Thursday, 28 November 2019

Black CAP Renames its Community Room in Honour of Founders

By Neil Armstrong

Photo contributed    Camille Orridge receives the Foundation Award from Andrew Campbell, Chair of the Board of Directors of the Black Coalition for AIDS Prevention (Black CAP)

The Black Coalition for AIDS Prevention (Black CAP) was established as a response to a need surrounding HIV and AIDS in the Black community in Toronto thirty years ago.

Those who founded the organization and some who have supported it over those many years were celebrated at its thirtieth anniversary ‘Joyful Giving’ fundraising event held at the Royal Ontario Museum on November 21.

Eight of ten honourees gathered inside the Teck Suite of Galleries: Earth’s Treasures where they were lionized for their contribution.

Camille Orridge, Erica Mercer and Douglas Stewart were presented with the foundation award, however Stefan Collins who lives in Amsterdam was not there to collect his alongside them.

In a proclamation, Black CAP’s executive director, Gareth Henry, announced that the board, executive management and staff, guided by the African principle of “Umoja,” the Swahili word for “unity” – “the spirit of togetherness” – would rename Black CAP’s community room the “Founders’ Legacy Community Room.”

The proclamation reads, in part, that:

 “Whereas, members of the Black CAP community exceptionally value the dedicated and selfless effort of those who founded our organization, and whereas, this community wishes to highlight the great contributions of said founders and other early supporters of this organization’s mission…Black CAP’s community room shall be called the Founders’ Legacy Community Room, in remembrance of the spirit and intent of our founders and their commitment to the power of togetherness in Toronto’s Black community.”

Photo contributed    Erica Mercer receives a Foundation Award from Gareth Henry, Executive Director of Black CAP

Photo contributed   Douglas Stewart receives the Foundation Award from Andrew Campbell

The advocacy award recipients were Junior Harrison, Courtnay McFarlane, Brian Parris, Philip Pike, Winston Husbands, and Dionne Falconer, who was unable to attend.

The theme of World AIDS Day 2019 (December 1) is “Communities Make the Difference” which is “an important opportunity to recognize the essential role that communities have played and continue to play in the AIDS response at the international, national and local levels.”

UNAIDS notes that, “Communities contribute to the AIDS response in many different ways. Their leadership and advocacy ensure that the response remains relevant and grounded, keeping people at the centre and leaving no one behind.”

In many ways that is the story of Black CAP’s beginnings and its journey over the past 30 years. Community members made the organization a reality and have dedicated much of their time to its growth and development.

Orridge was the instigator of the phone calls that led to a meeting of key stakeholders in the Black community working in public health and the HIV/AIDS sector that led to the development of the first Board of Black CAP.

She recalls what led to those calls: “I was vice president of patient services at the Homecare Program for Metropolitan Toronto when I received a call from the Hospital for Sick Children looking for assistance. There was a child there whose parents had died of AIDS and they were looking for family and/or community support for this child. There were other children as well. I did not know of any community program serving the Black community and could not find any.”

At Homecare, they were admitting and treating patients with AIDS in the community. Orridge started calling around to find individuals who had knowledge of AIDS and the Black community.

It was from doing this that she contacted Douglas Stewart who was at the AIDS Committee of Toronto (ACT), Erica Mercer and Brian Parris at Toronto Public Health, and Tony Caines. They met and developed the first board of directors of Black CAP.

In his recollection, Stewart notes that, “Black CAP was started to create a space to value the lives of many Black people at the margins of not only the wider society but also the Black community.  In my early related volunteer work and specifically as an AIDS support worker, I came across repeated stories of community alienation and rejection experienced by both people with HIV or AIDS and those close to them (friends or families).”

“I remember office or hospital visits with the newly diagnosed, hospice visits with those in later stages, custody hearings for children left behind, funerals, community meetings to appease angst about the presence of affected individuals and families where the letters HIV/AIDS were barely whispered or threateningly shouted, feeding even more isolation.”

Stewart notes that at Black CAP, they were “shaping and working with the principle of intersectionality in our community building and space making efforts even before we had a word for it.”

Collins was diagnosed with HIV in 1983 and when he moved to Toronto in 1986 became involved in HIV activism. 

In 1989, while participating in a workshop at ACT, he met Stewart who was working there as a counselor.

Reminiscing on that moment, Collins says, “He approached me and told me about a group of people who were organizing to create a Black community response to HIV/AIDS. He invited me to join the group. I got involved because I felt that HIV/AIDS needed to be addressed within our diverse communities, especially providing support to those living with HIV/AIDS. My involvement started as an openly gay Black HIV-positive board member.”

Apart from working at Toronto Public Health, Mercer was very active in the community.

