Saturday, December 25, 2010



In the next few days many of us will be celebrating Christmas and Kwanzaa. While the celebration of Christmas has evolved over many centuries, the celebration of Kwanzaa is relatively new, 44 years old. The celebration of Christmas has been adapted and shaped by different communities and cultures. The Christmas tree (originally German) which is now an established part of Christmas celebrations was introduced and became popular in the former British Empire (which included Canada and the Caribbean islands) during the reign of Victoria. In 1846 an illustration of the British royal family Victoria, her German husband Albert and their children appeared in the Illustrated London News, standing around a decorated Christmas tree. The fashion caught on not only in Britain and the British Empire but also in the United States of America. In many homes today, a decorated tree is an essential part of the Christmas celebration.

Santa Claus in America, Canada and elsewhere, Father Christmas in Britain and many former British colonies is also an established figure in the celebration of Christmas. However, the jolly, white haired, bearded figure with the hearty laugh is mostly an American invention. Although legends abound from Turkey and various European countries of Saint Nicholas/St Nick, Kris Kringle and Sinterklaas, the modern version was popularised by Coca-Cola in the 1930s to boost sales of their product. Coca-Cola claim in their advertising: “2006 marked the 75th anniversary of the famous Coca-Cola Santa Claus. Starting in 1931, magazine ads for Coca-Cola featured St. Nick as a kind, jolly man in a red suit. Because magazines were so widely viewed, and because this image of Santa appeared for more than three decades, the image of Santa most people have today is largely based on our advertising.”

Since the days of the popularised Coca-Cola image of Santa Claus the celebration of Christmas has become less a religious observance/holiday and more a secular and highly commercial celebration/holiday. Christmas as a secular and commercial celebration is celebrated worldwide even in countries where the main religion is not Christianity.

In the Caribbean islands that were colonized by the British and in Guyana, the Christmas celebrations were at one time patterned after the colonizer but over time we made the celebration uniquely Caribbean with decorations, food and music. Steel pan music as accompaniment to the traditional carols, calypso, reggae and soca versions of those carols and even Caribbean composed songs to celebrate Christmas including the spirited and popular “Drink a rum” by Lord Kitchener and “listen mama I want you to tell Santa Claus” by Nat Hepburn. A Guyanese Christmas is not complete without a pepperpot (made with casareep) breakfast.

Christmas, many centuries old has moved from its supposed roots (many pagan rituals were included) of the celebration of the birth of Christ while Kwanzaa at 44 years old is still true to its roots as a Pan-African seven day celebration which begins on December 26th and goes until January 1st. The creation of Kwanzaa served as a way to reconnect African Americans to African culture and to celebrate family, community and culture. Kwanzaa is a celebration for all Africans regardless of their religion or country of birth. It is a time to celebrate our culture, learn about our history, honour African ancestors and traditions, spend time with family and friends and look to our future as a people.

The Kwanzaa celebration inspired racial pride in African Americans who, like other Africans in the Diaspora had been brainwashed into thinking that European culture was superior. The values articulated in the seven Kwanzaa principles “Nguzo saba” resonate with Africans and the celebration which began with a few people in the USA in 1966 is now an international celebration. In 1998 it was estimated that Kwanzaa was celebrated by 18 million Africans worldwide.

Kiswahili, the most widely spoken African language is used during the celebration of Kwanzaa which comes from "matunda ya kwanza" meaning "first fruits of the harvest.” Decorating the Kwanzaa table is an opportunity to learn some Kiswahili words. There are seven symbols that make up the table setting for a Kwanzaa celebration. The mkeka (mat) is the foundation upon which the other symbols are placed. The kinara (candle holder) holds the mishumaa saba (seven candles). The kikombe cha umoja (unity cup), mazao (fruits and vegetables), muhindi/vibunzi (corn) and zawadi (gifts) are placed on the mkeka. To the greeting/question, “Habari gani?” the answer is the principle of the day.

