Tuesday, April 27, 2010


Caribana 2008 has come and gone and summer is almost over. There were some awe inspiring moments and some disappointing moments during the Caribana festivities. Some of those awe inspiring moments came from watching the King and Queen competition at Lamport Stadium. The brilliantly crafted costumes sometimes made it difficult to believe that so much could be done with items like fabric, beads and feathers. Martin Scott Pascall’s performance as Male Individual competitor can only be described as exquisite. His flawlessly choreographed moves as he did his 'Dance of the Worshipper Warrior' earned him the Male Individual of the Year title. I was so impressed I left Lamport Stadium with Machel Montano’s version of Congo Man ringing in my ears. The next day I was still singing and dancing to “When last you hear bout the Congo man? When last you jam to a Congo drum?” (which were the only words I remembered) until my child (who unlike me is not a fan of calypso or soca) was forced to voice some disapproval.

Another of those awe inspiring moments happened on Saturday, August 2nd at the Caribana parade when the Toronto Revellers made their appearance. The Toronto Revellers, led by Jamal Magloire educated Caribana watchers about Africa when they showcased their band Alkebulan: Beyond the Nile. Alkebulan is the ancient name for the African continent before Europeans renamed it Africa. With the 12 sections which included 2,000 members, spectators were treated to the colourful and brilliantly crafted costumes that brought to life some of the history of Africa. The costumes of the male Masai dancers were perfection. The Serengeti and Ama Zulu sections were also impressive. Especially impressive were dancers performing the Swazi dance choreographed by Martin Scott Pascall and accompanied by drummers resplendent in African outfits. The sight of African warriors, male and female some carrying replicas of the African continent was a spectacular sight. The name of the sections and the costumes made it obvious that the theme “Alkebulan” had been well researched. The 12 sections were Nubian Kings and Queens, Egoli, City of Gold, Diamonds in the Rough, Ama Zulu, Kemet, Gem of the Nile, Clivia Miniata Bush Lily, Ipada Bo-olog Bon, Serengeti, Masai Magic and Sahara Sunrise. There are not many other places where you would see a female Zulu warrior dancing to soca music with a male Masai warrior as her partner.

My disappointment came earlier than August when in March it was announced that this year’s Caribana would be branded Scotiabank Caribana for two years. I thought we had moved on from being branded since August 1st, 1838. The owning of Caribana by Scotiabank came cheap at 250,000 dollars in sponsorship over the next two years and in-kind donations such as advertising in bank branches both here and abroad. 250,000 dollars is a pittance from an organization that has billions and has benifitted from more than 175 years of Caribbean patronage. Scotiabank’s 2008 first quarter profits were $835 million and they made $3.55 billion in 2006 and Scotiabank Jamaica (established in 1889) made profits of $7.6 billion in 2007. Caribana is a festival that brings over a million people to this city who spend at least 300 million dollars which benefits everyone except our community. In a March, 2008 Caribana press release Toronto Mayor David Miller acknowledged: “Caribana is one of Toronto's oldest and most spectacular traditions, I have enjoyed leading the parade and meeting Torontonians along the route from all backgrounds and all walks of life. Caribana not only enriches this city culturally, it contributes over $300 million annually to our economy.” At the same press conference where Scotiabank announced its partnership with Caribana it was recognized that Caribana is a landmark event and a key tourist attraction for the City of Toronto which attracted more than 1.2 million revellers last summer.

From Scotiabank’s website I read: “The Bank of Nova Scotia (Scotiabank) opened for business in 1832 in Halifax, Nova Scotia, to facilitate the thriving trans-Atlantic trade between Britain, North America and the West Indies. Agents were quickly assigned to New York, Boston and London, providing a framework for the Bank’s operations and an early indication of its global aspirations. Scotiabank paid its first dividend to shareholders a year later - the first in an unbroken history of dividend payments that continues to this day.” I was relieved that unlike Lloyds of London and Barclays Bank that amassed their wealth from the slave trade, even though Scotiabank came into existence two years before slavery was abolished in Canada and six years before slavery was abolished in the British colonized countries, their money was not made from the slave trade. Instead, Scotiabank’s profits initially came through the maritime trade in cod, sugar, molasses and rum between Canada and the West Indies. Of course the sugar, molasses and rum were all made using the coerced, unpaid labour of enslaved Africans and the cod was fed to the enslaved Africans. Scotiabank has shown on their website that they understand the history and significance of Caribana by describing Caribana as “a cultural explosion of Caribbean music, cuisine, revelry as well as visual and performing arts.

