The end of 2009 and also the end of the first decade of the 21st century. Wow! I have to take a deep breath, exhale slowly and think about what we have lived through since December 31st 1999. Some events brought great joy and some were horrendous and traumatic but they are mostly in the past, history and merely memories. However as African American singer and song writer Johnny Bristol sang in his popular 1974 song: Memories don’t leave like people do, they always stay with you. Whether they’ve been good or bad, they’re never something that you had.
The first day of 2000 was horrendous and traumatic as just minutes after midnight on December 31, 1999/January1, 2000, Henry Hidaya Masuka, a young African Canadian father was gunned down by police at St Michael’s hospital. Masuka had taken his infant son who had reportedly suffered an asthma attack at home and when the promised medical aid failed to arrive at the family’s home, the 26 year old concerned father took his three month old baby to the emergency department of St Michael’s hospital. As the fireworks celebrating the New Millennium exploded so did the head and chest of the 26 year old Masuka when Toronto police (at least 10 members of the Emergency Task Force were present) opened fire on the young father. The three month old baby witnessed police killing his father but of course could not give evidence at the subsequent inquiry.
Greeted by that news on the first day of the New Millennium was traumatic especially after the anxiety of waiting for the non-existent Y2K disaster. Already in the throes of the Mike Harris Conservative government and their Commonsense Revolution the year did not get any better after our neighbours to the south had George Bush foisted on them. Bush was sworn in as president on January 20, 2001 after a month-long controversial vote recount in Florida that ended with the U.S. Presidency being awarded to Bush by an officially sanctioned 537 votes. Eight months later on September 11th 2001, I arrived at work to witness the surprising sight of staff and students huddled around a television set watching what I thought was a movie, only to discover that they were watching the destruction of the World Trade Centre. The fall out of which affected the world but especially us here in Canada because of our close proximity to the USA. Former Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau reportedly said to the Press Club in Washington, D.C. on March 25, 1969: Living next to you is in some ways like sleeping with an elephant. No matter how friendly and even-tempered is the beast, if I can call it that, one is affected by every twitch and grunt. The paranoia that gripped the USA resulted in Bush being given carte blanche by Americans to attack other nations under false pretences sanctioned by Canada and other developed nations. The Weapons of Mass Destruction were a figment of Bush’s overactive imagination but American lives are still being lost in the bogus war on terror in Iraq. On October 7, 2001 Afghanistan was invaded and we are entering the new decade 2010 as Canadian lives continue to be squandered in Afghanistan.
Some of the not so great events of the past decade that touched my family, friends and community may not have had international recognition but did span several continents. We said goodbye to a warrior sister who transitioned on December 30, 2006. Sister Sherona Hall was a social justice activist whose work spanned from her birthplace (Jamaica) across the Caribbean, North America and the African Continent. Our sister was a champion for the marginalized and the voiceless of all races and faiths. The accolades continue even three years after she transitioned and there are community plans to honour her memory in a very significant way.
My family was devastated when my brother Ras Kelly (the fifth of my parents’ nine children) transitioned in Rome, Italy on December 4, 2007. My brother and his family had left Canada for Italy in 2003 and that was the last time we had seen him alive. In the midst of commemorating the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the British slave trade I left Toronto and arrived in Rome in December 2007 just in time to say a final goodbye to my brother. Looking at that beautiful face that I had known for little more than forty years was traumatic especially when I knew that if one of the people who hurried by him as he collapsed at the busy Stazione di Roma Termini in Italy’s capital had stopped to call for help he would quite possibly be alive today. We still wonder what could have caused a young healthy man (a Boboshanti Rasta who was very particular about diet and exercise) to collapse of a massive heart attack. My brother was an intelligent, educated, lavishly handsome man with such a peaceful and beautiful spirit that he easily made friends wherever he lived (I met the members of the Rasta community and friends who had become his family in Rome) and it was extremely difficult to come to terms with the manner of his passing.
There were other disasters and losses during the past decade including the New Orleans disaster when the levies broke and African Americans were shamefully neglected by the Bush administration. My soul mate Isaac Hayes transitioned on August 10, 2008. I admit we never met, but I could have sworn that when he sang Come live with me it was a personal invitation. However I had to refuse because I did not hear any sense of long term commitment and my overprotective family members would have been up in arms if I had accepted the invitation.
As I look back I have to count my blessings because the past decade has not been all doom and gloom. I am fortunate to have lived in a time when an African American with an African name was elected President of the USA, a country where Africans were enslaved for centuries, suffered horrendous brutality and inhumane treatment. It was so satisfying to watch the inauguration and witness an African American woman, the descendant of enslaved Africans, getting ready to live in the White House (built by enslaved Africans) as First Lady. During the past decade I also experienced the overwhelming joy of seeing and holding the child of my child and I enter 2010 with three gorgeous grandchildren.