Caribbean immigrants find refuge and solace at PWA Foundation

By Canute Lawrence

When 37-year-old Brianna (not her real name) arrived in Toronto in 2023, she had no idea that her first week would be spent sleeping on the streets under the stars. The closest experience she has ever had to that was when she attended an all-night Reggae Sunsplash festival in her home country, Jamaica.

Ian McKnight

She remembers how exciting it was partying under the golden sun all day, throughout the night, and into the delicate dawn moments before sunrise. The difference between that experience and the experience in Toronto is that she had an option at the former.

“This is why Black History Month cannot just be celebrated with the obligatory acknowledgement of Black people,” affirms Ian McKnight, Director of Programs and Services, Toronto People With AIDS Foundation (PWA). “It has to take a serious look at the myriad of issues facing Caribbean Black people as they navigate to Canada” McKnight reaffirms.

Jill Andrews

“It is with this in mind that the PWA is taking a deeper dive into Black History Month 2024 activities and ensuring that we go beyond the superficial; not just highlighting isolated stories of resilience and triumph faced by migrants, but to look at some of the systematic barriers that are preventing people from thriving in this country” McKnight emphasizes.

He assures that the activities will celebrate Blackness, and that they will also aim to foster community among and within diverse Black communities in Canada.

It is not a secret that Caribbean people immigrated to Canada during the 1960s and have contributed significantly to the growth of the Canadian economy and landscape in many spheres; arts, entertainment, food, media, banking, education, healthcare, just to name a few.

Caribbean immigrants, over the decades, have added richness, wealth, and flavor to the tapestry of Canadian life, and deserve to be treated equitably, especially those who are vulnerable or marginalized.

On World AIDS Day 2023, PWA and 14 of its other AIDS services organizations concluded that one of the major issues facing the communities served is the current housing crisis particularly for newcomers to Canada. With this reality in mind, PWA continues their reflection in and through Black History Month activities under the theme, “Ubuntu: I am because of you.” Throughout February, PWA is hosting a series of events to capture this very special situation highlighting the philosophy of humanity’s shared responsibility toward our fellow citizens.

Every Monday at 12 Noon, there are lunch and presentations on music, dance, and fashion. On February 12, there is A Culinary Tribute to Black History (Art Exhibition) titled Soulful Flavors,” and on February 26, Elegance in Ebony (Art Exhibition) titled “A Fashion Odyssey Celebrating Black History” will be showcased. There are opportunities to chill and socialize after work to the sound of Black music every Friday at 4:45 PM at its 163 Queen Street East headquarters, in downtown Toronto.  The public is invited to attend each activity.

Black History Month activities will climax with a grand Fashion Extravaganza where Guest Speaker, Member of Provincial Parliament Dr. Jill Andrew is expected to officially bring the final week of celebrations to a close.