Launched in 1967 as a Centennial Project by the Canadian Caribbean community, the world famous festival (Caribana) has become a major international event and in terms of audience, the largest cultural festival of its kind in North America. Carnival is at its roots, a celebration of the abolition of slavery, has now evolved to become an international cultural phenomenon. Scotiabank contributing financially to the Caribana festival however paltry the sum should encourage the other businesses which benefit financially from Caribana to make financial contributions also.

The hotels, banks, restaurants, the government, people who own parking spaces and anyone who has a hall to rent are among the many that benefit financially from Caribana. They all want the money we bring into their coffers but would prefer it if we were invisible. The Caribbean community has to insist that the three levels of government fund (it is our tax dollars) the Caribana festival as they fund other festivals that do not attract the numbers and the financial rewards that Caribana attracts to this country. We dare not take our eyes off or drop this ball because there are so many others waiting to “own” this lucrative Caribbean festival. It was not so very long ago that a group of white men from the USA obtained a patent for the steel pan. The Intellectual Property Office (IPO) of the republic of Trinidad and Tobago successfully challenged the granting of the patent. After a thorough examination of the evidence submitted by the Intellectual Property Office, the United States Patent and Trademark Office issued an Inter Partes Re-examination Certificate that cancelled all the claims of the ‘Cycle of Fifths’ patent, which in essence revoked the patent. Meanwhile I will continue to annoy my child with Sparrow’s infamous yell; “Oudey oudeyy ohh” as I sing and dance to Machel Montano’s version of Congo Man and look forward to an improved Caribana 2009.
Written in 2008 August

Saturday, April 24, 2010


Torontonians were fortunate this past weekend (April 16-17) to be blessed by the presence of some of the most brilliant Africentric thinkers and scholars who willingly shared their time and talent with us.

On Friday, Ishmael Reed introduced his latest book at the Steel Workers Hall in downtown Toronto. Reed, who taught at the University of California (Berkley) for 35 years, has written a book which examines U.S. President Barack Obama's election and first year in power and what he sees as the White media's attempt to "break" Obama's spirit. Reed compares the hatchet job that media outlets like the Fox Network are doing on Obama and his presidency to the work of White men whose jobs during slavery was to break the spirits of enslaved Africans.

During his address I was struck by a remark he made: "Anybody who tells the truth better have one foot in the stirrup." This is similar to an African proverb that cautions: "Whoever tells the truth is chased out of nine villages."

Reed has written several books and articles that have been labeled controversial but he is a brilliant thinker who continues to speak and write the truth.

On Friday and Saturday, the Centre for Integrative Anti-Racism Studies (CIARS) at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) hosted its 3rd annual "Decolonizing the Spirit: Rebuilding the Community & Reclaiming our Histories" conference.

Dr. George Sefa Dei spoke on the subject, "Decolonizing our Education; Challenging Spiritual Disembodiment and Dismemberment" and Dr. Molefi Kete Asante on "Opening the Door to Multiple Spirits: Releasing Ourselves from Mental Bondage".

Both Dr. Asante and Dr. Dei, who are experts on Africentric education, also spoke at an event held at the Africentric Alternative School.

Dr. Dei, who is an international authority on anti-racist education, has written several books on the subject including Reconstructing 'Drop-out': A Critical Ethnography of the Dynamics of Black Students' Disengagement from School published in 1997 and Playing the Race Card: Exposing White Power and Privilege published in 2004. He was one of the many advocates for Africentric schools as a way to stem the tide of "drop-outs" from the education system.

His work makes him an essential partner in ensuring that the Africentric Alternative School is successful in educating our children in an Africentric environment with teachers trained in the concept and understanding of Africentricity. Our community is very fortunate to have professionals like Dr. Dei working at OISE (where educators are educated) and willing to share their expertise with the community.

