Wednesday, 20 March 2019

Jamaican Appointed James Robinson Johnston Chair in Black Canadian Studies

By Neil Armstrong

Photo contributed  Dr. OmiSoore H. Dryden, James Robinson Johnston (JRJ) Chair in Black Canadian Studies at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia

A Jamaican Canadian scholar has been named the new James Robinson Johnston (JRJ) Chair in Black Canadian Studies at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Dr. OmiSoore H. Dryden is an interdisciplinary scholar working at the intersections of health science, social science and humanities.

The Chair, which will be located in the Faculty of Medicine's Department of Community Health & Epidemiology, is a six-year appointment, effective May 1, 2019.

The James Robinson Johnston Chair in Black Canadian Studies is an endowed national senior academic chair, established in Halifax to honour and recognize the unique historical presence of African Nova Scotians.

“How do cultural and historical notions about medicine and racial bias in the health and medical system shape the health prospects of Black people and the society as a whole?” asks Dr. Dryden.

“Public health discourse have, at times, framed the body as dangerous, with some bodies presumed to be more prone to risk and vulnerability to disease; and thus pose a greater danger to the rest of society. My research seeks to understand how the interlocking systems of oppression (through racism, gender, and sexuality) influence the health experiences of Black people in Canada,” says Dr. Dryden in the official announcement of her new role published on Dalhousie’s website on February 14.

Dr. Dryden earned her PhD in Social Justice Education from the Ontario Institute for the Study of Education and the University of Toronto, where her dissertation examined how blood donation rules discriminate against certain populations. 

She has served as an assistant professor and Chair of the Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Department at Thorneloe University (Ontario) and as a visiting professor in the Faculty of Community Services at Ryerson University.

The academician immigrated to London, Ontario with her mother, Veronica Dryden, of Kingsvale, Hanover in 1968.

Her appointment marks the second time that a Jamaican Canadian scholar has been the JRJ Chair in Black Canadian Studies and the fourth holder of the Chair.

It follows the tenure of Dr. Afua Cooper, a scholar, poet and author who is originally from Westmoreland and served in that position in the Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology from 2011 to 2017. Her goal was to raise the profile of African Nova Scotian history to Nova Scotians and Canadians.

"I'm thrilled to be appointed the new JRJ Chair, and to be given this great opportunity to work closely with African Nova Scotian communities, and my colleagues in Community Health & Epidemiology. I appreciate the trailblazing work of Dr. Cooper and the generous commitments made by the Faculty of Medicine.  I'm excited about the many opportunities for university-community engagements and building on, and expanding, the contributions made by Black and African Canadian people in the fields of medical and health studies, research, and education," says Dr. Dryden. 

Dr. Esmeralda Thornhill, the first J.R.J Chair, was appointed to the Faculty of Law in 1996. The second chair holder was Professor David Divine who was appointed in January 2004 to the School of Social Work in the Faculty of Health Professions. 

Photo credit: Thorneloe University
Dr. OmiSoore H. Dryden addresses an Intro to Women and Gender Studies class in 2014

Dr. Dryden's research has been published in various peer-reviewed journals and books. She has been a Researcher-In-Residence with the Ontario HIV Treatment Network, and has received research grants from Canadian Blood Services and the Public Health Agency of Canada.

In announcing the appointment, Dr. David Anderson, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine said Dr. Dryden will help the Faculty of Medicine strengthen Dalhousie's institutional priorities to enhance diversity, foster community outreach, and build a health research mandate that is collaborative, interdisciplinary and nationally recognized.

The hiring followed the standard academic search committee process, with representation from the Dalhousie Black Faculty Caucus and black student representation. 

The community presentation asked of each candidate also played an important part: The Delmore “Buddy” Daye Learning Institute (DBDLI), in its capacity as the Africentric education and research Institute, and in partnership with Dalhousie University, hosted an African Nova Scotian Community Meet & Greet with each of the three candidates last fall. 

In this open forum, the public had an opportunity to meet the candidates and talk about their research and community health needs. 

Established in 1991, the Chair connects local black communities with a national and international perspective. Its goal is to develop Black studies in Canada, develop a program of research on Black peoples in Canada, and the African Diaspora, and create bridges between academia and the wider African descended communities.

James Robinson Johnston (1876-1915) was the first African Nova Scotian to earn a Dalhousie degree (Bachelor of Letters, 1896), the first African Nova Scotian to graduate from any university, and the first Black lawyer to practice in Nova Scotia.