“Our Lives,” Canada’s first Black women’s newspaper, in a March-April 1987 issue describes her as “a veteran of the sixties and the Black Education Project” and “a guiding light of the Immigrant Women's Centre (a health centre in Toronto)” who “helped to organise other agencies and initiatives on behalf of Black women and immigrant women.”

The Akua Benjamin Legacy Project notes that the Black Education Project (BEP) was founded by Marlene Green who came to Canada from Dominica in the 1960s and started the program in the late ‘60s at the height of Caribbean immigration to Toronto. Among other things, it provided tutoring to Black students and helped in the affirmation of their African heritage. 

“What I want people to know is how hard my mother worked to get sexual health information out to the community and how much she was interested in this work, even before coming to Canada.  She worked with the Black Education Project in the 70s because she wanted the community to be informed and to take care of themselves. She also wanted youth to develop as healthy as possible.  All this was despite her Catholic upbringing in the Caribbean,” says Eshe, Erica’s daughter, who attended the event with her mother.

Photo contributed   Junior Harrison, recipient of an Advocacy Award, with Gareth Henry

On February 2, 1990, Harrison received a diagnosis that he was HIV-positive. After spending the first year looking for the right doctor -- which he found -- he connected with ACT and Toronto People With AIDS Foundation (PWA) for support. His search for a cultural lens related to people of Black, Caribbean or African descent coping with this disease led him to Black CAP.

A receptionist at ACT, a young Black woman, told him about Black CAP. He called the number immediately, went to the office, felt at home, and since then has been a part of what he calls “the Black CAP Family.”

Pike was a board member of Black CAP from 1993 to 1997, serving as co-chair and chair in the last two years. He was the interim executive director for six months from August 1999 to February 2000 during the executive director’s sabbatical.

“Alongside its primary mandate of prevention and support, Black CAP has, over the years, also served as an incubator for Black queer leadership in Toronto. So many who hold leadership positions in various fields in the city have passed through Black CAP as a volunteer, staff member or service user,” says Pike.

Pike, a community activist and human rights lawyer-turned independent documentary filmmaker, believes in creating change through storytelling. His latest documentary, “Our Dance of Revolution: The History of Toronto’s Black Queer Community,” premiered at the Hot Docs Film Festival in April.

Photo contributed     Philip Pike receives an Advocacy Award from Andrew Campbell

McFarlane is a visual artist and poet whose work has been published in several African-Canadian and Queer anthologies including “Fiery Spirits and Voices: Writers of African-Canadian Descent,” “Word-up,” and “Plush.”

He is a long-time activist with organizations such as Zami, Black CAP, AYA Men, and Blackness Yes, the organizing committee for Blockorama at Pride.

McFarlane recently curated Legacies in Motion: Black Queer Toronto Archival Project that unearthed and celebrated the political and cultural activism of Black LGBTQ communities in Toronto in the 1980s and 1990s.

 Legacies In Motion was exhibited at BAND Gallery as part of the 2019 Myseum Intersections Festival. In his other life, Courtnay works in the community health sector and is currently interim director, health promotion and community engagement at Parkdale Queen West Community Health Centre.  

Photo contributed   Courtnay McFarlane receives an Advocacy Award from Gareth Henry

Husbands had been living in southern Africa in the mid to late 1980s when HIV was on the verge of becoming an issue of concern there.

“By the early 1990s I was living in Toronto and I heard about Black CAP from a friend who had recently started working there. At that time, I was teaching at Ryerson University, and I began spending time in the office, which was then a short distance away at University and Dundas,” he says.

Husbands met various people and did small tasks like photocopying documents and stuffing envelopes at the office. He was subsequently approached about joining the board of directors and took up the challenge.

“This was the beginning of my involvement in HIV research, advocacy and community engagement with Black communities in Toronto and throughout Ontario, which has continued until the present. I’ve been connected to Black CAP since the early 1990s. I was motivated to show solidarity with Black people who were living with HIV or affected by it.

“But Black CAP’s work is also about understanding and responding to the systemic conditions that undermine our wellbeing and make us vulnerable to HIV. This is what motivates me to remain connected to Black CAP after so many years. Black CAP introduced me to a vibrant, supportive and motivated network. Black CAP is the institution we need,” he said.

Photo contributed  Winston Husbands, recipient of an Advocacy Award, with Andrew Campbell

Falconer first connected with Black CAP as a volunteer on its steering committee as a representative of the Black Women’s Collective. She served on the board of directors in 1990 and joined the staff in 1991 as the support and outreach coordinator.

Falconer was the executive director from 1994 to 1998 and over the past 20 years has maintained a connection with Black CAP – an organization that is dear to her.

It was love that brought Falconer to Black CAP; love for her communities. She wanted to contribute to making life for Black people living with or affected by HIV/AIDS better -- better personally, politically and economically.