Dr. Asante who is the foremost authority on Africentricity and has written more than 70 books and 400 articles including "Afrocentricity; the Theory of Social Change" published in 1980 and An Afrocentric Manifesto published in 2008, spoke about the role fear, ignorance and dislocation play in our lives as African people. The importance of character was stressed because, as Dr. Asante pointed out, whatever we achieve, if we are dishonest and lack character we have achieved nothing.

As some people move up the ladder of success in a Eurocentric environment, the importance of character can become lost. There might be the temptation to compromise integrity when called on to face being held accountable for some of their actions that are harmful to the community.

During Dr. Asante's address at OISE on Saturday he also spoke about the importance of our names.

In Alex Haley's Roots: the Saga of an American Family published in 1974, he writes of the process used by the White slave owner to transform Kunta Kinte the African into Toby the Negro slave (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H_A2o8ICcIQ). This happened after Kunta Kinte tried to escape his enslavement. Haley documented the events that led to his ancestor, Kunta Kinte, being kidnapped from his village of Juffure in the West African country, the Gambia, and taken to the U.S. where he was sold and enslaved for the rest of his life.

Kunta Kinte tried to escape several times and the White slave holders felt that part of his continued bid for freedom was the fact that he had refused to use or even acknowledge the name that had been given to him.

In The Autobiography of Malcolm X, also written by Haley and published in 1965, the man who would eventually become El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz was born Malcolm Little but changed his name to Malcolm X and eventually to the name he claimed for the rest of his life after realizing that the name, Little, was given to his family by a White man who had enslaved his ancestors.

Many African-Americans who became members of the Nation of Islam also changed their last names to X and eventually claimed Muslim names. However, the names they claimed are not African names since Islam is no more an African religion than Christianity. Africans were enslaved by Europeans and taken to Europe, the Caribbean, North and South America while Arabs who enslaved Africans took them to the Far and Middle Eastern countries. Since most of us in Canada are the descendants of Africans who were enslaved by Europeans we tend to concentrate on the history of Africans who were enslaved by Europeans and not much attention is paid to those Africans who were enslaved by Arabs.

Since the 1960s with the Civil Rights movement and African-Americans embracing their African ancestry, some people have reclaimed African names. Most of the names we choose are from the Yoruba of Nigeria and the Akan of Ghana although names are chosen from other groups of Africans.

Many Africans in the Diaspora bear the names of the White people who enslaved their ancestors. Our names are a testimony to the many European tribes that enslaved and colonized our ancestors. There are also Africans on the continent with European names because of European colonization of all the African countries except Ethiopia.

Even now, in the 21st Century, many of us in the Diaspora do not even know or acknowledge that we are African because our names were taken away from us along with much of our culture and even our belief systems. Many of our enslaved ancestors who were lost, stripped of their self-esteem, denied the dignity of practicing their culture, retaining their own African names or naming their children eventually clung to the belief systems of those who enslaved and colonized them.

Unfortunately, there are some of us who still do not know who we are because we cannot accept the truth from people who look like us. There is that dislocation that continues to haunt us into the 21st century. We prefer to legitimize the words of Europeans; so for those who need that here is a quote.

The German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer (February 22, 1788 - September 21, 1860) said: "All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident."

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


I doh know bout you but I come out right now to get on bad, bad, bad, bad!

That was really not my intention on Saturday, August 1, 2009. After all, it was Emancipation Day (August 1, 1834 enslaved Africans in Canada were freed from chattel slavery). I had overslept after a really long day on Friday which began with attending a commemoration of Emancipation Day and ended after attending the community reception to recognize Thando Hyman-Aman's appointment as the first principal of the Africentric Alternative School.

I was late for the reception because I took my grandchildren (4 year old and 1 year old twins) and it is a time consuming task getting small children dressed. We missed the bus at Finch subway station because of an insensitive bus driver who drove out of the station even as he saw me running, pushing a stroller and hanging on to the hand of a 4 year old, trying to catch the bus. It took a while for the next bus to arrive and after the reception (which I left after 11:00 p.m.) it was back home to get the babies to bed.

Naturally, I was worn out. (Twenty years ago I could handle this without breaking a sweat.) So there I was on Saturday morning not sure whether or not to make the effort to attend the Caribana parade. The thought of babysitting for the day soon propelled me (don't get me wrong, I absolutely adore my grandchildren) to get out before I ended up spending the day with small people who demand constant attention. And it was Emancipation Day!

