A year of reflection and change for the Jamaican Canadian Association

From left: Denham Jolly and past presidents of the JCA: Miah Bailey, Roy Williams (first president of JCA ), Herman Stewart, and current president Adaoma Patterson proudly display the big cheque.

By Adaoma Patterson

Who could have anticipated the ups and downs of 2020?

COVID-19  has turned the world – and the Greater Toronto Area – upside down.

It is having a big impact on the Black and Caribbean communities and our organizations, including the Jamaican Canadian Association (JCA).

Our Centre in North York, normally a hub of activities on weekends, is now very quiet. All of the organizations that host fundraising events, plus promoters, DJ’s, decor companies, caterers and event planners have been impacted financially, which in turn has impacted the JCA’s revenue.

The impacts on our community have not yet been quantified or fully understood, but I anticipate it will take organizations and small businesses some time to get back on track.

And yet, we have much to be thankful for. The  year  2019 was a signature year for the JCA due to the generosity of Denham Jolly who paid off our mortgage, as well as Kamala-Jean Gopie and so many other donors who supported much needed renovations.

During the pandemic, we have ” given back ” by partnering with Community Strong on the Meals to Go Initiative that prepares and delivers hot Caribbean meals to seniors and other vulnerable residents. We hosted a meeting for our customers to hear first-hand how organizations and businesses are faring. Finally, we worked with Jamaican associations across Canada on the Jamaican Canadian COVID-19 Telethon, to raise funds for vulnerable Jamaicans.

Like Jamaica, the JCA turns 58 this year. The first Independence and anniversary celebration in Toronto, in 1962, was organized by a committee that included Roy Williams, Bromley Armstrong, Phyllis Whyte, Catherine Williams, George King, Leyton Ellis, and Kenneth Simpson. In 2020, our Independence and anniversary celebration will be a virtual affair in partnership with eight other Jamaican organizations.

The JCA and its foundation members, many of whom immigrated to Canada  in the 1960s, have experienced many challenges, seen significant changes over their 60-plus years in Canada, and worked hard to ensure the Jamaican, Caribbean and Black communities were counted and treated equally. The major  issues of the day were immigration, housing ,discrimination, lack of recognition of international certifications, employment and policing. Sound familiar?

The organization has also experienced some difficult times: the suspicious fire that  razed our first building, Jamaica House at 65 Dawes Road in 1972, to the demise of the JCA Credit Union and, more recently the passing of original members such as Bromley Armstrong, Faye Conville, Raphaelita Walker, Daphne Bailey, Phyllis Whyte, Trevor Lewis, Raphael Walters and so many others. The JCA’s story is one of hardship, resiliency, perseverance and change.

While the impact of COVID-19 has been tremendous,  more attention is now being focussed on what the JCA and other organizations, advocates and individuals have been saying for decades – racism, systemic discrimination, poverty and employment precarity, are disproportionately impacting Black and racialized communities and your postal code matters when it comes to access to services and supports. In a nutshell, ‘the world nu level.’  The issues the community fought for in the 1960’s are the same issues we are fighting for today.

For the first time in JCA’s history, we are engaging several generations at the same time. Our oldest member is 98 years old and our youngest board member, 25 years old. The JCA is in the midst of a social experiment, trying to balance the needs and serve pre Baby Boomers, Baby Boomers, Generation X and Y as well as Millennials! This requires the board of directors to have a range of leadership and management skills, age and experiences and include second generation Jamaican Canadians and newcomers. We have embarked on an ambitious plan to widen our reach, collaborate with numerous organizations in the GTA and across Canada, understand our role in building the Black community. Interestingly, an increasing number of members and volunteers live outside of Toronto, in 905 cities such as Brampton and Mississauga. It has not been easy work and our board team, committees and other volunteers donate countless hours each month, so I am committed to the imperfect path we are on.

To illustrate our impact, here are a few of the important initiatives we are currently working on:

International Students Group – launched in 2019, this group supports close to 200 international students from Jamaica and the Caribbean, studying at community colleges and universities in the GTA.

Collaboration with Jamaican Associations across Canada, jcccgroup.ca – for the second time in 2020, we have partnered to celebrate Jamaica’s Independence in Canada. From August 6 to 8, through music, a museum exhibit on the Maroons, cooking demonstrations, and a discussion with our trailblazers such as Ewart Walters, Roy Williams, Erma Collins, Nye Samuels and Mavis McLaren among others, we will reflect on the contributions of Jamaicans to Canada.

Pan African Credit Union Initiative, pacu.ca – the JCA maintained a credit union for 30 years before dissolving it to give way for the Caribbean Canadian African Credit Union in 1993. Since its demise in 1995, there has not been another Black credit union. In 2018, The JCA, Black Chamber of Commerce and The African Men’s Lions Circle, came together to begin the process of securing approval for the Pan African Credit Union. Since then, we have been working diligently to hold information sessions, survey the community, analyze the results, prepare a business plan and engage key stakeholders. The success of this Initiative is crucial to our economic empowerment. Please support by visiting pacu.ca.

As the 17th President of the JCA, I am proud to work with an amazing team of board members: David Betty, Jodieka Williams, Kashane Denton, Yolande Davidson, Michelle McKenzie-Dolly and Natalee Johnson. Together, we have worked hard to help the JCA adapt to rapid technological, economic and social changes, bring younger people and more recent immigrants into the family, while ensuring the foundation members remain engaged and the history is told to a new generation. We stand on the shoulders of the organization’s foundation members whose efforts have created a legacy that continues to impact Toronto and increasingly the entire Greater Toronto Area.

I am leading during a pandemic and uprising of our community. It is emotional, unsettling and exciting all at the same time. New doors have opened and others have closed. Time will tell how well we were able to make it work. The journey and story of the JCA continues.

(Adaoma Patterson is the President,of the Jamaican Canadian Association.)