“This meant working for a more just society and nurturing an environment at Black CAP that was inclusive and welcoming -- an environment to call home. As a Black, bisexual feminist, Dionne found and cultivated a home at Black CAP because all Black people’s lives are important,” notes a profile of her in the printed program.

Photo contributed   Gareth Henry presents an Advocacy Award to Brian Parris

Parris says his time with Black CAP started in the late ‘80s when HIV was just beginning to surface. 

He had just started at Toronto Public Health and remembered meeting Douglas Stewart, Camille Orridge, Erica Mercer, Stefan Collins and Tony Caines who started talking about the need to galvanize and do something about AIDS when people were taking about it coming from a monkey in Africa.

“ I remember attending a community consultation and a retreat (my wife and kids who were 2 and 3 years old also came) where we were to strategize about how we could have an agency that could meet the emerging needs of our community. 

“I remember Rhonda Hackett was there too. The ‘Coalition’ in the organization’s name came from the fact that it was a group of community folks, including community activists and other stakeholders who were passionate and wanted to make a difference and who stepped up and did great pioneering work when other folks wouldn’t because of stigma back then,” says Parris.

Andrew Campbell, chair of Black CAP’s board of directors, described them as visionary founders and early trailblazers. 

He said the occasion was “a celebration of resistance, resilience, revitalization, remedy and rejoicing – 30 years of community. Thirty years of creating a space of belonging and acceptance. Thirty years of activism and advocacy. Thirty years of doing it for us, by us and with us.”

In the book, “African Canadian Leadership: Continuity, Transition, and Transformation,” edited by Tamari Kitossa, Erica S. Lawson and Philip S.S. Howard, and published by the University of Toronto Press in August this year, the chapter entitled: “Building Capacity and Making History: African Canadian Leadership in Ontario’s HIV/AIDS Sector,” written by Shamara Baidoobonso, highlights the leadership of Black CAP and three other organizations focused on addressing HIV/AIDS in Ontario’s African, Caribbean, and Black communities.

The others are Women’s Health in Women’s Hands (WHIWH), Africans in Partnership Against AIDS (APAA), and the African and Caribbean Council on HIV/AIDS in Ontario (ACCHO).

“The founders, leaders, and staff of APAA, Black CAP, WHIWH, and ACCHO stood up and led when no one else was leading and when HIV was still highly stigmatized. Rather than avoid the problem and view it as insurmountable, they formed organizations. Through these organizations they mounted a collective response, and their effors changed Ontario’s response to HIV in ACB communities,” writes Baidoobonso.

Photo contributed  Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, Gareth Henry, Andrew Campbell and Mayor John Tory

Mayor John Tory, Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam and Jill Andrew, MPP for Toronto-St. Paul’s congratulated Black CAP on its thirtieth anniversary. The mayor and councillor presented the organization with a certificate of commendation.

It was a night in which Trevor Gray shared anecdotes of the awardees and Stewart and Orridge expressed their feelings about being honoured.

The award recipients were feted by cabaret singer Veronica Tynes, saxophonist Maurice John, aka Mo Saxx, Manny Manolo and DJ Fresh Kidd.

The silent auction included the works of local artists,
Sandra Brewster, Gloria Swain, Rose-Ann M. Bailey, Andil Gosine and Frantz Brent-Harris.

Guided by the motto “Because All Black Lives Are Important,” since 1989 Black CAP has worked to reduce HIV/AIDS in Toronto’s Black, African and Caribbean communities and to enhance the quality of life of Black people living with or affected by HIV/AIDS.

Photo contributed                An applause for the 30th anniversary of Black CAP

My Reflection: The Symbolism of the Moment

Thirty years ago – November 1989 -- Black Torontonians were outside the ROM protesting against its exhibition “Into the Heart of Africa” which was considered racist in its depiction of Africans vis-à-vis white missionaries and the military in the colonial era.

Academic and community activist, Wesley Crichlow, in “African Canadian Leadership: Continuity, Transition, and Transformation,” notes that the exhibition consisted of about 375 artefacts from Central and West Africa that had been stored by the ROM for over one hundred years. It opened in November 1989 and closed in August 1990.

Crichlow references authors Frances Henry’s and Carol Tator’s publication in 2000, “Racist discourse in Canada’s English print media,” noting that, “Ostensibly, the theme of the exhibit was the impact of colonialism on Africa, particularly at the height of the colonial period.”

Some members of the Coalition for the Truth About Africa (CAFTA) who were protesting were arrested and jailed.

In 2014, working with two Black independent curators Julie Crooks and Dominique Fontaine and its own Silvia Forni, curator of African Arts and Cultures, the ROM opened “Of Africa,” a multiplatform and multiyear project aimed at rethinking historical and contemporary representations of Africa.