I arrived at the CNE where the parade starts, intending to sit in a very ladylike manner and make some notes. I planned to observe the colourful costumes of the mas players, the elaborate and intricately designed larger costumes that require the wearers to be skilled at maneuvering their way along the parade route.

Then the first band was announced, Into D Wild, by bandleaders Alicia and Errol Achue. I diligently noted the information in my notebook and admired the usual pageantry that is Caribana. Then I heard: "I doh know bout you but I come out right now to get on bad, bad, bad, bad!" All the years of training by lovingly overprotective parents and grandparents who felt that properly brought up young ladies should not wine especially in a public place, just flew out of my head.

The next thing I knew, without conscious thought (just in case my father is reading this article) I was on my feet and just could not control the feet, waist, hips and shoulders from moving in time to the beat. It was the drums that did it! At least I think I heard what sounded like some djembe drums. I even tried to get past the security guards (who were very gracious but would not allow me past the barricades even with my media pass).

Good thing, because I could not do much flouncing in the confined space under the tent where I sat with some dignitaries. Imagine what would have happened if I had been allowed to get out onto the parade area.

Things just went downhill from there because Faye Ann Lyons was encouraging me to jump up, get on bad, wave my hands, rags and flags in the air. Honestly, I resisted because I did not have a flag. This is the second year in a row that I was remiss and neglected to take a flag to the Caribana parade even though I have several Guyanese flags of various sizes, plus an Ethiopian flag, a Ghanaian flag and a Jamaican flag.

I could have taken any one of them to wave and no one would have been any the wiser. There were some comic moments during the time it took for that first band to go past the judges; one reveller was carrying what appeared to be a paper mache giraffe about four feet tall, tied to his wrist.

There were also some frustrating moments; one incident in particular threatened to derail my enjoyment of the music. A group of White men who seemed to think it was appropriate for them to occupy more space than anyone else, parked their oversized media equipment and ignored security and police when instructed to move. This group endangered several of the larger costumes (a piece of someone's costume broke) as the mas players maneuvered and tried to get past the obstruction.

Several spectators commented on the disrespect these men showed to our culture. I figured that it must be an extremely powerful group since they even ignored the police request/direction, but since the police officer was not White, they could ignore his authority, White skin privilege trumps African wearing police uniform. I gave some serious thought to leaving after this display of White skin privilege but it was Emancipation Day, the music was amazing and I refused to let their over inflated sense of superiority and privilege ruin my enjoyment of my culture.

So I enjoyed the parade and when the last band went past the judges I really did intend to catch a bus or streetcar back to the subway station. Instead, like the children who followed the Pied Piper of Hamelin, I found myself following the sound of Destra Garcia singing about 'Bacchanal' onto Lakeshore Boulevard. Fortunately, unlike the children of Hamelin, in spite of getting lost on Lakeshore Boulevard, I eventually made my footsore, weary way back home.

Veteran African-American actress, Diahann Carroll, in addressing the aging process has entitled her autobiography The Legs Are the Last to Go but in my case the legs were the first to go. However the waist, hips and shoulders are still doing well because even as I sit and write this article blasting Destra Garcia's 'Bacchanal', they are thankfully working very well.

Cause when the music hits the brain...

Written in August 2009 and I am looking forward to Caribana 2010 in spite of the City’s and Scotiabank’s attempt to “own” Caribana. It is our festival and we need to take ownership in every way.

Sunday, April 18, 2010


Paul Leroy Bustill Robeson was born on April 9, 1898 the fifth and youngest child of Maria Louisa (née Bustill) and William Drew Robeson. The youngest Robeson would grow up to become a world renowned scholar, singer, stage and movie actor, athlete, writer and lawyer. He was also an internationally recognized peace and social justice advocate and activist. Robeson’s father had been born into slavery like most African Americans who were born before 1865 when the enslavement of Africans in America came to an end. In his autobiography Here I Stand which was first published in 1958, Robeson wrote of his father’s escape from slavery as a 15 year old. His mother came from an African American family which had been free for generations before slavery was abolished in the USA. In his autobiography Robeson wrote of his great-great grandfather’s contribution to the war that freed America from British rule (1775-1783). “The winter of the following year (1777) found Washington and the ragged remnants of his troops encamped at Valley Forge, and among those who came to offer help in that desperate hour was my great-great grandfather. He was Cyril Bustill who was born a slave in New Jersey and managed to purchase his freedom. He became a baker and it is recorded that George Washington thanked him for supplying bread to the starving Revolutionary Army.”