The Nguzo Saba (seven principles) are Umoja (Unity), Kujichagulia (Self- Determination), Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility), Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics), Nia (Purpose), Kuumba (Creativity) and Imani (Faith). Each principle is represented by a candle (mshumaa). The colours used during Kwanzaa (red, black and green) are the Pan-African colours chosen by the Honourable Marcus Mosiah Garvey. The red, black and green bendera (flag) is sometimes a part of the Kwanzaa decoration. Black represents the African people; red represents the blood shed in our struggle for freedom and green is the symbol of our future and the richness of the African continent.

The Mishumaa saba (seven candles) used during Kwanzaa are red black and green. The black candle is placed in the centre of the kinara, the three red candles to the left of the black candle and the three green candles to the right. On the first day of Kwanzaa, December 26th, the black candle, representing umoja (unity) is lit. On the second day of Kwanzaa, the first red candle next to the black candle, representing kujichagulia (self-determination) is lit. On the third day of Kwanzaa, the first green candle, next to the black candle, representing ujima (collective work and responsibility) is lit. The candles are lit in this alternating pattern until the last green candle, representing Imani (faith) is lit on the last day of the Kwanzaa celebration January 1st.

Celebrating Kwanzaa encourages making or buying educational African centred zawadi (gifts) for children to practice Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics) so that money circulates in the community at least seven times. There are excellent books written for African children about the heroes and sheroes who can serve as inspiration and role models. Mathieu DaCosta by Itah Sadu, The Kids Book of Black Canadian History by Rosemary Sadlier, To Be a Drum by Evelyn Coleman, The Sound that Jazz Makes by Carole Boston Weatherford, In Daddy's Arms I Am Tall by Javaka Steptoe, Jambo Means Hello: Swahili Alphabet Book by Muriel Feelings, The Friendship, Song of the Trees, Mississippi Bridge and The Well by Mildred D. Taylor are all excellent Kwanzaa zawadi for children. The decorations for the Kwanzaa table, including a beautifully carved wooden kinara, mkeka, kikombe cha Umoja and kente cloth can all be found at African Canadian owned stores. The seven principles can be a guide throughout the year and do not have to be relegated to the Kwanzaa celebration from December 26th to January 1st.

An important part of the Kwanzaa celebration is the recognition of those who went before us. We remember those who paved the way for us, those on whose shoulders we stand and we are thankful that they never stopped striving for their freedom. Some of those freedom fighting ancestors are Kofi (Guyana’s National Hero who led the Berbice Revolution of 1763) Nanny (Jamaica’s lone female National Hero) Nana Yaa Asantewa (who led the last Ashante battle against the British in Ghana) Queen Nzingha (who battled the Portuguese in Angola) Mbuya Nehanda (who led the Shona resistance against the British in Zimbabwe) Viola Desmond who defied Canadian segregation practices and was arrested on November 8, 1946 for sitting in the white section of a New Glasgow, Nova Scotia cinema and Carrie Best who publicized and supported Viola Desmond’s fight.

The community is invited to a free Kwanzaa karamu on December 31 to celebrate Kuumba (creativity) at 100 Devonshire Place. If you have not celebrated Kwanzaa, now is a good time to start. Kwanzaa yenu iwe na heri! May your Kwanzaa be happy!! Merry Christmas!!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010




No part of our legacy is more valuable than the unique ethical teaching of the Odu Ifa, the sacred text of our Yoruba ancestors, that we and all humans are divinely chosen to bring good into the world and that this is the fundamental meaning and mission of human life. As cultural nationalists, we believe that you must rescue and reconstruct African history and culture to revitalize African culture today in America. In the final analysis shared social wealth and work are key to African economic development
Dr. Maulana Karenga

In 1965 Dr. Maulana Karenga and several advocates founded the organization Us. Out of that period when African Americans struggled to gain their civil rights Us “projected a new vision of possibility through service, struggle and institution-building.” In that framework and spirit, they co-founded the Brotherhood Crusade, the Black Congress, Mafundi Institute, the Community Alert Patrol, and the Operational Unity Committee. The organization was involved in planning the Kedren Community Mental Health Center, the Watts Health Foundation and the Ujima Housing Project. They worked with schools and parent groups to establish and maintain quality education and built a youth movement, the Simba Wachanga (The Young Lions) which is a model and inspiration for numerous rites of passage programs. The organization also established and maintains the African American Cultural Center, the Limbiko Tembo Kawaida School of African American Culture (an independent cultural school for children,) the Kawaida Institute of Pan-African Studies (which sponsors an annual seminar in Social Theory & Practice) and the University of Sankore Press.