In 2016 – 27 years after the “Into the Heart of Africa” – the ROM officially apologized to members of CAFTA and its apology was accepted.

“The exhibition displayed images and words that showed the fundamentally racist ideas and attitudes of early collectors and, in doing so, unintentionally reproduced the colonial, racist and Eurocentric premises through which these collections had been acquired. Thus, Into the Heart of Africa perpetuated an atmosphere of racism and the effect of the exhibition itself was racist. The ROM expresses its deep regret for having contributed to anti-African racism. The ROM also officially apologizes for the suffering endured by members of the African-Canadian community as a result of Into the Heart of Africa," said Dr. Mark Engstrom, the museum's deputy director, collections and research, who read the statement and was the person guiding the reconciliation process for the ROM from 2014 to 2016.

The CFTA came into being in the fall of 1989 after a number of individuals had seen the exhibition and concluded that it was racist, deciding to do something about it.

Initially an ad hoc group, it later consolidated as a broad-based coalition consisting of nearly one hundred groups from across Canada.

Many CFTA members had been vilified and some are still hurt by this experience.

Rostant Ras Rico John, who accepted the apology on behalf of the CFTA and the African community in Canada, expressed pride in having reached this point of reconciliation after twenty-seven years.

“It took a long time to get to that point but the ROM understood its responsibility and moved forward and invited us in 2014 to get together with them to work out some form of getting together to bring respect and dignity back to the African community in Canada here,” he said.

He said the ROM’s team worked diligently and honestly with CAFTA and though there were “little problems, little bumps’ to overcome, they did so.

“We worked out many very good plans and those plans will benefit the African community here in Canada. When a wrong has been done it has to be righted and the efforts that were put down have made it right,” he said, acknowledging the collective work of his CAFTA colleagues: Yaw Akyeaw, Ajamu Nangwaya, Afua Cooper and Geraldine Moriba.

Fast forward to November 2019 -- 30 years after protests by the Black community outside the ROM -- and members of Toronto’s diverse Black communities filled a gallery inside the museum celebrating our Africanness and our resilience.

Also of significance that night was the fact that the awards presented to the recipients were created by Adisa Oji’s company, Mother Africa’s Children’s Photographic Reproductions International  (MACPRI).

He was among those protesting outside the ROM and as Dr. Afua Cooper, who was also there marching puts it at the official apology ceremony, many suffered.

“Many of us suffered as a result of our taking the ROM to task during those years. People lost their jobs, people had to flee the city of Toronto, people were harassed by the police, people had difficulty crossing the borders, people were jailed, and even one person, Adisa Oji, was incarcerated in a prison in Windsor, Ontario and was not able to practice his craft as a teacher. And so we remember Oji tonight as we stand here.”

Cooper said through art, through culture “we can claim ourselves, we can claim our spirit, we can envision a life of beauty, a life of passion, a life of compassion” and the museum is a crucial place in society.

She said the museum has a significant role to play in society because the museum can do all these things.

“So the museum, art and culture, can create all of those things for us so why should we not as an African community participate in these events, in these exhibits. Why should we not bring our children, bring our grandparents, bring our parents, bring ourselves, bring our families, bring our friends to these spaces and engage the art, engage the back and forthing, engage the dialogue that happens when you honour, when you – the body – reflect on a piece of art. That’s what we want for our community in a big way,” she said.

Black CAP brought itself to the ROM and celebrated in a fabulous way its existence.

Tuesday, 19 November 2019

New Street in Toronto Bears the Name of Jamaican B. Denham Jolly

By Neil Armstrong

Photo credit: Gwyn Chapman    B. Denham Jolly, second from right, with family and friends, from left: Mary Anne Chambers, Deputy Mayor Michael Thompson, Jean Augustine, Mayor John Tory, Janice Williams, Mark Klym, Nicole Jolly, Elias Jolly Klym (standing in front of his mom), Jay Douglas and Jimmy Wisdom

The City of Toronto has named a new street after a Jamaican who has contributed tremendously to the city through his business acumen, social justice activism and philanthropy.

On November 1, Mayor John Tory, Deputy Mayor Michael Thompson and many members of Toronto’s Black community gathered in a Scarborough in a new subdivision near Ellesmere and Kennedy roads for the street name unveiling ceremony honouring B. Denham Jolly, who has lived in the city for 65 years.

Thompson said “Jolly Way” recognizes the great contribution that Jolly, 84, has made to Toronto, noting that, “he was an environmentalist before we started to talk about the word.”

Jolly worked at Metropolitan Toronto testing air pollution “well before we started to make it a topic of the day,” said Thompson who described the Jamaican as an icon and institution in the city and one who has earned those descriptors because of the things that he has done.