Robeson was hounded by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and other American government agencies because he advocated for an end to the Jim Crow laws that circumscribed the lives of African Americans, especially those who lived in the Southern United States. The harassment of Robeson and his family is well documented in FBI files which were made available to his son Paul Robeson Junior through the Freedom of Information Act. The FBI claimed that part of their reason for the extensive surveillance and intrusion into the lives of the Robesons was a connection to Communism. In reality the American government was committed to ensuring that anyone who advocated equality for African Americans would be harassed and their lives destroyed. Robeson refused to be silenced; he used his international popularity as a singer and actor to bring world attention to the plight of his people and others who were oppressed. "I refuse to let my personal success, as part of a fraction of one percent of the Negro people, to explain away the injustices to fourteen million of my people; because with all the energy at my command, I fight for the right of the Negro people and other oppressed labor-driven Americans to have decent homes, decent jobs, and the dignity that belongs to every human being!” When he was told that African Americans should wait to gain the same rights as white people Robeson expressed his disagreement. “The viewpoint that progress must be slow is rooted in the idea that democratic rights, as far as Negroes are concerned, are not inalienable and self-evident as they are for white Americans. Any improvement of our status as second-class citizens is seen as a matter of charity and tolerance. The Negro must rely upon the good will of those in places of power and hope that friendly persuasion can somehow and some day make blind prejudice see the light.”

Robeson began his autobiography by describing himself in the terms of those who had enslaved, oppressed and colonized his ancestors. "I am a Negro. The house I live in is in Harlem—this city within a city, Negro Metropolis of America. And now as I write of things that are urgent in my mind and heart, I feel the press of all that is around me here where I live, at home among my people." However, Robeson did know that he was an African because in an article published in the British magazine Royal Screen Pictorial, April 1935 he is quoted: “I am a Negro. The origin of the Negro is African. It would, therefore, seem an easy matter for me to assume African nationality.” He later expressed his understanding of what was lost to him/stolen from him as an African whose ancestors had been kidnapped and enslaved in America. "I am a singer and an actor. I am primarily an artist. Had I been born in Africa, I would have belonged, I hope, to that family which sings and chants the glories and legends of the tribe. I would have liked in my mature years to have been a wise elder, for I worship wisdom and knowledge of the ways of men."

Robeson acknowledged that his education in America and the culture of America did not encourage African Americans to recognize their African heritage: “I "discovered" Africa in London. That discovery—back in the twenties—profoundly influenced my life. Like most of Africa's children in America, I had known little about the land of our fathers. Both in England, where my career as an actor and singer took me, I came to know many Africans. Some of their names are now known to the world—Azikiwe, and Nkrumah, and Kenyatta, who has just been jailed for his leadership of the liberation struggles in Kenya.” Once he “discovered” Africa Robeson embraced his Africanness by visiting the African continent and learning about African culture and languages. “It is astonishing and to me, fascinating to find a flexibility and subtlety in a language like Swahili, sufficient to convey the teachings of Confucius, for example. These qualities and attainments of Negro languages are entirely unknown to the general public of the Western world and, astonishingly enough, even to Negroes themselves.”

On March 25th in acknowledgement of the International Day to Eliminate Racial Discrimination, Robeson’s extraordinary life of social justice activism was recognized with the unveiling of a poster by the city of Toronto. Robeson’s life can serve as an inspiration to those in our community who are in positions and have the opportunity to speak out about anti-African systemic racism in this society.


I was awed and just bursting with pride last week Wednesday, March 31st at the sight of thousands of young and some not so young mostly African American and African Canadian men and women who attended the 36th Annual National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) Convention. The majority of people attending the convention were engineering students from universities in Africa, the Caribbean, Europe, North and South America. Many others were engineers working for private companies including fortune 500 companies as well as the American government. The Convention which was held from March 31st to April 4th mainly at the Toronto Convention Centre was the first time that an NSBE annual convention was held outside of the United States of America.