The group is most famous for the creation of Kwanzaa and the introduction of the Nguzo Saba (Seven Principles.) Kwanzaa, which comes from the Kiswahili phrase “matunda ya kwanza” (first fruits of the harvest,) was created in December 1966. Karenga, professor of Africana Studies at California State University, Long Beach, author and scholar-activist stresses the need to preserve and promote African culture.

Dr Molefi Kete Asante in his 2009 published book Maulana Karenga: An Intellectual Portrait writes: “Maulana Ndabezitha Karenga is an intellectual and political activist who is always at work, writing, speaking, editing teaching and consulting. Maulana Karenga is the preeminent African American cultural theorist and one of the towering figures in the science of social and cultural reconstruction of our era.” In the foreword of the book Dr Ama Mazama associate professor of African American Studies at Temple University writes: “Only five intellectual movements among African Americans in the last century have been fully transformative: Marcus Garvey’s Pan African movement, Martin Luther King’s civil rights movement, Elijah Mohammad’s religious nationalism, Maulana Karenga’s Kawaida and Molefi Kete Asante’s Afrocentricity. These intellectual and activist traditions have been at the forefront of changing the operational, social, religious, legal, or symbolic nature of the African American community.”

Kwanzaa is a celebration of family, community and culture based on African harvest celebrations that urges and encourages Africans in the Diaspora to connect with their cultural and historical roots. Kwanzaa is cultural, practiced by Africans of all religious faiths who come together based on the Pan-African philosophy of the Honourable Marcus Mosiah Garvey. In an interview with Emerge Magazine Karenga said, "As cultural nationalists, we believe that you must rescue and reconstruct African history and culture to revitalize African culture today in America. Kwanzaa became a way of doing just that. I wanted to stress the need for reorientation of values, to borrow the collective life-affirming ones from our past and use them to enrich our present."

The Nguzo Saba (Seven Principles) of Kwanzaa was designed to be a value system for African Americans to attain a national liberation from the cycle of poverty that has dogged Africans in the Diaspora since the abolition of chattel slavery. The Nguzo Saba are Umoja (unity), Kujichagulia (self-determination), Ujima (collective work and responsibility), Ujamaa (cooperative economics), Nia (purpose), Kuumba (creativity) and Imani (faith). Karenga has stressed the importance of culture as a way to unite and overcome oppression and achieve economic freedom for Africans.

Initially celebrated by a few hundred people in the United States, Kwanzaa has spread internationally and celebrated wherever Africans live. The purpose of Kwanzaa, a celebration of family, community and culture has resonated with Africans and by the 1990s Kwanzaa was celebrated by over 18 million Africans in Africa, Canada, the Caribbean, Europe and the United States. Africans in the Diaspora, the descendants of enslaved Africans who for hundreds of years were disconnected from their origins have embraced the opportunity to connect/reconnect with the culture and history of their ancestors.

Kwanzaa was created to be more than a seven day celebration (December 26 – January 1) and lighting of candles. The Nguzo Saba has encompassed every area of the lives of Africans including the education of our future generations. The work of Karenga and other scholars like Dr Molefi Kete Asante led to the establishment of African centred education from elementary schools to post secondary institutions. It is through their work that Africentric elementary schools were developed and African studies were established at universities. They ensured that it was recognized that Africentricity is not Eurocentricity in Black face. Africentricity includes exploring and analyzing the culture and history of African people from the continent and the Diaspora from an Africentric perspective. Asante has described Africentricity as: "literally placing African ideals at the center of any analysis that involves African culture and behavior."