Thompson noted that after graduation from McGill University in Montreal, Jolly went back to Jamaica and then came to Toronto where he was a science teacher.

Jolly is a pioneering broadcaster, entrepreneur, publisher and author of “In the Black: My Life,” his memoir which won the Toronto Book Award in 2017.

“Today we want to demonstrate to many that our leaders have been very influential in making a difference in this city, and they will live on with the growth and the history of this city for eternity.  Denham Jolly is one such person because of all the things that he has done to make our city a great place,” said Thompson.

Speaking of Jolly’s efforts to get a Black-owned radio station in Toronto, the deputy mayor said it didn’t seem possible and after it occurred so many people benefitted, including Drake.

He said in 2001 when the station was launched Drake had not yet become famous but his music was being played by FLOW 93.5 owned by Jolly’s company, Milestone Communications.

“Denham’s effort through his board membership with the YMCA and others that he has been involved has made such great contribution to so many people who didn’t realize that his intellect and his foresight and his decision that he made to help so many has fostered such a tremendous network and fabric of not only goodwill but great contribution that made us all better.”

Regarding Jolly’s activism, Thompson said although he has been successful in his endeavours he never left the community which could always call upon him for a contribution or advice.

He said Jolly’s memoir “teaches us so much about who we are and about the man that he is.”

Adaoma Patterson, president of the Jamaican Canadian Association, said Jolly has a long history with the organization which celebrated its 57th anniversary in August. He has was a past board member as executive secretary and always “stepped up and supported the JCA during good times and bad.”

“For those of us who are second-generation Jamaican Canadians, it is important. You are such an important role model for us and it is important that we never forget, and never ever forget the contributions that you have made to making Toronto, Ontario and Canada a better place,” said Patterson about Jolly.

Adaoma Patterson, president of the Jamaican Canadian Association, speaking at the street name unveiling ceremony of 'Jolly Way' in Toronto

Thompson said the event was made possible with the partnership of Mattamy Homes, Canada’s largest residential homebuilder, which was represented at the ceremony by Andrew Sjogren, vice president of land development.

Mayor Tory said Jolly stuck to his involvement in the Black community where he was a leader but in the broader community as well where he was involved in the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), the YMCA, or a host of other organizations.

“But most of all, I would just say that he stuck to his commitment to social justice and to making sure that the community of which he was such a proud part and the entire community continue to advance. And he often did that quietly, his philanthropy was done very quietly but I don’t think people know how much he has done, whether it’s for the JCA or for other community organizations.”

Jolly founded the Black Business and Professional Association and provided a voice for the Black community as publisher and financial backer for the weekly newspaper, Contrast. He also owned and operated Tyndall Nursing Homes.

“Thank you for using me as a channel to bestow this tremendous honour not only on me but the community and the work the community has done and the contributions it has made over time. In fact, Blacks have fought in every Canadian war from 1812 to Afghanistan. We’ve had people make contributions, like the Dudley Laws and the Charles Roaches of this society in their fight for social justice, to Thornton and Lucie Blackburn, runaway slaves who became good friends of the George Brown who started the Globe and Mail. The Blackburns laid the foundation for establishing the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC). In fact, they started by using their colours,” said Jolly in his remarks.

He also referenced William Peyton Hubbard who was deputy mayor of Toronto from 1898 to 1903 who led efforts to create Toronto Hydro. A park was named in Hubbard’s honour in 2016.

Elias Jolly Klym, Nicole Jolly and B. Denham Jolly

“I’m so pleased that after 65 years in this city, Toronto, I seem to be entering a new, more intimate phase of our long relationship. Even when I was a student at McGill University, Toronto was still my home,” said Jolly noting that he has fond memories of working in Toronto in the 1950s.

“Yes, Toronto, I love you – my city above all others. My home city -- where I actively participated in all aspects of life as a citizen and for social justice with all my being. My city -- where I’ve made an exceptional living and enjoyed life, and daresay, contributed positively and paid my dues. Thank you Toronto. Thank you very much. I love you,” said Jolly.

In August, Jolly paid off the over $300,000 mortgage of the Jamaican Canadian Association and he continues his work as a philanthropist and community activist by sponsoring a boys under 12 soccer team at Regent Park in Toronto. He also operates a breakfast program for needy students at Cornwall College, his alma mater in Montego Bay.

Mayor John Tory, B. Denham Jolly and Deputy Mayor Michael Thompson at the podium

Jean Augustine and Floydeen Charles-Fridal

Unveiling of 'Jolly Way'

[This story was published in the North American Weekly Gleaner, November 14-20, 2019.]

Stakeholders Welcome Funds to Create National Institute for Black Canadians

By Neil Armstrong

Photo contributed         Robert Small, artrepreneur of LEGACY Enterprises is a member of the group, Meeting of the Minds

Stakeholders supporting the creation of a national institute dedicated to looking at issues that affect Black communities are welcoming the initial deposit of funds by the federal government to make it a reality.