The organization which has a membership of 33,000 was founded in 1975 at Purdue University by a group of six engineering students Anthony Harris, Brian Harris, Stanley L. Kirtley, John W. Logan, Jr., Edward A. Coleman, and George A. Smith. NSBE is one of the largest student-managed organizations whose mission is "to increase the number of culturally responsible Black engineers who excel academically, succeed professionally and positively impact the community."

The idea of starting a group to support African American engineering students was first considered in 1971 when two Purdue undergraduate students Edward Barnette and Fred Cooper approached the dean of engineering at Purdue University with the idea of starting the Black Society of Engineers (BSE). They wanted to establish a student organization to help improve the recruitment and retention of African American engineering students because of the high drop-out rate of these students. In the late 1960's 80% of African American students entering the engineering program dropped out. The dean agreed to the idea and assigned the only African American faculty member on campus, Arthur J. Bond, as advisor.

Barnett served as the first president of the BSE. The group gained momentum in 1974, with the direction and encouragement of Bond and the active participation of six students who were to become the founders of NSBE. The six students now known as the "Chicago Six" are Anthony Harris, Brian Harris, Stanley L. Kirtley, John W. Logan, Jr., Edward A. Coleman, and George A. Smith.

Encouraged by their on-campus success and in an effort to combat the isolation and lack of an organized support system for African American engineering students nationwide, Anthony Harris, president of the Purdue chapter, wrote a letter to the presidents and deans of the 288 accredited engineering programs in the country and asked them to identify African American student leaders, organizations and faculty members. Approximately 80 schools responded; many of which had student organizations with similar objectives. At the first national meeting held April 10-12, 1975 there were 48 students representing 32 schools who attended.

It was at that historic meeting that the SBE became the NSBE and where the now familiar and distinctively recognizable NSBE symbol "N" with lightning bolts was chosen. NSBE was eventually incorporated in Texas, in 1976 as 501©3 non-profit organization. The organization’s first female National Chairperson and the first to serve two terms (1978-1980) was Virginia Booth.

Today, the NSBE comprises more than 450 chapters worldwide. These include junior, pre-college, university/college, alumni/technical professional chapters which offer academic excellence programs, scholarships, leadership training, professional development and access to career opportunities for its members annually. With over 2000 elected leadership positions, 18 regional conferences and an annual convention, NSBE provides its members with many opportunities for success. These opportunities are facilitated by NSBE promoting public awareness of engineering and the opportunities for African and other racialized students to study engineering at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Through mentoring, tutoring and community outreach NSBE members encourage students as young as elementary school age to consider mathematics and science as subjects to prepare for eventual entry into engineering careers. There are several NSBE student-run chapters in Canada, mainly at universities in Ontario and Quebec including Carleton, Concordia, McGill and the University of Toronto.

I was contacted last year by a representative of NSBE representative and eventually connected with Tanya Stephens who was the Marketing and Promotions Manager for the NSBE convention. Stephens who attended Concordia University is a systems manager at Proctor and Gamble. I interviewed Stephens for the radio program I host on Tuesday nights at CKLN 88.1 FM. There was another interview a few weeks later after I convinced my co-hosts of Frequency Feminisms, a radio program I co-host on Sunday mornings that it would be worthwhile interviewing a young African Canadian woman engineer since racialized women are under-represented in the field. On Sunday, April 21st we interviewed Tanya Stephens and Evelyn Mukwedeya, a 3rd year student at the University of Toronto studying chemical engineering. We were very impressed with the work that these two young women are doing, not only with NSBE but also with what they have achieved academically. At the NSBE convention I met several of the students and even some engineers including Njema Frazier an African American woman who is a physicist (nuclear physics) with the American government's National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). I was also fortunate to have the opportunity to speak with Anthony Harris one of the members of the "Chicago Six" who spoke about those early days of organizing and is proud of the work that the younger students are doing.