He has also written that: Afrocentricity stands as both a corrective and a critique. Whenever African people, who collectively suffer the experience of dislocation, are relocated in a centered place, that is, with agency and accountability, we have a corrective. By recentering the African person as an agent, we deny the hegemony of European domination in thought and behavior, and then Afrocentricity becomes a critique. On the one hand, we seek to correct the sense of place of the African, and on the other hand, we make a critique of the process and extent of the dislocation caused by the European cultural, economic, and political domination of Africa and African peoples.

It is possible to make an exploration of this critical dimension by observing the way European writers have defined Africa and Africans in history, political science, anthropology, and sociology. To condone the definition of Africans as marginal and fringe people in the historical processes of the world, including the African world, is to abandon all hope of reversing the degradation of the oppressed. Thus, the aims of Afrocentricity as regards the cultural idea are not hegemonic. Afrocentrists have expressed no interest in one race or culture dominating another; they express an ardent belief in the possibility of diverse populations living on the same earth without giving up their fundamental traditions, except where those traditions invade other peoples’ space.
Afrocentricity finds its inspirational source in the Kawaida philosophy’s long-standing concern that the cultural crisis is a defining characteristic of 20th century African reality in the diaspora just as the nationality crisis is the principal issue on the African continent. Afrocentricity sought to address these crises by repositioning the African person and African reality from the margins of European thought, attitude, and doctrines to a centered, therefore positively located, place within the realm of science and culture.

Afrocentricity finds its grounding in the intellectual and activist precursors who first suggested culture as a critical corrective to a displaced agency among Africans. Recognizing that Africans in the diaspora had been deliberately deculturalized and made to accept the conqueror’s codes of conduct and modes of behavior, the Afrocentrist discovered that the interpretative and theoretical grounds had also been moved. One can be born in Africa, follow African styles and modes of living, and practice an African religion and not be Afrocentric. To be Afrocentric one has to have a self-conscious awareness of the need for centering. Thus, those individuals who live in Africa and recognize the decentering of their minds because of European colonization may self-consciously choose to be demonstratively in tune with their own agency. If so, this becomes a revolutionary act of will that cannot be achieved merely by wearing African clothes or having an African name.

During the celebration of Kwanzaa it is important that we remember to live the Nguzo Saba everyday. Expressing Ujima (to build and maintain our community together and make our brothers’ and sisters’ problems our problems and to solve them together,) in 1999 Karenga spoke at a seminar about the need for a living wage where he said: “One of the most important struggles for social and economic justice of our times is the expanding and ongoing struggle for a living wage. The struggle is essentially directed towards securing for low-income workers a wage which provides for them with adequate means to support themselves and their families, rise above the poverty level which entraps them and live a life of dignity and decency due every human being.”


When the Missionaries arrived, the Africans had the Land and the Missionaries had the Bible. They taught how to pray with our eyes closed. When we opened them, they had the land and we had the Bible.

Quote attributed to Jomo Kenyatta, Kenya’s first Prime Minister (1963–1964) and President (1964–1978)

Jomo Kenyatta became Kenya’s first Prime Minister when the country gained its political independence from Britain on December 12, 1963. Kenyatta, born Kamau wa Ngengi to parents Muigai and Wambui who were members of the Kikuyu ethnic group in central Kenya changed his name to Jomo Kenyatta as an adult.

The first Europeans entering Kenya in 1844 were German missionaries. These missionaries had more on their minds than converting Africans to Christianity. They made numerous exploratory journeys into the interior of the country where they carefully mapped and wrote about their findings. Their detailed maps and cataloguing of the land, which they published, showed huge inland lakes, speculations about the source of the Nile and their sightings of the snow-covered peaks of Mountains Kilimanjaro and Kenya. The findings of the missionaries published in 1860: Travels, Researches, and Missionary Labours During an Eighteen Years' Residence in Eastern Africa led to British adventurers descending on the country. Not surprisingly, the missionary Johann Ludwig Krapf dedicated the book to “The Prince Consort Francis Albert Augustus Charles Emmanuel etc.,” the German husband of then reigning British monarch, Victoria.

