A Different Booklist Cultural Centre empowers our Black community

By Michael Lashley

Miguel San Vicente and Itah Sadu

As we begin Black History Month, which we celebrate in February every year, it is important to emphasize that history is also about the strategic contribution to the present and to the future that we make today, for the benefit of generations to come.

It is therefore not surprising that so many of us are passionate about the ambitious and inspiring venture we know as “A Different Booklist Cultural Centre”. We are continuously energized by the creative power of Itah Sadu and the driving force of her husband, Miguel San Vicente, the co-owners of the famous bookstore, A Different Booklist.

Propelled forward by their dynamic leadership, our passion is based on the fact that such a large, multi-faceted and multi-million dollar venture adequately reflects our proud concept of who we are as a Black community, what we have contributed to the whole society, and how we plan to take up our responsibility to continue to invest in the future of the society in which we live.

At a personal level, I confess to being one of the godparents of the decision taken a few years ago to create an all-embracing Cultural Centre by formally expanding the operations of A Different Booklist, our de facto community hub, our iconic bookstore.

Consequently, I could not refuse the invitation to serve on the Board of Directors of the Cultural Centre. It is one of only two boards on which I have accepted to sit. I am one of the thousands of loyal members of the twenty-year old community who see the Cultural Centre as “the people’s residence”.

We share in that vision of promoting the intellectual and literary contributions of African and Caribbean Canadian communities; inspiring the appreciation of the Black heritage by the public in Canada and around the world; and investing in the economic and cultural capital of these communities.

To that end, we are committed to our three-part mission:

-to promote understanding and inspire appreciation of the history, culture, achievements, contributions and experiences of African and Caribbean Canadians;

-to engage in activities and initiate programmes which promote the literary, intellectual, cultural, social, educational and economic wellbeing of the African and Caribbean Canadian communities; and

-to engage in partnerships and collaborative activities with individuals and organizations that help to enrich the literary, cultural, intellectual and educational fabric of the whole society.

In practice, those mission and vision statements are already being supported by the bookstore, the publishing house (“A Different Publisher”), the Emancipation Day Freedom Ride (held annually on a train supplied by the TTC), the Walk with Excellence, the Black Book Affair, Patty Day, and hundreds of other initiatives that fill our agenda throughout the year.

As evidence of the mass following and the strong momentum generated by the decision to establish the Cultural Centre, we have had some big successes over the last two years.

That decision was publicly announced to the hundreds of persons in attendance at A Different Booklist’s Twentieth Anniversary Celebrations in October 2015.The presence and ongoing support of provincial and city officials, the arts and culture community , the business sector, and the public at large have confirmed the viability  of the Cultural Centre.

That success was further enhanced by the large number of persons who visited the “Welcome to Blackhurst Street” exhibition in October-November 2016. This exhibition was organized by the bookstore and it featured the history of the thriving Black businesses that have had pride of place in the Bathurst/Bloor area through the ages.

Just around that time, on October 05, 2016, A Different Booklist was honoured with the prestigious Premier’s Award for Excellence in the Arts, an endorsement that will strengthen the outreach activities and the partnerships being envisioned for the Cultural Centre’s sustainable development programmes.

The icing on the cake came last Saturday, February 4, 2017 when 150 supporters of A Different Booklist came out to help move the boxes of books to 777-779 Bathurst Street, the new quarters to be occupied by the planned Cultural Centre, including the bookstore, just across the road from the old site.

That event turned out to be a magnificent sprint and a vote of confidence rolled into one. The move that was expected to last five hours, from 11.00 am to 4.00 pm, was completed in thirty minutes flat!

We thoroughly enjoy being part of the realization of our big dream.

As we work to make A Different Booklist Cultural Centre a reality, we are actually living the exciting experience of empowering ourselves and our Black community.

We invite you to join us in this historic undertaking.