[This story has been published in the North American Weekly Gleaner, March 21-27, 2019.]

Panel Examines Impact of the Legalization of Cannabis on Caribbean Communities

By Neil Armstrong

From left: Dwayne Brown, 2018 Urban Hero Award winner; Donisha Prendergast, social activist/actor/filmmaker; and Sheena Rampersad of Campaign for Cannabis Amnesty. On the screen is Nazma Muller of Caribbean Collective for Justice at a panel discussion at Ryerson University in Toronto on March 7, 2019

There are differing views about what lies ahead for Caribbean communities in Canada and in the region in the wake of the legalization of recreational cannabis.

These came to the fore at “Dey Legalize It: Now What?” – a panel discussion on how the legalization of cannabis in Canada has affected Caribbean communities – organized by the Caribbean Studies program at Ryerson University in Toronto on March 7.

The panel included: social activist, actor and filmmaker, Donisha Prendergast; Nazma Muller of Caribbean Collective for Justice; Sheena Rampersad of Campaign for Cannabis Amnesty; and Dwayne Brown, 2018 Urban Hero Award winner. The moderator was Kevin Edmonds, a PhD candidate in political science at the University of Toronto.

“Caribbean communities, both in Canada and in the region, were deeply affected by the illegality of cannabis. Now that it is legalized in Canada, what lies ahead for these communities?” asked organizers.

Providing a historical perspective, Brown noted that 500,000 Canadians have been convicted for the possession of recreational cannabis.

Prendergast said the criminalization of cannabis has destabilized individuals who moved here to a new country and further destabilized families because fathers and children were taken out of Caribbean homes. She said no one focuses on the impact that this has had on the women in these homes.

The social activist noted that 60 per cent of Caribbean children are in state care and that there are also concerns of about how criminalization of ganja affects one’s mental health.

She said the demonization of ganja, which is a cultural thing, results in an identity crisis for individuals.

Rampersad said black, brown and indigenous people were disproportionately criminalized for their use of cannabis. She noted that 53 per cent of the women convicted are black, brown and indigenous.

“The industry has taken off and left us in the dust,” she said, underscoring that she is shunned at Caribbean events in Toronto when people find out that she is advocating for cannabis amnesty.

Rampersad said there are many entry-level things happening and it is about “who you know.”

She wants to give access to people who look like her and to encourage them to “join the fight, stand up against injustice and get in the industry.”

Regarding the federal government’s recent announcement of a pardon for those charged with cannabis possession, she said that does not go far enough as it will still affect their ability to get jobs, travel and adopt children.
On March 1, the Government of Canada introduced Bill C-93 which proposes to allow Canadians who have been previously convicted only of simple cannabis possession to apply for a pardon (also known as a record suspension) with no application fee or wait period, once their sentence has been served.
“Bill C-93 will reduce barriers to reintegration for these individuals by allowing them greater access to job opportunities, educational programs, housing, and even the ability to simply volunteer in their communities,” it said.
However, Campaign for Cannabis Amnesty is calling for the expungement of convictions which is something different from a pardon, she said.

Explaining the difference between a pardon and an expungement, the government said, “The purpose of a pardon is to reduce barriers to reintegration by facilitating access to job opportunities, educational programs, housing, and even the ability to simply volunteer in their communities. Suspended criminal records can only be disclosed by the Minister of Public Safety in exceptional circumstances, and would not normally be disclosed when a background check is conducted, such as for employment, housing, a passport or a loan.”
It noted that, “Expungement is an extraordinary measure reserved for cases where the criminalization of the activity in question and the law never should have existed, such as in cases where it violated the Charter. If an application for expungement is approved, records of that conviction are permanently destroyed from federal databases.”

Joining in the panel discussion on Skype, Muller, who is from Trinidad and Tobago but based in Kingston, Jamaica said in her home country people are serving in the  underground economy.

She described the cost of ganja in Trinidad as ridiculous noting that weed comes in from Venezuela and someone can be fined $100 US and the cost for marijuana is $10US.

Muller said the Afro-Caribbean, Afro-Trinidadian and Afro-Jamaican are the ones mainly penalized for their use of ganja.

Prendergast said it is madness that local ganja farmers were locked up recently in Jamaica while Canadian companies are benefiting.

She thinks it is “slavery that they want to bring back” noting that by law “the Rastafarian community is not allowed to sell our sacrament.”