Within days of the federal election, an agreement was signed with Employment and Services Development Canada (ESDC) to begin the feasibility study for the Canadian Institute for Persons of African Descent (CIPAD).  

On October 24, the government disbursed the first installment of funds, ($174,000.00), which will allow the stakeholders to begin the work on creating the first national institute for Black Canadians.

 CIPAD is the brainchild of almost 40 stakeholder organizations representing a diverse range of Black communities and interests from across Canada. On July 23 this year they all signaled their support for the project.

Much of the work was done through the groups, Meeting of the Minds and the Push Coalition, which provided leadership, community capacity building and strategizing. 

Robert Small, artrepreneur of LEGACY Enterprises, says this is very historic. He highlighted the work of Meeting of the Minds “a coalition being built of over 40 African Canadian organizations” and the Push Coalition working together for more than a year for this purpose. 

He said the onus is now on the African Canadian community on a national scale to create something of a national importance for generations to come.

Meanwhile, Rosemarie Powell, executive director of Toronto Community Benefits Network, says they are excited about it because it is new and a different way of working with the federal government.

She said the United Nations Decade for People of African Descent is a recognition that has finally come and the Government of Canada has decided even though it was three years later to acknowledge it and is now putting some resources into helping to build capacity in Black communities across Canada.

“It’s a start, $25 million over five years will be more of a seed to germinate some good ideas and ways of working and bringing the organizations who have been working across Canada, oftentimes in silos, together to have a more coordinated approach.”

Powell said they want to look at all other funding sources from the government of where their taxpayer dollars are going.

“For me, in terms of the Toronto Community Benefits Network and our push for community benefits what we want to see is that all infrastructure dollars that the Government of Canada is investing should have a Community Benefits Agreement and should specifically target the Black community because of they’ve been significantly historically not represented in the construction industry.”

She said CIPAD will help Black organizations to come together and should bring issues like this to the table “once we have convened all these different Black community organizations from across Canada.”

“We need foundational pieces for our community that CIPAD will address like research and development and aggregation of data specific to the Black community so that we can really know where we stand in the larger picture and we can actually create solutions that are specific to the Black communities’ needs.”

Powell said having an institution like CIPAD is essential to start building those “building blocks to allow us to be able to come together collectively and build our capacity so that we can grow our community over time.”

Photo contributed   Rosemarie Powell, executive director of Toronto Community Benefits Network, is also involved in the group, Meeting of the Minds

On August 27, the government announced that it would help these stakeholders to create the first national institute for Black Canadians. 

The Canadian Institute for Persons of African Descent will work to advance initiatives that impact Black Canadians at a systemic level.

In recognition of the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent, the government’s 2019 budget provided $25 million over five years starting in 2019-20, for projects and capital assistance to celebrate, share knowledge and build capacity in Canada's vibrant Black Canadian communities.

Floydeen Charles-Fridal, executive director of the Caribbean African Canadian Social Services (CAFCAN) in Toronto, collaborated with the Delmore “Buddy” Daye Learning Institute in Halifax, Nova Scotia and others to submit a proposal for CIPAD.

Coming out of Meeting of the Minds (MOM) that Charles-Fridal has been spearheading over the last couple of years, a number of Black organizations got together under a spinoff group called the UN Decade for People of African Descent Push Coalition to apply pressure to the federal government to make sure that monies that were earmarked for Black Canadians did not get lost in elections and new governments, if that does happen.

In January 2018, the Prime Minister announced that Canada officially recognized the UN International Decade for People of African Descent spanning from 2015 to 2024. 

The government said new investments delivered through an intermediary model would help community organizations to identify and address gaps, allowing Black Canadian communities to use their expertise to tailor initiatives to their specific circumstances. 

In addition to the Institute, stakeholder groups agreed to an approach where they will work together to fund projects that build the capacity of not-for-profit organizations serving Black communities across Canada. 

Under the intermediary model, the Social Development Partnership Program would fund selected high capacity organizations who would hold an open and transparent funding process to which grassroots organizations across Canada could apply for funding for capacity building projects in their communities.

[This story was published in the North American Weekly Gleaner, Nov. 14-20, 2019.]

Wednesday, 6 November 2019

Akua Benjamin Legacy Panel Looks Back to Move Forward

By Neil Armstrong

Photo credit: Nicole Brumley   Kiké Roach is the Unifor National Chair in Social Justice and Democracy at Ryerson University     

The event “Looking Back, Moving Forward” featuring Dr. Akua Benjamin and four panelists she invited to participate – Angela Robertson, Notisha Massaquoi, Anthony Morgan and Remi Warner – was the result of efforts by Unifor National Chair in Social Justice and Democracy, Kiké Roach, to get the recently retired professor to talk about her long storied history of activism.