The history of Kenya however began long before the advent of Europeans to the area in the 1840s. In the 1981 published book Kenya’s Past: An Introduction to Historical Method in Africa, Thomas Spear writes “The history of eastern and central Kenya stretches more than two million years from the initial emergence of mankind itself to the present. The archaeological record of mankind in Kenya is the oldest in the world, stretching back some four to five million years to the earliest men and women and their immediate forebears living on the shores of Lake Turkana.”

The communities in the area included, farmers, fishers, hunters and ironworkers who supported the economy with agriculture, fishing, metal production and trade with other countries. Mombasa (Kenya’s capital) was the major port city of Kenya in the Middle Ages from where large and small ships left to trade with other countries. In the 16th century, Duarte Barbosa a Portuguese writer and trader visited several countries bordering the Indian Ocean and documented his findings in The Book of Duarte Barbosa: An Account of the Countries Bordering on the Indian Ocean and Their Inhabitants which was published in 1518. Of his visit to Mombasa, Barbosa wrote, “This is a place of great traffic and has a good harbour in which there are always moored small craft of many kinds and also great ships, both of those which come from Sofala and those which go thither, and others which come from the great kingdom Cambaya and from Melinde and others which sail to the island of Zanzibar.”

Kenya’s history was re-written by white colonizers who swiftly followed the German missionaries and British adventurers. The lives of the Africans changed considerably after this large scale occupation of the land by white men and women. The Germans and British were jostling each other for space in East Africa. The covetous Europeans had occupied other areas of Africa and by 1884 felt that they needed to have some rules since they were tripping over each other in their greedy stampede to occupy African land. In 1884 at the request of Portugal, German chancellor Otto von Bismark organized a meeting (Berlin Conference) of the major white controlled nations of the world to negotiate and end the confusion over who would occupy which portion of Africa. Fourteen countries were represented when the conference opened in Berlin on November 15, 1884; Austria-Hungary, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Sweden-Norway (unified from 1814-1905), Turkey and the United States of America. The feeding frenzy lasted three months until February 26, 1885. This group of white men in Europe haggled over haphazardly drawn boundaries on the African continent, disregarding the centuries old established communities, cultures and order of the Africans.

The British moved into Kenya, occupied the most fertile land and forced the Africans off the land. They passed laws that disenfranchised Africans, even forbidding them to own land in certain parts of the country. With the white interlopers occupying what they dubbed the "White Highlands" of Kenya, the Maasai and the Kikuyu were displaced and some were forced unto reserves. With the fertile land in Kenya reserved for white people and Africans forced to subsist on mostly infertile land, the white settlers became increasingly wealthy while the Africans lived in poverty. The large scale farming that enriched the white farmers needed cheap labour but the Africans refused to work on the farms. To ensure that Africans were a cheap source of labour for the white population of Kenya, the British government passed laws which forced the Africans to work for the white people who now occupied their land. The British army was on hand to ensure that white farmers and the stolen African land they occupied was protected. The Masters and Servants Act (1906) ensured that a caste system of all white people as masters and all Africans as servants was firmly in place.

Even after carving up the African continent and exploiting the natural resources and the people, the Europeans continued to fight each other over territory until everything came to a head in 1914 with an all out European armed tribal conflict. Following that armed conflict, Germany lost the African land it had coveted to other Europeans. The second European tribal conflict which lasted from 1939 to 1945 was a turning point for Africans across the continent. Africans from the various colonized nations were forced into both wars as fighting men and when they returned home were not satisfied to continue living as third class citizens. Returning to Kenya after the second war in Europe the African ex-servicemen found that the British colonial government had reneged on its promise to provide them with land and other benefits and instead their taxes had been increased. According to authors Esther and Joseph Oppong (Kenya published 2004) Harry Thuku (co-founder of the Kikuyu Central Association) acting for a group of disgruntled Kenyan ex-servicemen wrote to the government saying: "When we went to do war work we were told by His Excellency the governor that we should be rewarded, but it is our reward to have our tax raised and to have registration papers given to us for our ownership of land to be called into question; to be told today that we are to receive title deeds and tomorrow for it to appear that we are not to receive them.”