“If we’re not going to participate in their legal framework then we can’t participate in it. The Rastafarian community ganja is the safest out there right now,” she said.

Prendergast noted that when Canada legalized recreational cannabis she was asked by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) for a reaction to the move. Her reply was that, “It isn’t relevant to us so why would we be celebrating.”

She noted that the Indigenous community in Canada has been doing their own thing and she encouraged the creation of “new models for our own existence” instead of following colonial sentiments.

Prendergast said Canada has created the model for that to happen in the Caribbean region because Canada has people from around the world.

Muller said Jamaica has the best brand of ganja in the world and Trinidad has the technology and infrastructure so both countries can work together to make this a reality regionally.

[This story has been published in the North American Weekly Gleaner, March 21-27, 2019.]

Fitness and Wellness Professional Andre Rose Launches His New Book

By Neil Armstrong
Photo contributed    Andre Rose, author of Buns of Steel: The Unstoppable Pursuit of Fitness

The grandparents of fitness and wellness professional, Andre Rose, had a profound influence on his life.

Learning sewing skills from his grandmother landed him his first job while a high school student and watching his grandfather – the only male in the house in which he grew up – deal with prostate cancer led to his pursuit of fitness and a focus on men’s health.

His grandfather died in 1992 but Rose still remembers his battle with cancer and will launch his first book, Buns of Steel: The Unstoppable Pursuit of Fitness, in Toronto on March 21, as a tribute to him and the men he is driven to help.

The book shares Rose’s remarkable journey into the world of fitness but also introduces the urgency he sees in the necessity for men to be healthy to stave off medical issues such as prostate cancer and diabetes.

Drawing from his lived experience and that of his family, the author offers insight into what makes him such an enthusiast for living a transformative life.

“You can become inspired too to make fitness your unstoppable pursuit,” he says.

Rose, who was born in Manchester, Jamaica and immigrated to Canada in 2011, has been an entrepreneur since April 2015 when he started his underwear brand, Steele – a luxurious bamboo fibre underwear.

When he is not immersed in fitness training, promoting his brand, and waxing philosophical on social media, Rose is usually out and about enjoying life in Toronto.

“As a young boy growing up in Jamaica, daily life was a very physical experience; we walked for miles to get to school, church, and other places. Although fitness was natural, many men did not take their health seriously resulting in prostate cancer, diabetes, alcoholism, and other chronic illnesses,” he says.

Buns of Steel: The Unstoppable Pursuit of Fitness shines the spotlight on the importance of men taking charge of their health.

“It highlights a comprehensive review of how we can transform our bodies. In fact, when shifting or changing any aspect of our lives, the act of getting started is by far the most challenging stage. That mindset change kick-starts the physical process that generates considerable momentum, which in turn improves our lifestyle. Once that momentum is kept, you will soon experience impressive results.”

Rose, who is also a motivational speaker and fun-loving person, is passionate about health and self-development.

While a student at Knox Community College in Mandeville in the parish of Manchester, Jamaica, Rose worked in a dressmaking factory using the skills he learned from his grandmother who was a seamstress.

At 21, he started working in retail and it was his manager’s decision to send all employees to the gym to increase production that ignited his love of fitness. It changed his perception of life.

In 2007, Rose earned a diploma in marketing and sales after attending night school. A year later, he was promoted to retail buyer which prepared him for starting Steele, his company.

After several years, he noticed that he looked just as good as the models on the men’s underwear package so he decided to move to Canada to become an underwear model. In 2011, Rose arrived in Toronto, Ontario to follow his dream.

Although modelling agencies told him that he was too short to be a model, he did not let that faze him and became a fitness model from 2012 to 2015.

In 2013, Rose competed as a professional body builder and won in the novice category. That same year, he read the book, Think and Grow Rich, by Napoleon Hill, an American self-help author, and hence resolved that he could become an underwear model by starting his own underwear company.  Two years later, while working full-time the ebullient entrepreneur founded his small business, Steele, with markets here in Canada and internationally.

As his thighs became more muscular, the crotch of his pants would wear out fairly quickly. Curious about what underwear fabric would prevent this, Rose found that bamboo absorbs moisture, is sustainable, and is an eco-friendly fibre.  The underwear, which is made with bamboo, helps the pants slide easier and makes it more durable.