The convention was a huge success thanks to the many people who worked tirelessly including 2010 Convention Planning Committee Chairperson Ainsley Stewart Jr whose parents are Guyanese and the Public Relations Chairperson Anne T. Griffin who was extremely helpful answering my many questions. These young people did an amazing job organizing this first international convention. This very well organized convention featured motivational speakers, workshops, executive roundtables and panel discussions with experts in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math, as well as representatives from several Fortune 500 companies. It was a unique experience for those elementary and high school students to witness the thousands of African university students who are engaged in pursuing post secondary education. I proudly wandered the southern part of the Toronto Convention Centre observing and chatting with some of the thousands articulate, intelligent, motivated African students who are a testament to the excellence that we are capable of achieving when given even half a chance.

It was therefore very disappointing to note the lack of media coverage. As I looked around I noticed the absence of the television cameras or even the members of Toronto's daily newspapers. There was no mystery to their absence; these were positive images of young Africans, not media worthy. It was also disappointing to note that the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) missed a golden opportunity to give our students the benefit of seeing what they can achieve when they graduate from the public school system. I was expecting to see busloads of students from TDSB schools or at the very least a busload of students from the Africentric Alternative School. Alas, I was bitterly disappointed. The NSBE Convention had been widely advertised and the administration at the TDSB were well aware of the significance of our children observing positive examples of people who look like them and for students from other groups to see this also. I did see some students in attendance whose teachers took the initiative to take their students to the convention. One of these groups was from the Ryerson Public School (Dundas and Spadina) who were taken to the convention by the very dedicated African Heritage Kiswahili instructor Lisa Skeete and another staff member. The students and the two teachers were there because they understand the importance of our children observing those positive images. They were determined to be there even though they had to pay their own way to get there (transportation, food and registration fees.) How sad that the people in positions to make a difference at the TDSB missed this golden opportunity to inspire some of those 40% of our children who are at risk of dropping out of school.

Sunday, April 4, 2010


Look for me in the whirlwind or the storm, look for me all around you, for, with God’s grace, I shall come and bring with me countless black slaves who have died in America and the West Indies and the millions in Africa to aid you in the fight for Liberty, Freedom and Life.

Excerpt from a letter written by The Honourable Marcus Mosiah Garvey writing from Atlanta Prison, February 10, 1925

In a pre-dawn raid on April 2, 1969, the police arrested 21 members of the Black Panther Party of New York. The New York 21 were charged with conspiracy to bomb police stations, department stores, the New York City subway and the New York Botanical Garden.

The Black Panther Party for Self Defense (BPP) was founded in Oakland, California in 1966 by Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale who were students at Merritt College, Oakland, California. One of its most famous members was Dr. Angela Davis. The BPP was founded in the wake of the assassination of El Hajj Malik El Shabazz (May 19, 1925 – February 21, 1965). The younger generation of African Americans was not satisfied with the previous decade’s leadership advocating non-violence. They had experienced violence at the hands of white Americans, witnessed or seen images on television of nonviolent African American men, women and children demonstrators being water hosed, beaten and jailed by white police, spat on and brutalized by white Americans merely for protesting social injustices.

Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin who became a member of the BPP in 1968 wrote in his 1969 published autobiography: “I had been born in "america, the land of the free." To insure my country's freedom, my father was somewhere fighting, for this was a year of the second war to end all wars — World War II. This was October 4, 1943, and victory was in the air. The world would now be safe for democracy. But who would insure my freedom? Who would make democracy safe for Black people? America recognized long ago what negroes now examine in disbelief: every Black birth in america is political. With each new birth comes a potential challenge to the existing order. Each new generation brings forth untested militancy.”

Even before the founding of the BPP young urban African Americans rejected non¬violence as a tactic to gain their Civil Rights. This was evident in protests like the Watts Uprising in Watts (Los Angeles), California (August 11th – 17th 1965) in reaction to police brutality. The Watts Uprising triggered similar responses to oppression and by 1967; there had been more than 100 major African American urban uprisings in cities across the USA. The two largest occurred in July 1967 in Newark, N.J., (July 14th - July 17th) and Detroit, Michigan (July 23rd – July27th.) The first African American mass uprising in Detroit took place on June 17, 1833 during the rescue from re-enslavement of Thornton Blackburn who with his wife Lucie became Toronto’s first taxi cab owners in 1837.