The British government ignored the repeated requests to honour the promises made to the men. The continued disrespect and mistreatment of the Africans by the British government and the white occupiers of the land led to the independence movement with Kenyatta as its eventual leader. The British resisted the Kenyan call for independence, imprisoning, torturing and killing the freedom fighters. After decades of fighting the British for their independence during which Kenyatta and other leaders were imprisoned, some tortured and killed, with thousands of African civilians killed by British troops, Kenyans gained their independence on December 12, 1963.

Friday, December 3, 2010


In less than a month most of the world’s population will be celebrating a New Year, 2011. The rapidly approaching New Year 2011 has been declared the International Year for People of African Descent by the United Nations (UN). Meanwhile there is much to do and remember in December 2010. Last week Thursday, November 25, the city of Toronto celebrated Human Rights Day by presenting several awards to deserving Torontonians during which several important dates for commemoration and remembrance in December were mentioned. Those dates include December 2 the UN recognized International Day for the Abolition of Slavery and December 6, the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women.

The December 2 UN recognized International Day for the Abolition of Slavery came out of the adoption of the UN Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others (resolution 317(IV) of December 2, 1949). To memorialize the resolution, a UN report of the Working Group on Slavery recommended in 1985 that December 2 be proclaimed the World Day for the Abolition of Slavery in all its forms and by 1995 the day was known as the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery.

The commemoration of December 2 is a recognition that the UN is committed to fighting against slavery and considers bonded labour, forced labour, child labour and trafficking people modern forms of slavery. Some sources claim that more than a million children are trafficked each year for cheap labour or sexual exploitation. These are global problems and against article four of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that “no one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms”

The December 2, commemoration is separate from the commemoration of the horrific and inhumane centuries long enslavement of Africans. The recognition and commemoration of the end of the four hundred years Maafa (trade and enslavement of Africans by Europeans) is recognized annually on August 23 as the UN International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition. From the 15th century to the 19th century Africans were subjected to a particularly horrendous form of slavery by Europeans where they were stripped of their culture, languages and names, forbidden under pain of death from practicing their spiritual beliefs and used for inhumane experiments. The systematic abuse was documented in books like Thomas Thistlewood’s diary published in 1999: In Miserable Slavery: Thomas Thistlewood in Jamaica, 1750-86. In his 1983 published Slavery and the Slave Trade: A Short Illustrated History, James Walvin writes that the enslavement of Africans “represent an unparalleled degree of human misery and social dislocation.” Dr Joy De Gruy Leary reminds us that the effect of the four hundred year trauma was never addressed and continues to plague the descendants of enslaved Africans today in the form of what she terms Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome. While slavery has been sometimes considered an example of “man’s inhumanity to man” women because of their gender suffered a unique inhumane abuse during slavery and every armed conflict between men.

During the enslavement of Africans, women were vulnerable to sexual abuse because of their gender. In any situation of armed conflict, women are vulnerable to sexual abuse because of their gender. The ongoing armed conflict fuelled by white corporate greed has led to horrific gender based violence against Congolese women which has engendered nothing less than a deafening international silence.

This silence continues even on December 6 when Canadians observe the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women although the majority of mining companies fuelling the ongoing armed conflict in the Congo are Canadian. Admittedly the December 6 observances came out of the murder of 14 white women who were students in the engineering program at École Polytechnique de Montréal on December 6, 1989, however, violence against women is no respecter of race, caste or class. Where does this violence against women begin?

“A boy who hits a girl is a coward”: was a mantra from my childhood and youth growing up in Guyana, South America. Most boys took it to heart and it would be very rare where a boy would hit a girl. Maybe it was because they did not want to be considered cowards or because parents, teachers and their peers reinforced the idea. From recent incidents at schools in Toronto it is obvious that the decades old mantra from my childhood in Guyana is not part of the culture here in Toronto.