Speaking at the start of the discussion on October 31 in Oakham House at Ryerson University, Roach, organizer of the Social Justice Week, noted that Dr. Benjamin taught at the university for 30 years in an institution where challenges for Black people exist.  She said Benjamin did not come to Ryerson in the late 80s without a struggle. People had to protest for her to become a professor and remain a professor at the university.

Dr. Benjamin said the evening was a dialogue with other voices who have worked in the community for many years.

“I was here because of my community. Students fought for this and I am supported by my community,” said the academic and social activist who this month (November) marks her 50th year living in Canada. She emigrated from Trinidad in 1969 and was fully engaged in the civil rights activism in Toronto when she arrived.

A leader within the groundbreaking Black Action Defense Committee, Benjamin has been central to resistance movements challenging anti-Black racism in Canadian policies, practices and institutions. 

Committed to building coalitions to agitate for systemic change, she has also held leadership roles within the National Action Committee on the Status of Women, the Congress of Black Women, as well as the Organization of Parents of Black Children. 

Dr. Benjamin was the first Black director at Ryerson University, and has played an essential role in cultivating Ryerson’s School of Social Work anti-oppressive, social justice and social transformation lens.

The panelists shared their strategies, tactics and modes of resistance to support the disruption of anti-Black racism in Canada. The aim of the event was to encourage, support, and sustain the work of activists, and community members as they advocate for social justice. 

Reflecting on the history of the Black community in the city, Dr. Benjamin said the community came from many nation states and intersected in various institutions. There were Caribbean Blacks, Continental Blacks, Blacks from Nova Scotia, and more. She noted that there were organizations that helped the Black community to settle such as the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, soccer clubs, recreational facilities, and the Negro Citizenship Club.

Photo credit: Nicole Brumley     Dr. Akua Benjamin, retired director of the School of Social Work at Ryerson University

The 1960s contributed to changes to Canada’s Immigration Act and there were Black institutions such as the groundbreaking community newspaper, Contrast, the Black Education Project, Harriet Tubman Organization, which all constituted for Benjamin the concept of resistance. There were struggles against colonialism, the anti-apartheid struggle and solidarity with the struggles of Black people in Nova Scotia.

“What is this thing called resistance? Resistance is in our DNA. We survived because of resistance,” said Dr. Benjamin who also mentioned other organizations such as the Black Action Defense Committee and the Universal African Improvement Association (UAIA).

She highlighted the contributions of Bromley Armstrong, Margaret Gittens, Charles Roach, Dudley Laws, Marlene Green and others.

Benjamin said Laws loved saying,“Out of differences we are one people,” which meant “out of those struggles we welded ourselves into one body.”

Each panelist was asked to address the questions: How can we really move forward? Where are we? Each started their presentations with brief tributes to Dr. Benjamin. 

Massaquoi recently retired after serving for 21 years as the executive director of Women’s Health in Women’s Hands, a community health centre that provides primary healthcare to Black women and women of colour from the Caribbean, African, Latin American and South Asian communities in Toronto.

She said Black women had to fight for its existence and staff had to barricade themselves in the office for one week to get funding for the organization from the government.

The former executive director noted that WHIWH offers several programs for Black women, addressing mental health, HIV and other health concerns. 

Massaquoi said WHIWH has had to fight steadfastly regardless of which political party is in power. On the impact of anti-Black racism on the health of Black communities, she said it is the driver for every health disparity that is being faced in the community.

Photo credit: Nicole Brumley  Seated with Dr. Akua Benjamin from left to right are the panelists: Remi Warner, Angela Robertson, Anthony Morgan and Notisha Massaquoi with friends

Morgan, training and development consultant of the Confronting Anti-Black Racism (CABR) Unit at the City of Toronto, said the Unit is a permanent office at the City and came out of decades of resistance and activism.

“It is a continuation of the resistance of Black communities, it is not a culmination,” he said, noting that in May 2018 the CABR Unit got its staff but the catalyst for it was March 2016 when Black Lives Matter – Toronto occupied the headquarters of the Toronto Police Service for two weeks.

He said the City realized that this was not typical and that something else must be happening to cause it. Morgan referenced the Stephen Lewis Report on Race Relations of 1992 which mentioned that Black youth are displaced, misunderstood and forgotten.

The Toronto Action Plan to Confront Anti-Black Racism came out of 41 years’ worth of research and recommendations about addressing anti-Black racism in Toronto. These were presented to Black communities in the city to identify the priorities. Out of that process came 22 recommendations and 80 actions.

Morgan said the CABR Unit is guided in its work by the Partnership and Accountability Circle which keeps it accountable to the community.

