Jamaicans in Toronto were urged to remember their history

By Lincoln DePradine

Tamara Tatham, Rev. Michael Blair and Aina-Nia Grant

Jamaicans in Toronto were urged  to remember reggae  icon Bob Marley and others that have shaped Jamaica and its history,”which does not begin with the enslavement of Africans.”

“We need to remember that our story starts not as enslaved peoples. Oftentimes, we think about our history as a history of people of enslavement and not who we were before that experience of enslavement. Enslavement is not the characterization of who we are,’’ Rev. Michael Blair said on Sunday during an online event marking the 58th anniversary of Jamaica’s independence.

(Jamaica’s Independence celebrations were officially held last Thursday.)

Hosted by Reverend Jacqueline Daley and members of St Margaret’s New Toronto Church, the event was titled “Jamaica Independence Day Gathering; And Still We Rise: Resilience & Restoration through Pandemic and Protest’’.

“On this 58th anniversary of our independence, and as we live in this context of change, my challenge and call to us is to remember who we are; remember our story and remember those who have shaped us,’’ said  Jamaica-born Rev. Blair, Executive Minister of the United Church of Canada.

Blair, one of the main speakers  at the event, said Jamaica’s heritage includes those  who were “committed to resistance’’ and the fight for liberation.

“We need to remember people like Paul Bogle and Nanny of the Maroons; and Marcus Garvey and Norman Manley and Alexander Bustamante and Samuel Sharpe and George William Gordon,’’ said Blair.

“Think of people  such as Louise Bennett-Coverley, who taught us to value our language and the stories that shape us. Think of Bob Markey and all the countless others who have demonstrated to us that part of our DNA, as people created in the image of God, people who have a story rooted in the African context, is that we can rise because we come from people who know how to resist. But, not only to resist, but to create an alternative way of being people.’’

Aina-Nia Grant also acknowledged Jamaica’s African ancestors for their “fight and their tenacity’’.

“Let’s stand proud, in spite of what we see going on around us,’’ said Grant, the City of Toronto’s director of social development, finance and administration.

“Mother Africa has many children and that includes Jamaica. In the midst of all that is going on, we continue to rise. We rise, even within the oppression,’’ she said. “Anything that we have achieved, the changes that we are seeing, it’s because of Black people’s power; it’s because of continuous resistance.’’

Grant and Blair were joined on the speakers’ roster by Humber College student Michallia Marks and Tamara Tatham, head coach of women’s basketball at the University of Toronto.

Tatham, who was born and grew up in Scarborough to Jamaican parents, joined the university’s coaching staff as a full-time employee in June 2017.

She was hired after a successful run as a student-athlete at the University of Massachusetts.

Tatham also represented Canada at the Pan American and Olympic Games, as well as the World Championships, and played professional basketball overseas in countries such as Finland, Germany, Slovakia, Australia and Russia.

Her success, Tatham said, would not have been possible without the support of her parents, who “met here, they fell in love and they stayed in Canada. I could have never done it without my parents’’.

Tatham, who turns 35 on August 19, said she not only had a passion for basketball but also a “burning desire’’ to represent Canada.

“That desire made me start making short-term and long-term goals for myself,’’ said Tatham, who graduated college with a Bachelor’s degree in sports management.

“One of the goals was to become an Olympian,’’ she added. “But to get there, I really had to sacrifice a lot. So, I went and I played overseas. That experience really opened my eyes to the world.’’