One incident involved a 7 year old student whose parents are clearly distressed at the continued bullying of their daughter by a 7 year old boy in her Scarborough school classroom. The child’s mother also detailed and posted to her facebook page her frustration with the continued physically violent abuse of her child. The mother documented on her facebook post that the little boy was attempting to kiss and lick the little girl’s neck among other inappropriate behaviour and when the little girl objected her classmate would then become physically abusive. The parents met with the principal of the school to express their concerns and were surprised when they were told by the principal that if their child could not handle the rough culture of the Scarborough public school system, they might want to consider enrolling her in private school. In another case a 5 year old kindergartner who is a student in a North York public school reported to her parents that she had been “kicked three times in the stomach” by a classmate. The teacher admitted to the little girl’s mother that she had witnessed the abuse but was not sure if the little girl had done something to provoke the violent attack. To her credit the teacher in that case did ensure that her kindergartner apologize to his classmate for kicking her in the stomach after ascertaining that the little girl had done nothing to provoke the physical assault.

Parents send their children to school to be educated and it is little enough to expect that those children will be safe from abuse. No student, male or female should fear attending school because of continued bullying from other students or staff and physical violence needs to be addressed immediately when it is witnessed or reported. The Toronto District School Board (TDSB) has a Human Rights Policy, a Safe Schools Policy and a policy that addresses gender based violence which was adopted on April 14, 2010. The objective is to: “establish the Board’s commitment to eliminating gender-based violence in its school” Part off the policy includes reporting incidents of gender violence: “All employees of the Board shall report any concerns about or incidents of gender-based violence in the school community to the school principal.” It seems that some staff at the TDSB are ignoring or not aware of these policies.

It is very possible that Marc Lépine who murdered the 14 women at École Polytechnique de Montréal and the police officers who brutalized Stacy Bonds ( were physically abusing their female classmates in kindergarten and their behaviour was tolerated and or ignored by adults.


On November 27, 1841 thirty five Africans aboard a ship the Gentleman sailed out of New York bound for Sierra Leone. These Africans were part of a group of 600 who had been kidnapped in West Africa, forced onboard a slave ship Tecora (flying a Portuguese flag) in April 1839 and taken to Cuba. The story of their struggle for freedom was fictionalized and immortalized in the movie La Amistad which was released in 1997. Several books have also been written about the Africans who were on La Amistad when it was intercepted on August 26, 1839 off of Long Island, New York, by the crew of the U. S. Coast Guard vessel, the USS Washington. These books include the 1953 published novel Black Mutiny: Revolt on the Schooner Amistad written by William Owens, the 1988 published Mutiny on the Amistad: The Saga of a Slave Revolt and Its Impact on American Abolition, Law, and Diplomacy written by Professor Howard Jones and the 1998 published Freedom's sons: the true story of the Amistad mutiny written by Suzanne Jurmain.

When the Africans were kidnapped in 1839, Britain, the USA, France, Portugal and Spain had on paper at least outlawed the transportation of Africans from the African continent into slavery in the various European occupied colonies. The enslavement of Africans by Europeans was still a pratice but the importation of Africans had been abolished. Britain abolished the trade in 1807, the USA in 1808, the Portuguese in 1810, the Austrians, Danes, French, Russians and Prussians in 1814, the Dutch in 1818 and the Spanish in 1820. When the Portuguese owned slave ship Tecora set sail with the Africans in April, 1839 the owner, captain and crew were breaking an international law and “violated all of the treaties then in existence.”

Although all these European nations had abolished the slave trade yet Africans were bought and sold in the various European occupied colonies. The British had outlawed the transportation of Africans from the continent yet the Africans who were taken on board the Tecora in April 1839 were kidnapped and taken from Sierra Leone which was a British protectorate. Like millions of Africans before them, the occupants of the Portuguese slave ship Tecora were forced into the hold of the ship and shackled in place for the roughly 10 weeks of brutal travel along the Middle Passage. After enduring a horrific journey and landing at Havana in the Spanish colony Cuba, the Africans were fraudulently classified as Cuban-born slaves (renamed with Spanish names) and sold at auction to Jose Ruiz and Pedro Montez, who planned to transport them to their plantations on another part of the island aboard the cargo schooner La Amistad.

