Six organizations on the vaccine front celebrated at JCA annual Boonoonoonos

By Lincoln DePradine

JCA President Adoma Patterson

At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, many individuals and groups in Toronto’s Black community sprang into action, after it was revealed that the virus was having a disproportionate impact, in terms of infection and death, on Canadians of African descent.

The Black healthcare respondents, who participated in activities such as organizing and hosting vaccine clinics, were a reminder that “Black lives matter’’, said Adaoma Patterson, president of the Jamaican Canadian Association (JCA).

Patterson was speaking last Sunday at the JCA’s annual Boonoonoonos Black History Month (BHM) celebration.

The word, Boonoonoonos, explained program host Danae Peart, “means to express love; or, in perfect translation, it means special person. In this here Black History Month, we are all very special’’.

The theme of the event was, “Black Health & Wellness’’, and included awards to six organizations that have been involved in the vaccination clinics and other COVID-prevention exercises in the Black community.

The awardees were the not-for-profit social service agency, CAFCAN; the University Health Network’s Social Medicine Program; Black Health Alliance (BHA); Afri-Can FoodBasket; TAIBU Community Health Centre; and the Black Scientists’ Task Force (BSTF) on Vaccine Equity.

“The Black Scientists’ Task Force accepts this award with sincere humility because there is so much work still to be done,’’ BSTF chair Dr Akwatu Khenti, said at Sunday’s presentation.

Among those that were in partnership with the BSTF and other healthcare groups was the Black Physicians’ Association of Ontario, which embarked on a program called the Black Health Vaccine Initiative

Dr Akwatu Khenti

(BHVI).

A key component of the BHVI is the Network of Black Vaccinators that includes Dr Dominick Shelton as co-lead.

The partnership, which brought together the JCA, the Black Physicians’ Association and the BHVI, as well as other groups in the vaccination clinics, “is what self-determination looks like’’, said Shelton, an emergency physician at Sunnybrook.

“Having personally worked at a few of these clinics, I can attest to the positive energy and appreciation that members from our community get from engaging with Black healthcare professionals to receive the vaccine; and, conversely, the fulfillment that we, as healthcare professionals, get from serving our own,’’ Shelton commented Sunday.

Patterson, who presented the awards, said the six recipients “have been on the forefront of supporting Black communities prior to, and during, the pandemic. We have worked with most of them over the course of two years and continue to be amazed by their dedication and commitment to our communities’’.

BSTF chair Khenti said his task force remains committed to its COVID-related work.

“What’s particularly notable about the work, for me personally, is that we’re all doing it out of love and compassion and empathy with our community,’’ he said.

“I accept this award on behalf of the 12 members of the task force. We commit ourselves to keeping up the pace because there’s still lots to be done.’’

On Wednesday evening, the BSTF and the BHA, in continuation of their work, hosted an online townhall meeting titled, “Health and Wellness Lessons from the Black Pandemic Experience’’.

Dominick Shelton

Sunday’s Boonoonoonos, sponsored by the Carpenters’ Allied Workers Union (Local 27), included messages congratulating the JCA on its 2022 Boonoonoonos BHM celebration and on the association’s 60th anniversary, which is being observed this year.

“It is hard to believe that despite many obstacles and challenges, we are still here,’’ said Patterson. “Today, a new generation proudly continues the legacy and foundation laid by the founding-members; and evolving our programs, services and the governance and initiatives to adapt with the time.’’

The JCA is “a beacon of hope’’ and its work “continues to have a profound impact throughout our community, especially on our seniors and on students’’, said Lincoln Downer, Jamaica’s consul general in Toronto.

The JCA founders “have done us a great service’’, said Jamaican-Canadian Michael Thompson, city councillor and deputy mayor of Toronto.

The JCA, located at 995 Arrow Road in North York, received congratulatory greetings from political representatives for the area, including councillor Anthony Perruzza, MPP Tom Rakocevic and federal Liberal Member of Parliament for Humber River-Black Creek, Judy Sgro.

Sgro, bringing greetings on behalf of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, commended the JCA on its “amazing’’ leadership.

Mayor John Tory used the occasion to reiterate his commitment to fighting discrimination of all kinds, including anti-Black racism.

“As mayor, I remain resolute in my commitment to tackling anti-Black racism within our institutions and in our city at large,’’ Tory said. “This is a critical part of how I honour the history of Black Torontonians and Black Canadians.’’