writers Chart Their Course in Canadian Literature

By Neil Armstrong

Left-right: Clifton Joseph in conversation with Téa Mutonji and Simone Dalton at the Black and Caribbean Book Affair at A Different Booklist Cultural Centre in Toronto.

Two of Toronto’s dynamic emerging black women writers were featured at the Black and Caribbean Book Affair organized by A Different Booklist to celebrate Black History Month.

Simone Dalton and Téa Mutonji, who studied and specialize in nonfiction, were in conversation with award-winning dub poet, journalist and broadcaster Clifton Joseph at A Different Booklist Cultural Centre in Toronto on February 8.

Dalton, who is sometimes published as Simone Makeba Dalton, is a writer and social change communicator.

She holds an MFA from the University of Guelph, where she received the Constance Rooke and Board of Graduate Studies Research Scholarships.

Her work has been published in the anthologies The Unpublished City: Volume I and Black Writers Matter -- an anthology of African Canadian creative non-fiction featuring works from established and emerging writers edited by Whitney French -- which will be launched at the Harbourfront Centre on February 20. 

Dalton will be on stage in a discussion at the Black History Month event presented by the International Festival of Authors and Kuumba.

The Unpublished City: Volume I was a 2018 Toronto Book Awards finalist curated by renowned poet, author and professor, Dionne Brand.

Dalton is currently working on her first play for production with RARE Theatre Company.
The world premiere of the company’s “Welcome to My Underworld” features “nine blazing hot works written and performed by new Canadian dramatists with gate-crashing ideas, delicious poetry and unique characters woven into a spectacular journey to the Underworld, in search of the self.”

“These hot new Canadian dramatists bring gatecrashing ideas, serious politics, and fresh bracing language to the stage. They have created current, compelling characters never seen on our stages before, showing us how the very concept of human identity is shifting,” notes a description of the production on Soulpepper’s website. 

The black artists included are: Dalton, a queer Trinidadian-Canadian playwright, and Samson Brown, a self-described, Jamal Of All Hustles, with a primary focus on trans advocacy and the arts.

“Welcome to My Underworld” runs from May 8 to 25 at Soulpepper in Toronto.

Dalton lives in Toronto and was born and raised in Trinidad and Tobago where she established the Esther Dalton Foundation —a non-profit  steelpan music initiative - in honour of her mother.

Itah Sadu with Téa Mutonji, Simone Dalton and Clifton Joseph

Mutonji , who was born in Congo, is a writer and poet in Scarborough. She has been awarded and published by The Scarborough Fair in fiction and nonfiction and by the Ontario Book Publishers as Scarborough's emerging writer.

 Mutonji has been published or is forthcoming in Joyland Magazine, The Puritan, Bad Nudes, Minola Review, Temz Review and Train Poetry Journal.

She was the recipient of the Jasun Singh Memorial Award in Creative Writing from The University of Toronto Scarborough.

Her essay, “Street by Street - Anecdotes to My Mother,” was featured in The Unpublished City II published by BookThug and co-edited by Dionne Brand, Canisia Lubrin and Phoebe Wang.

She was awarded the inaugural mentorship and publication opportunity with VS. Books. Her debut collection, Shut Up, You're Pretty, will be out in April. 

Mutonji studied a minor in creative writing at the University of Toronto Scarborough, where she focused primarily on poetry and nonfiction.

“My background is, in fact, in poetry, fiction being a new area of interest for me,” she says.

Beyond her forthcoming book, she is working on a poetry collection tentatively called 2018 and a novel, tentatively called, Love Poem To A Stripper

In their pieces in The Unpublished City collections, there is a recurring theme of lettering. They both also have stories that introspect the relationship between daughter and mother.

Mutonji said writing professionally “just happened.” “I was at the right place at the right the time.”

She said Scarborough has always been a character in her life. When her family immigrated to Canada in 1999 they lived in Scarborough and subsequently moved to Oshawa but Mutonji returned to her first neighbourhood in 2012.

For Dalton, her writing started when she was trying to figure out a number of changes happening in her life. These included coping with her mother’s death, being in a new same-sex relationship and trying to understand her place in the world.

Dalton says in some way she is in everything that she puts out – she describes her work as autobiographical fiction.

Joseph, a founding member of the dub poetry movement in Canada, has performed extensively in North America, Britain and the Caribbean.

He is the author of a book of poems, Metropolitan Blues, an album of poetry and music, Oral Trans/missions, and the video, Pimps. His poems have been included in numerous audio and written anthologies.