Over the last two years, Rose has partnered with the Toronto firefighters by donating supplies of Steele underwear to help raise funds for the Princess Margaret Hospital Cancer Society.

The underwear ensures a comfortable, luxurious and sexy feel. The full line of the brand can be seen at the online store,

Buns of Steel: The Unstoppable Pursuit of Fitness will be launched on Thursday, March 21, 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. at Brunswick Bierworks, 25 Curity Avenue in Toronto.

On July 13, 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. he will have a book signing at Indigo Chapters in the Manulife Centre, 55 Bloor Street West in Toronto.

The book is published by 10-10-10 Publishing, which is based in Markham, Ontario. The book is available at and at

You can find out more about Andre Rose at:

Linkedin: Andre Rose
Instagram: @roseandre9
Facebook: Andre Rose buns of steel 

Friday, 15 March 2019

New Exhibition Showcases Black Queer Toronto in the Eighties and Nineties

By Neil Armstrong

Photo credit: Yvette Barnes   Courtnay McFarlane and Yvette Barnes at Legacies in Motion: Black Queer Toronto Archival Project - See We Yah!

Courtnay McFarlane, a Toronto-based visual artist, poet and community worker says “Legacies in Motion: Black Queer Toronto Archival Project – See We Yah!” an exhibition he has curated for the Myseum Intersections 2019 festival, was inspired by a presentation he heard in 2017.

McFarlane was listening to Ajamu Ikwe-Tyehimba, a London-based art photographer, archive curator and visual activist who was talking about his work documenting the lives and experiences of Black LGBTQ people in the UK at OCAD University in 2017, when the thought crossed his mind that he could do the same here in Toronto.

Collaborating with friends, networks and the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives he made it a reality as part of Myseum’s Intersections 2019 festival of art, culture and intersectionality.

This year’s theme, Revisionist Toronto, “revisits and re-imagines some of the dominant narratives that shape our understanding of the city. Projects featured in this year’s festival explore lost or hidden stories that have been paved over and forgotten, and seek to reclaim important perspectives from Toronto’s past.”

 As a founding member of a number of Black queer groups and organizations in the early 1980s and 1990s, such as Zami, Sepia and AYA Men, McFarlane was involved in the vanguard of activism in this city.

They provided voice and visibility for Black LGBTQ2 individuals and issues, he said.

“During those years, we were actively engaged in challenging oppression and discrimination through political activism, as well as the creation of spaces of resistance, affirmation and creative expression. This activism in many ways laid the foundation for events, organizations and movements addressing Black LGBTQ2 communities today,” says McFarlane in an interview in Xtra! in February.

The exhibition unearths the stories of the vibrant period of political organizing and cultural activism from the Black LGBTQ communities in Toronto in the 1980s and 1990s.

The opening reception for the exhibition was held last night at Black Artists’ Networks Dialogue (BAND) in Parkdale attracting many patrons to the two-storey historic brick building. DJ Blackcat, who has played at many Black LGBTQ events over that period, was on the wheels of steel providing some classic House, Soul, Funk and other genres at the event.

When one enters the building, McFarlane ensures that the curatorial statement welcomes visitors.

“The title of Zami’s 1986 newsletter from which this exhibition takes its title, See We Yah! doesn’t neatly translate from Jamaican patois to just “see us here”. It has multiple readings. It’s an imperative -- a demand to be seen and recognized – an assertion of our presence. It is a challenge, to those seeking confrontation, to bring it on. In a gesture, it could be the palm of the hand slapping one’s chest in a defiant standing of ground. See We Yah can also be an invitation, a welcome to join, be part of and among others in a group, a family, a movement. See We Yah is at once a calling out, and a bringing in, a beckoning to those seeking safety, belonging, and home.

“See We Yah, both then and now, counters absence, erasure and ‘isms and ‘phobias. The exhibition is an assertion of presence and a claim to visibility. It documents our love and our efforts to, as one contributor described it, change the world and “make our own lights shine”,” notes the curatorial statement.

The exhibit opens on the ground floor with reminders of political activism and social justice causes – the credo of De Poonani Posse, volunteers of the Black Coalition for AIDS Prevention (Black CAP) at the Walk for AIDS, Black gay and lesbian publications, posters of various events, t-shirts with slogans, hats with Adinkra symbols, and banners.

There’s even the programme of the memorial service held for a loved one on display.

The black-and-white photos on the walls boldly capture the love, pride and joy of the people in them. 