The BPP did more than physically defend African Americans against state violence, organized (Ku Klux Klan, White League, Red Shirts etc.,) and individual white violence. Their ten point plan outlined their demands http://www.blackpanther.org/TenPoint.htm including employment, decent housing, relevant education and an immediate end to police brutality. These demands, the rights of any American citizen were met with hostile reaction from the government and many white Americans including the media.

Then Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) J. Edgar Hoover described the Panthers as “the greatest threat to the internal security of the country.” In the attempt to destroy the BPP, the FBI unleashed a smear campaign of misinformation, ably assisted by the white media. Hoover had been attempting since his early days at the FBI to prevent the rise of what he called “a Black Messiah” to ensure that the masses of African Americans would not rise above the state of third class citizens in the country where their ancestors’ blood sweat and tears had contributed to the wealth that white people in America could take for granted. In the 1980s Susan McIntosh, a white professor documented the privileges that white Americans enjoy based on the colour of their skin http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DRnoddGTMTY

Hoover focused on destroying anyone who he thought could be the “Black Messiah.” Beginning with the Honourable Marcus Mosiah Garvey in 1919, Hoover focused on destroying the lives, credibility and reputation of Africans who were leaders or potential leaders of the masses including El Hajj Malik El Shabazz, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and many members of the BPP.

The members of the BPP recognizing that their role as defenders of the people entailed more than protection against police brutality established Survival Programs which included free breakfast programs, free medical clinics with Sickle Cell Anemia Testing, grocery giveaways, the manufacture and distribution of free shoes, school and other education programs, senior transport and service programs, free bussing to prisons and prisoner support and legal aid programs.

The BPP received international support from Pan Africanists including Guyanese historian Walter Rodney who wrote about the killing of a BPP member in November 1971: “To most readers in this continent, starved of authentic information by the imperialist news agencies, the name of George Jackson is either unfamiliar or just a name. George Jackson was jailed ostensibly for stealing 70 dollars. He was given a sentence of one year to life because he was black, and he was kept incarcerated for years under the most dehumanizing conditions because he discovered that blackness need not be a badge of servility but rather could be a banner for uncompromising revolutionary struggle. He was murdered because he was doing too much to pass this attitude on to fellow prisoners. George Jackson was a political prisoner and a black freedom fighter. He died at the hands of the enemy.”

The defendants presented a statement dated March 1, 1970 to the presiding judge which read in part:
We the defendants named by the state in the proceeding now pending before “Justice” John M. Murtagh say: That the history of this nation has most definitely developed a dual set of social, economic, and political realities, as well as dynamics. One white, and the other black.

Let us not conveniently forget how the system of “American justice” systematically upheld the bizarre reasoning about black people in order to retain a system of slave labor. And when this became economically unnecessary, how “the great American system of justice” helped to establish and maintain social degradation and deprivation of all who were not white, and most certainly, those who were black. To be sure the entire country had to share in this denial; to justify the inhuman treatment of other human beings, the American had to conceal from himself and others his oppression of blacks, but again but again the white dominant society has long had absolute power, especially over black people – so it was no difficult matter to ignore them, define them, forget them, and if they persisted, pacify or punish them.

We as a people do not exist except as victims, and to this and much more, we say, No more. For 350 years we said this in various ways. But running deep in the American psyche is the fear of the ex-slave. Those of the other reality, the dominant white culture, its institutions, had no ears to truly hear. The wax of centuries of master-slave relationship had stopped up their ears, your ears. For if our reality, the black experience in America, is invalid, then so are the institutions and social structure that contributed to its creation invalid. If you then concede it is valid (which it most definitely is), then it must be of consequence in determining what is “justice” compared to us (black people).

African Americans had suffered a unique form of “justice” at the hands of white people in America especially after the abolition of slavery when whites in America felt that Africans had to be kept in their place through terrorism.

On May 13, 1971, after the longest political trial in New York's history, the New York Panthers were acquitted of all charges after 90 minutes of jury deliberation. The New York 21 included Tupac Shakur’s mother Afeni Shakur who gave birth to her son one month (June 16, 1971) after her acquittal. In the collective autobiography of the New York 21 Look for me in the Whirlwind (title taken from Garvey’s letter written while he was imprisoned in Atlanta, February 10, 1925) the members document their ordeal. The American government was ruthlessly and brutally efficient in its quest to destroy the Black Power Movement which included the Black Panther Party.