By Lincoln DePradine
Black representation, according to university lecturer Jay Pitter, “absolutely matters’’. However, she insists that Black people ought not to settle for governments’ “symbolic gestures’’ that do not improve the living conditions of African-Canadians.
“Changing a street name or putting in a memorial plaque would not enhance the material realities of Black people,’’ Pitter said last Sunday at a Black History Month (BHM) event in Toronto.
She was the keynote speaker at the 36th annual BHM “Kick-Off Brunch’’ of the Ontario Black History Society (OBHS) that attracted current and former politicians, as well as representatives from business, law enforcement and the labour movement.
Each year, as part of the event, awards are presented to outstanding achievers by the OBHS, a registered charity dedicated to the study, preservation and promotion of Canadian Black history and heritage.
Owen Sound’s Ovid Jackson, a former Liberal Party Member of Parliament, was presented with an OBHS “Lifetime Achievement Award’’
Television producer and host, Peter King, also received a “Lifetime Achievement Award’’.
Other award recipients included well-known actor, playwright and documentary filmmaker Anthony Sherwood; social services’ leader and advocate Denise Whitter, and retired public service officer Kevin R. Junor.
Pitter, an award-winning project leader and a university professor and lecturer in urban planning, also was recognized by the OBHS.
She was presented with the “Dr Daniel G. Hill Award for Community Service’’.
Pitter, in her address, said progress in the Black community requires three things. One of them is to stop being “overly elated by symbolic and inspirational institutional gestures’’, she suggested.
“I understand that being represented in the built environment matters,’’ Pitter admitted. However, she wants more attention to be given to such things as the housing needs of Black Canadians.
“We need housing for our families and our elders. give me bricks and mortar. Save the inspiration,’’ she said.
“The reason governments invest so much money in symbolic gestures, instead of infrastructure, it’s because they know that it would maintain the status quo,’’ Pitter argued. “We must move forward from this inspiration nonsense and demand infrastructure.’’
Pitter also recommended what she described as “the importance of developing a healthy sense of spatial entitlement’’.
As she put it, “when we possess a healthy sense of spatial entitlement, we are then able to extend that same sense of belonging and agency to other people’’.
Pitter acknowledged that Black people, through enslavement to now, have been resilient and ingenious, and often have united to help one another.
“We also have academics and professionals, with fancy titles, who refuse to cede space for grassroots wisdom and grassroots voices to be respectfully heard,’’ said Pitters.
“We have elders who sometimes refuse to cede space for the new insights and potential of youth. We have youth who refuse to cede space for the sacrifices and contributions of elders who cleared the path for them,’’ she added.
“One of the most powerful things that we can do is to cede space; to lift up another person without centering ourselves; to acknowledge milestones in a way that respects the collective effort and not simply the individual.’’
Photos By: OBHS