By Lincoln DePradine
Political leaders do not need “more studies’’ to address anti-Black racism in Canada, including in the City of Toronto, which is “segregated by race and income’’, according to speakers at a Black History Month (BHM) event.
“Anti-Black racism in all of its manifestations continues to negatively impact Black life in all facets of society and requires persistent agitation to disrupt it,’’ educator and historian, Natasha Henry, said last Sunday. “Consistent investments and effective provincial and national strategies are required, not cuts and not any more studies.’’
Henry, also an author and president of Ontario Black History Society (OBHS), was speaking at the organization’s 32nd annual BHM “Kick-Off Brunch’’ at the Beanfield Centre, Exhibition Place.
The brunch, which drew a wide cross-section of people from various professions and social sectors, and also featured top caliber entertainment, is “an important opportunity to recognize stories from our Black communities that have and continue to shape Canada’’, said Naki Osutei, an associate vice president with TD Bank, the event’s gold sponsor.
The OBHS, founded in 1978, is “dedicated to the study, preservation and promotion of Black history and heritage’’.
The theme chosen for its 2020 “Kick-Off Brunch’’ in commemoration of Black History Month was “Ubuntu’ which is Swahili fo “I am, because we are’’.
The “Ubuntu’’ theme, said Henry, “roots us in our collective past and it renews and restores us, as we work together to strengthen communities, especially for the benefit of young people, our elders and those who are vulnerable’’.
There are matters, including combatting anti-Black racism, “to attend to that require a strong united front’’, Henry told the audience.
“Be moved to action,’’ she appealed. “Everyone in this room has a role to play in addressing systemic barriers with a sense of immediacy and should be moved to disrupt anti-Blackness which we know affects life outcomes.’’
Black men and women and their “allies or co-conspirators, who are considered unruly, loud and impatient in their efforts to seek redress and accountability’’, must continue on “in the vein of those who have gone before us’’, said Henry.
Keynote speaker Cameron Bailey noted that the CNE building hosting the OBHS brunch was constructed in 1929.
“In 1929, Black people in Canada were fighting what we now call anti-Black racism on multiple fronts,’’ said Bailey, one of the leaders and the artistic director of the Toronto International Film Festival. “Black people were actively barred or quietly excluded from most workplaces.’’
In big and small towns across Canada in 1929, said Cameron, “Black-faced minstrel shows that mocked Black people, while pretending to celebrate Black culture, were a popular form of entertainment’’.
Barbados-born Bailey, who arrived in Canada as a child, is a former film critic, who reviewed movies for various media in Canada.
“When I think about Toronto, it seems that our presence is as much of a battleground as it ever was. We know that people of colour make up just over half of Toronto’s population. But we all know that the city is segregated by race and income,’’ said Bailey, who sits on the advisory council for Western University’s School for Arts and Humanities.
“Black Torontonians,’’ he added, “are over-represented in poorer neighbourhoods compared to our proportion in the city as a whole, and under-represented in richer neighbourhoods; almost completely absent in some parts of town. We know that Black people, especially young Black people, are policed more than others on the streets of our city; we’re under extra surveillance in some public spaces and in others, we are ignored. It’s not new. Our history can be defined by where we’re extra-visible and where we are invisible.’’
Bailey explained that “history isn’t a series of events in time; it’s the stories we tell about those events, how those stories are shaped, how they’re valued. It’s about who tells them, who listens and who remembers them. In my world, movies are one of the most powerful ways we have of connecting to our history through stories’’.
While some filmmakers have produced “absolute nonsense dressed up as history’’, others have released some commendable movies such as the 1972 “Sounder’’, whose star Cicely Tyson was born in New York to Caribbean parents.
“Tell your story,’’ Bailey urged. “Take up space and let the combined power of our stories hold space for those who will come after us; and that, I believe, is how we make history.’’
Bailey was one of a half-dozen award recipients honoured Sunday by the OBHS for exemplifying the essence of “collective effort and advancement and cultural preservation’’. He was presented with the Dr Daniel G. Hill Award.
Retired Justice of the Peace, Arthur Downes, told The Caribbean Camera he was “overawed’’ to receive the Lifetime Achievement Award. “This is special,’’ he said.
The OBHS and UN International Decade Award was presented to the youth-oriented non-profit organization, Generation Chosen. The Amherstburg Freedom Museum was the recipient of the Harriett Tubman Award; CityNews reporter Tammie Sutherland received the Mathieu Da Costa Award; and musician Bobby Dean Blackburn accepted the Reverend Addie Aylestock Award.
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