Just up the stairs are two rooms – one with posters of publications and events, and literature pertaining to Black LGBTQ2 lives, and just outside the other room sits a display case with a copy of  a Zami newsletter, the AYA Men banner and other mementos.

Inside the other room are photos, posters and photo albums of various social events, whether they are parties at The Red Spot, Blockorama during the annual Pride Toronto Festival, presentations, outdoor events or excursions.

Visitors can sit at a table in the centre look through three or four albums capturing ordinary moments yet history-making in the statements they make about the Black queer communities then, and the possibilities for now. 

Legacies in Motion: Black Queer Toronto Archival Project -- See We Yah! runs until April 7 and is complemented by dialogue sessions with artists Grace Channer and Syrus Marcus Ware on Sunday, March 17, 3:00-4:00 p.m. exploring Art and Activism, and on Sunday, March 24 the dialogue with Douglas Stewart and Sebastiao Dinguana-Sivuilu will examine HIV and AIDS – Then and Now.

The gallery hours at BAND are: Thursday-Saturday, 12:00 p.m.-6:00 p.m. and Sunday, 1:00 p.m.-5:00 p.m. BAND is located at 19 Brock Avenue in Toronto's west end.

Thursday, 14 March 2019

Ryerson University Honours Black Women at Viola Desmond Awards

By Neil Armstrong

Photo credit: Clifton Li   From left: Brianna Glanville-Forrest, Stephanie Croisiere, Christina (T.NA) Smith, Dr. Karline Wilson-Mitchell, Anny-Aysei Ineza and Josiah Taylor representing his mother, Amanda (Amiga) Taylor Wheatle at the 11th annual Viola Desmond Awards ceremony at Ryerson University on March 4, 2019

Ryerson University has honoured six Black Canadian women for their extraordinary achievements at the institution and in the community at its 11th annual Viola Desmond Awards ceremony. Each received an award bearing the name of a prominent Black Canadian leader.

Among the recipients are Dr. Karline Wilson-Mitchell, director, School of Midwifery who received the Dr. Dorothy Wills Ryerson Faculty Award; and Christina (T.NA) Smith, a 4th year student pursuing a Bachelor of Arts, Professional Communications, who received the Dr. Sylvia D. Hamilton Ryerson Student Award and a $500 bursary.

The others were: Brianna Glanville-Forrest, Vaughan Secondary School, recipient of the Viola Desmond High School Award; Stephanie Croisiere, Master’s Degree in Public Policy and Administration copped Dr. Beverly Mascoll Ryerson Alumni Award; and Amanda (Amiga) Taylor Wheatle, student health & well-being navigator, Faculty of Communication and Design received the Violet King Henry Ryerson Staff Award.

Anny-Aysel Ineza, a 4th year student pursuing financial mathematics, received
the Viola Desmond Bursary which offers financial support for a Ryerson student who exemplifies success and involvement at the university and in the local community.

“It gives me the motivation to continue working hard to advocate for my students and doing the research that has to do with equity being infused into our education,” says Dr. Wilson-Mitchell about being the recipient of the award named after Dr. Wills who was born in Dominica and emigrated from there to Canada eventually becoming the first black female dean in the country.

Having practiced midwifery since 1992, Dr. Wilson-Mitchell said she fell in love with maternal newborn healthcare at the first birth she saw as a nursing student.

“I really was inspired by the nurse who was doing the rotation and supervising me who happened to have been trained as a midwife in Scotland. She was a Jamaican immigrant, British-trained in Scotland and she seemed to be able to second-guess everybody. She was intuitive, she knew her stuff; she was very intelligent.”

That nurse was Maisie Terolong who worked at East General Hospital (now Michael Garron Hospital) and has long retired.

Wilson-Mitchell realized that there was a way of advocating for women’s health and for all the concerns she had about social justice and culturally sensitive care through midwifery.

At the time being young and a change agent she did not want a sedentary job; she wanted one in which she was active and very athletic. Now, thirty years later, she laughingly asks herself what was she thinking.

Wilson-Mitchell was born in Linstead, St. Catherine in Jamaica to a mother who was a nurse and a father who was an accountant. Her late father’s family was from Claremont, St. Ann and her mother’s family from St. Mary.

Her mother, who came to Canada with a 3-year-and-6-month-old Karline, is now retired and lives in St. Mary.

The director has been on the Midwifery Education Program faculty at Ryerson University since 2008 and supports and mentors in the Chang School’s International Midwifery Preregistration Program.  