In her presentation, Robertson, executive director of Parkdale Queen West Community Health Centre, chose to call names of people and places that played pivotal roles in the development of the Black community.

She recognized Black activists such as Fran Endicott, Sherona Hall, Vera Cudjoe, Eva Smith, Ayanna Black, Charles Roach, Hetty Roach, Gwen and Lenny Johnston.

“These are folks that have been anchors of our community and without them many of us would not be here,” Robertson said.

She also spoke about places like Third World Books, “because I think that when we think about looking back and looking forward we need to think about place. We need to think about place, we need to think about safe spaces that allow us to talk about our liberation. We need to think about spaces that are not spaces that are infiltrated spaces where we can, in fact, plan our liberation and Third World Books was one of such places.”

Robertson acknowledged Akilah and Dari Meade who were in the room and referenced Wong’s restaurant.

“Wong’s restaurant for those who may not know was a small Caribbean Chinese restaurant north of Bathurst station, just south of Third World Books so when you went to Third World and you buy your books and you had an argument with Lenny and Gwen, more so Lenny, then you would retreat to Wong’s restaurant for some curried chicken, rice and peas, some red peas soup, some fried rice and some fried chicken and other delectable delights. But it was always a place of congregation so it was more than a restaurant. It was a place of congregation and community where you got to see Dari, you got to see Akilah, you got to see Akua, you got to see a whole host of other folks who may have just finished a march or a rally or a demonstration but somehow we all found place and a table at Wong’s restaurant.

 “I say those spaces and name those things because those are some of the intangibles that are important in our movement building, because the work that is needed and the work that’s required because of the prevalence and the persistence of anti-Black racism is punishing. It’s punishing; it can take joy out of everyday living and as Black people we need to find spaces where we put back joy in our lives,” she said.

Roberston also mentioned Margaret Gittens and others who were central in crafting the Stephen Lewis Report.

She referenced books such as Dionne Brand’s book “Thirsty” which she described as “an anchoring about the killing of Albert Johnson and that talks about the very presence and prevalence of racist police violence and its impact on our lives.”

Robertson also alluded to Dionne Brand and Krisantha Sri Bhaggiyadatta’s book “Rivers Have Sources, Trees Have Roots: Speaking of Racism” which came out of the history of the Black Education Project.

There is also Enid Lee’s “Letters to Marcia: A Teacher’s Guide to Anti-Racist Education.”

She said the project of this moment is “the continuing project of our liberation in the face of white supremacy, in the face of anti-Black racism.”

Robertson feels that it is always important when Black people come together in Canada for them to talk about the alliance that they must have with Indigenous people of this land. She said governments have consistently sought to juxtapose “us and our liberation against indigenous people's subjugation.”

As someone whose work in grounded in women, feminist and Black queer organizing, she said, “The work that we do as Black folks for our liberation in the past looking to the future must bring an intersectional analysis. We cannot afford as Black people not to do that, that’s a luxury that I don’t think we can afford because there is really no liberation in liberating some Black people and leaving other Black people facing injustice.”

She said the movement must be one for change, not one for self-aggrandizement, “not a movement for our mobility, not a movement for ego but a movement that seeks to move us as a community, as a people, towards this place of liberation.” 

Speaking of this current moment, what she calls the “Trudeau Blackface moment,” Robertson asked those in attendance to move beyond his apology to “what is the accountability for delivering on real and substantive changes to address the anti-Black racism that is here in this society, in this community. This is not a moment where we need to relax and not continue to push and name the presence and the prevalence and the perniciousness of anti-Black racism. In fact, this is a moment when we need to lean in even more.”

Remi Warner, senior manager of the Human Rights Office at Toronto District School Board, spoke about his work and reorienting the office to serve the students and for it not to be seen as an entity within human resources.

He was able to reorient it to have greater systemic focus and a broader conception of human rights that does not place all of the onus on individuals after they’ve been discriminated against to come forward to press for their rights.

“We’re contesting the idea of human rights within the TDSB in such a way that has us responding to marginalized and Black and other students who are feeling the brunt and who are not the ones who come knocking on our door,” he said.

The 9th Social Justice Week at Ryerson University from October 28 to November 1 “asks us to examine, imagine, and ‘cook up’ what we need to implement progressive changes in our communities today.”

 This year’s multidisciplinary week of events brought together students, academics, scientists, artists, writers, community organizers, and the public to reflect on “their connection to the Earth and each other, to the food that nourishes us, to the injustices that divide us, and to the changes we need to make collectively for a better world where everyone has a seat at the table.”

 As part of an effort to break down barriers, this year’s Social Justice Week hopes to foster new networks of collaboration, innovation, and recipes for change, notes the website of the Unifor National Chair in Social Justice and Democracy.