Zanana Akande urges community to speak with one voice


By Lincoln DePradine

Rick Gosling and Zanana Akande

Former educator and retired politician, Zanana Akande, is urging African-Canadians to avoid attempts at dividing the community, and appealing to them to unite in the fight against anti-Black racism.

“The collective is still extremely important,’’ Akande said last Saturday in Scarborough at a fundraiser of the Second Chance Scholarship Foundation Inc.

The Foundation, set up in the early 1990s, provides scholarships to Ontario colleges to young men and women incarcerated at youth facilities.

The only demands on scholarship recipients are that they’ll pursue their studies and try and complete their course program, and that they’ll also give back to the community.

“They have to give back a minimum of 10 hours a month to help somebody else along, while we fund them,’’ Rick Gosling, co-founder and president of Second Chance Scholarship Foundation, told the Caribbean Camera.

Akande, in her address, said Black community members should speak out on issues such as racism in school and avoid the divisive question that’s often asked of, “who speaks for the Black community’’?

“They immediately want to assign you to a category, an area, a group, so that what you say relates only to that group,’’ Akande argued. “I beg you to make your voices and your presence known when we’re speaking about our children; not just our Black children, our poor children.’’

Akande, a former school principal, referenced a comment from the Toronto District School Board director, who said the most serious problem confronting city schools is anti-Black racism.

“This is 2019 and he said that,’’ Akande noted, pointing out that Toronto is one of the most culturally and linguistically diverse cities in the world. “I was asked to visit a school not long ago where one of the teachers said, ‘I really want to teach these kids, but I find it hard to deal with their accents’’’.

Akande compared the teacher’s remark to someone obtaining a job at IBM “and then turning to your boss and saying, ‘by the way, would you teach me to use the computer? It’s the same type of thing’’.

If someone can’t do the job of an educator, “I would expect that you would apply to one of the many teaching institutions and get qualified’’, Akande advised.

When children go to school they should have “the best teaching that they can possibly get. And that is the focus of education and everyone should have that opportunity’’, she added.

“I don’t care if you don’t have kids in the school anymore; I don’t care if you don’t even have grandchildren in the schools anymore. I only care that you let your representatives know that you care about the education that is given to every child; that you expect that every child will get an education,’’ said Akande.

“When I say our, I mean all the children in Canada. It makes for a better country, it makes for a better city in Toronto.’’

Akande used herself as an example, revealing that she planned on attending a meeting this week of the Peel Board, which is hosting a discussion on anti-Black racism.

“I don’t live in Peel but I’m going. I’m going because the collective voice is better than the individual,’’ she said.  “I expect you to do the same thing – whether it’s the school down the street or around the corner or in another suburb. If you have the time, certainly make your presence known.’’

Akande, a former Ontario cabinet minister under the NDP government of Premier Bob Rae, is now chairperson of the board of directors of the Black Legal Action Centre (BLAC).

BLAC, a non-profit community legal clinic, was established in 2017. It provides legal aid services to low and no income Black Ontarians.

As part of its mandate, BLAC also is involved in other activities such as engaging in test case litigation and giving public legal information sessions to members of the public and other community agencies.

Akande said BLAC will be hosting its inaugural annual general meeting in January and she invited community members to take up membership, which can be done online by visiting https://www.blacklegalactioncentre.ca/

“I would like you to really seriously consider becoming a member,’’ said Akande.