Photo credit: Clifton Li    Dr. Karline Wilson-Mitchell, recipient of the Dr. Dorothy Wills Ryerson Faculty Award, and Dr. Annette Bailey at the 11th annual Viola Desmond Awards ceremony at Ryerson University

She previously taught in the Nursing Program at Florida International University, Miami and preceptored for the Midwifery Program at the University of Miami.  She has practiced in Florida, North Carolina, Georgia and Ontario both in large hospital-run midwifery practices and private clinic -based practices. 

Wilson-Mitchell did her masters at the University of Miami which was a culture shock for her going to a new country on the heels of Liberty City riots in Miami in 1980.

She said she realized how fortunate she was to have been brought up in Canada and to have lived in a place where education and healthcare are considered a right, not a luxury or a privilege.

She partnered with the University of the West Indies and the Victoria Jubilee Hospital where Dr. Rudolph Stevens, the chief of obstetrics, had set up an innovative adolescents-centred clinic where antenatal and postpartum care was in a separate room.

He made connections and networks with nutrition companies so that they would have a nutritional drink because these young women were waiting for hours for an appointment.

They would have individualized instruction from nutritionists, from those who were trying to teach parenting skills and various things to try to meet their needs as new mothers.

“And contrary to popular belief and some of the stigma that they go through and just the mess and stereotype we found that one-fifth of the girls that we studied as we were doing the research at both Spanish Town Hospital and at Jubilee, one-fifth of them had been the victim of forced sexual contact, violence and child abuse.”

 She said they are not choosing to become mothers and there is a lack of knowledge and ignorance about physiology and how one gets pregnant. Many of them are homeless and couchsurfing.

“These are the vicarious homeless who are often used as shuttles of labour in their homes from relatives and who have many times no power, no say.”

The director said before the latest policy to allow them to return to their schools they were expelled from school and were not able to go back.

The research project ended in 2014 and they published the results around that time and then she went on to do some other work with respect to maternity care among midwives in Jamaica.

“That really was a tipping point for me, hearing the stories that they were essentially the brunt of some of the job dissatisfaction and some of the cultural norms.

Dr. Joanna Bennett of the UWI School of Nursing was her co-investigator in the study of the psychosocial distress with the adolescents.

Wilson-Mitchell was successful in applying for an International Research and Development grant for them to do the study which was focused on building capacity in Jamaica.

Any equipment that she procured for the research she left in Jamaica for the UWI – this was her gift to the university.

“This is a pilot and it can’t be generalized but it does support the risk and resilience studies done in 2008 and 2005 in Jamaica on 10-15 year olds and another one was done on 13-18 year olds.”

Wilson-Mitchell said part of the reason why she is doing a lot of research now in new immigrant settlement and integration, and refugees, is because she felt the lack of a sense of belonging.

She said she did not integrate well and in the 1960s they could go for weeks and would be the only black family that they would see.

“Many of my class pictures you see I’m the only black child and the things that that does to your self-image, your self-esteem, your hopes, your dreams. I’m very fortunate that my parents really, as many Jamaican parents do, push education. They were both college-educated, they wanted me to be educated and my brother and sister and that really drives you. But in terms of them understanding some of the barriers we had at school and the Jamaican culture was very much part of our family – children must be seen and not heard – you wouldn’t dear explain to your mother that you had a terrible day at school that people beat you up or call you chocolate face, you just didn’t talk about those things.”

She focuses on the capacity of her students to be resilient, a sense of belonging and a sense of importance and value “and letting them know what a great idea it was for them to decide to be part of this profession and to diversify our midwifery workforce.”

She said the number of people graduating from the midwifery program is increasing every year.

To overcome challenges of integration, she had a few people in her life who sat down to have downtime with her and encourage her and be support systems for her.

Wilson-Mitchell tells her students that they need to have five good friends in their lives, something she gleaned from the research of people who survived a fire in New York.

The five should be: “one friend who is the coach that keeps them going, cheerleading; one that is authoritative saying remember to do this, remember to do that, wouldn’t give them any slack; the other person loves them unconditionally, they can do no wrong, always encouraging, always loving; another person would take them to the movies or bring them an ice cream so you have different friends for different functions in your life but you need at least five of them to help strengthen you and give you that resilience and feel connection and when you’re ready to go out the deep end they rescue you.”

