The inaugural Caribbean and Black Community Impact Awards   

By Ken Bruzual 

Gwyn Chapman, Rhonda McEwan, Mary Anne Chambers, Patrice Barnes,

As the last Impact Award was presented, I recall former Ontario NDP Minister of Community and Social Services Zanana Akanda once commented: “After many decades of struggle for equity and acceptance and for blacks in a free demographic in Ontario, we are beginning to see a bright light at the end of the tunnel.”

This viewpoint would undoubtedly have been shared by the elders present at the event, and by those who had witnessed the plight of their own children and grandchildren in schools. Blacks, who have had their own confrontations in academia, would recall the hurdles they had, and still struggle to overcome hurdles that have been in existence for as long as Blacks have lived here.

At the inaugural Impact Awards, staged on Sunday, November 20, I reflected on the influence of the late Al Hamilton’s publication “Contrast.” This pioneering newspaper was the initial step on the ladder that elevated Ontario’s Blacks from being floor mats. Contrast was launched in Toronto in the wake of abject discrimination at the hands of one professor Perry Anderson of George Williams-Concordia University in Montreal Quebec. This led to Caribbean and other students blockading the University’s computer centre in February 1969 February. The demonstration led to the arrest of some 50 black students and an equal number  of 50 white students.

Contrast also led the way in exhorting Toronto Board of Education to stop the practice of streaming Black high school students, which directed them away entering university after graduation.  In its pages, the newspaper took a firm stand against the ousting of former Jamaican labour unionist and York University’s Professor George Eaton (deceased) from the premises he acquired to facilitate summer recreation and athletic training for young Blacks. 

As such, it was certainly heartwarming and very impactful to hear of the accomplishments of former Director of Education of Peel District, and current Director of Education of the TDSB Colleen Russell-Rollins in her role as educator, principal, superintendent and Directors of Education. Russell-Rollins’ was rightfully recognized for her commitment to end all forms of discrimination in policies, practices and programs in the education system.

Earlier, feature speaker and former Ontario cabinet minister Dr. Mary Ann Chambers, paid tribute to Colleen Russell-Rollins; musicians-composes Kirk Diamond and Joel Davis; masquerade designer Louis Saldenah; Tony Sharp, Canadian Olympian and head coach of the Pickering-based Speed Academy Athletics Club; community leader and educator Kandy Samsundar; restauranteur Marcus Davenport; CEO of Mindwell Therapy Collectve Sherrie Mohamed; Juno Awardee for Reggae Reconding Kirk Diamond; the Black Sciences Task Force, and the CEE Center for Young Black professionals. Dr. Chambers was pleasantly surprised when she saw the list of IMPACT 2022 awardees. This attested to the fact that the Caribbean community does have more than its fair share of hidden gems. Dr Chambers’ sentiment was also shared by those in attendance.

I am certain that this inaugural Impact Awards was indeed impactful in acknowledging the contributions of people in the Caribbean community.

It can only get better from here.