She had some really good friends during her midwifery training who share the same faith and she prayed a lot believing in forgiveness and in “what we see here is not the full picture.” Because so much grace was extended to her she was able to extend it to other people and that still works.

“My students I find that if I listen to them I learn a lot from them and I really believe in an intellectual partnership. In fact, we’ve published on that fact that the model and framework we like to use is that we learn with, from and about out students. I learn from them and hopefully they learn a lot from me, particularly since these are millennial students and it’s a different generation. Thirty years language changes and I have to keep current with the issues that are concerning.”

This is why she understood that equitable care is much more effective and much more respectful than equal care “because equal care doesn't necessarily give you what you need; it doesn’t even the playing field.”

Wilson-Mitchell listened to her students and has launched a mentorship program and she hopes to decrease the attrition rate and improve the retention rate giving more satisfaction and quality experiences.

At their request she has launched a Midwife of Colour History Project that is student-driven and will be launched in the summer.

She wants to see more midwives of colour in Canada noting that it is a great profession and one of the few that after students finish their degree they can immediately get launched into a career.

Photo credit: Clifton Li    Dr. Sylvia D. Hamilton and Christina (T.NA) Smith, recipient of the Dr. Sylvia D. Hamilton Ryerson Student Award, at the 11th annual Viola Desmond Awards ceremony at Ryerson University

Smith, 21, said being at the ceremony around so many women who had accomplished so much was really humbling for her.

A classical vocalist, she says she is looking to use her experience in professional communications to further her career in classical music by branding and managing herself.

She says there are many opportunities to perform in the Black community where people are looking for persons who defy stereotypes but in mainstream classical music there is still a lot of uncertainty when there is a black woman singing.

“You don’t fit a certain stereotype, you don’t fit what they expect black women to do in music and so I find that I have to prove myself a little bit more in mainstream classical music.”

Smith says Jessye Norman, the renowned American opera singer and recitalist who was recently honoured in Toronto, is one of her idols and one of the few black women that have made it in the classical music field.

Smith noted that it is a similar situation in Canada and she hopes to be one of the country’s foremost classical vocalists.

She said Dr. Sylvia Hamilton was researching Canadian operatic contralto Portia White and her story that was about seventy years ago.

“I want to be the face of black women that are doing these things and doing the same things as Portia White and aren’t getting that recognition.”

Smith, who is the president of the Caribbean Students’ Association, said she joined it in her second year in 2016 because she “was looking for home away from home.”

She said she was fortunate to have lived in Jamaica for two years which helped to develop her identity as a Caribbean Canadian and what she wanted was to find a community that really honoured that heritage.

Smith completed grades 5 and 6 at St. Andrews Preparatory and while there competed in the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission competition and won the first place, classical soloist, for the parish final.

“It was actually at Andrews that I kind of realized through one of my musical teachers, Andrea White, that my voice was more suited to classical music,” says Smith.

A stronger believer in the saying that ‘it takes a village to raise a child,’ she says her excellence is not her own but an accumulation of excellence in her community – her teachers, family, and the networks that support her.

“I am excellent because they radiate excellence,” says Smith who is a graduate of Wexford Collegiate School for the Arts in Scarborough.

The annual Viola Desmond Award Ceremony showcases talent from students, staff, faculty, alumna, and the larger community, while raising awareness of the diverse  stories and contributions of past and present women of African descent in the building of Canada.

The event is named for Viola Desmond in recognition of her efforts in achieving human rights and desegregating public spaces for Black people in Canada.

Her arrest occurred in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia on November 8, 1946—nine years before the incident in the United States involving civil rights activist Rosa Parks.  

[A shorter version of this story has been published in the North American Weekly Gleaner, March 14-20, 2019.]

Saturday, 9 March 2019

Jamaicans in Toronto Celebrate Miss Lou's Centenary

By Neil Armstrong

Photo credit: Eddie Grant   Vivian Lewis, McMaster University librarian, receives an award from Olivia 'Babsy' Grange, Jamaica's minister of culture, gender, entertainment and sport at the Boonoonoonos Brunch held at the Jamaican Canadian Centre in Toronto on February 10.

Jamaica’s minister of culture, gender, entertainment and sport, Olivia ‘Babsy’ Grange, says there are big plans being made in Jamaica and throughout the year in Toronto, across Canada and the United States to celebrate the centenary of Louise Bennett-Coverley.

She commended the Jamaican Canadian Association (JCA) for hosting its annual Boonoonoonos Brunch to recognize the work and the contribution that Miss Lou has made as well as to promote Jamaican culture. The event was entitled “Celebrating Miss Lou’s 100 – The mother of Jamaican culture.”

Minister Grange said the co-executors of the Jamaican cultural icon’s estate, Pamela Appelt and Fabian Coverley and his family, are determined to ensure that Miss Lou’s spirit, works and name remain alive, and that her legacy is recognized along with her husband, Eric Coverley.

Bennett-Coverley was born on September 7, 1919 in Kingston and died on July 26, 2006 in Toronto where she lived for almost two decades.

“Miss Lou was someone who was boasy but humble. She was serious about her Jamaican culture and the Jamaican language. And she went to England and she colonized England with the Jamaican talk and she came to Canada and she also made an impact here to the extent that she has been honoured with her room at Harbourfront, and she has been honoured by McMaster University having her archives. Jamaica has impacted the world through many icons, including the Hon. Louise Bennett.”

She said Miss Lou was an entertainer and someone who would laugh at herself too.

Grange noted that this is how Jamaicans are – “we tell our stories, we tell our sad stories and we tell our stories that are humorous.”

The minister described Miss Lou as the early entertainer in modern Jamaica, a great poet and a great storyteller.

“She gave us a sense of self and identity and therefore this celebration here that you’re having in recognizing her during the year of her centenary is very timely having it during Black History Month.”

Grange noted that in Jamaica February is Reggae Month and Miss Lou is a part of the Jamaica Music Museum which looks at all the genres over the years that Jamaicans have given to the world.

“From the early traditional music to the modern music of Jamaica which is called mento, many call it calypso, through rock steady, ska -- there are more ska bands in Europe than anywhere else in the world -- dub and up to reggae.”

She said reggae is a genre but it’s also a generic term for the sounds of Jamaica.

The minister said last year the government nominated reggae to be inscribed on UNESCO’s intangible cultural heritage list. The nomination has been accepted.

“We are determined. If Miss Lou was not determined we wouldn’t be celebrating her today,” she said, noting that the event was a celebration of Jamaica’s culture, people, women and families.

The JCA made presentations to McMaster University where Miss Lou’s archives are housed and Harbourfront Centre that has a room named in her honour – two organizations that it said ensure her legacy lives on.

“Miss Lou is one of your great national icons but she is also a citizen of world. Her work as poet, a performer, a protector of Jamaican language spans five decades and she performed in countries around the world. For this reason McMaster University Library is very proud of the very small and modest role it has played in supporting Miss Lou’s legacy,” said Vivian Lewis, McMaster University librarian.

She lauded Pamela Appelt and Fabian Coverley for their invaluable assistance in bringing Miss Lou’s archives to McMaster. She also thanked partners in Jamaica, notably the National Library of Jamaica.

In 2011, McMaster announced the donation of 40 boxes of archival materials from Miss Lou’s life in Canada to the university’s renowned William Ready Division of Archives and Research Collections.

Photo credit: Eddie Grant  From left: Mary Landreth, chief marketing officer, and Jeremy Smith, chief development officer of the Harbourfront Centre receive an award from Pamela Appelt, co-executor of Miss Lou's estate

Jeremy Smith, chief development officer, and Mary Landreth, chief marketing officer of the Harbourfront Centre accepted the award presented to this key cultural organization on the waterfront of Toronto.

The idea for the creation of Miss Lou’s Room came from Appelt, a board member of the Harbourfront Centre, who linked the centre with Miss Lou’s family.

Miss Lou’s Room opened on July 26, 2007, and since its creation, has been a hub for thousands of students participating in the Harboufront Centre’s school visits programme.

JCA president Adaoma Patterson said the brunch started in 2000 as a fundraiser and presentation of Jamaica’s culture.

The organization is planning a group trip to Jamaica for the Miss Lou centenary celebration at Gordon Town Square in St. Andrew from September 5-12. The square will be renamed Miss Lou Square on September 7.

Also in attendance were Janice Miller, high commissioner of Jamaica to Canada, and Lloyd Wilks, consul general of Jamaica at Toronto.

The event was emceed by actor and producer, Marcia Brown, with entertainment by poets, Nadine Williams and Jermaine Cowie, and the Elite Dance Troupe.

[This story was published in the North American Weekly Gleaner, Feb. 21-27, 2019 issue.]