Three days into the journey aboard La Amistad the understandably angry and desperate Africans seized control of the ship in an effort to return to Africa. The Africans were led by Sengbe Pieh, a 25-year-old member of the Mendi nation (the Spanish had renamed him Joseph Cinque) who had managed to free himself and his companions. The Africans ordered the two Spanish sailors who survived the revolt to sail La Amistad east towards the rising sun and to Africa. During the night, the Spaniards secretly changed course, attempting to sail back to Cuba or to the southern coast of the United States and after more than two months at sea La Amistad eventually reached Long Island Sound in August 1839. In search of food and water, the Africans went ashore on Montauk Point, Long Island, where they were recaptured on August 26, 1839 by the crew of the Federal naval brig USS Washington. On August 29, 1839, three days after the La Amistad was towed to New London, Connecticut, Judge Judson presided at a hearing on complaints of murder and piracy filed by the two Spaniards Montes and Ruiz who had purchased the Africans in Havana. Thirty-nine of the 43 Africans who had survived the weeks at sea were present, including their acknowledged leader Sengbe Pieh. The three main witnesses at the hearing were the first mate of the USS Washington and Montes and Ruiz. After listening to the testimony, Judge Judson referred the case for trial in Circuit Court, where in 1839 all federal criminal trials were held and ordered the Africans put into custody at the county jail in New Haven. The incarcerated Africans were subjected to more indignities when reportedly as many as 5,000 people a day visited the jail where the jailer charged "one New York shilling" (about twelve cents) for close looks at the captives.

Meanwhile the Spanish government urged the United States government to return La Amistad to its Cuban owners, concede that the U. S. courts had no jurisdiction over Spanish subjects and return the beleaguered Africans to Havana. The almost two year legal struggle for the Africans’ freedom had begun.

On September 14, 1939, the Africans were sent by canal boat and stagecoach to Hartford for trial in the Circuit courtroom of Judge Smith Thompson who also served as a justice on the United States Supreme Court. District Attorney Holabird asked the court to let President Martin Van Buren decide the fate of the Africans since he (Holabird) viewed this as a matter that could affect the relations between two great powers. Lawyer for the defence, Roger Baldwin argued that the United States should not become a "slave-catcher for foreign slave-holders." After three days of argument Judge Thompson decided that because the alleged mutiny and murders occurred in international waters and did not involve U. S. citizens, the court had no jurisdiction to consider the criminal charges. He also decided that whether or not the Africans were slaves and if they were slaves who owned them was a decision for the district court; and he further ruled that although the Africans were no longer considered prisoners they should be detained until the district court could make a decision about their status.

The Amistad civil trial began on November 19, 1839 in Hartford and after two days of testimony, the trial was adjourned until January 7, 1840. Meanwhile President Van Buren, in anticipation of the court ruling in favour of the Spaniards, sent the naval schooner Grampus, to wait in the New Haven harbour to take the Africans back to Cuba.

Judge Judson announced his decision on January 13, 1840, after a weekend of deliberation. He ruled that the Africans were "born free" and had been kidnapped in violation of international law. He ordered that the Africans be "delivered to President Van Buren for transport back to Africa." The government appealed Judson's decision, but it was affirmed by Circuit Judge Thompson. The government then appealed to the United States Supreme Court, where five of the nine justices were southerners who either owned or had owned slaves. On March 9, 1841, the Supreme Court announced its decision based on the fact that Sengbe Pieh and his companions were "kidnapped Africans, who by the laws of Spain itself were entitled to their freedom."

Although the American government was willing to transport the Africans to slavery in Cuba, they refused to provide transportation back to Africa. Private donors provided the finance for the charter of the Gentleman which sailed out of New York on November 27, 1841 taking the surviving Africans including Sengbe Pieh back to their home.



Fifty years ago on November 14, 1960, 6-year-old Ruby Nell Bridges became a symbol for the Civil Rights movement and made history as the first African American student to enter the William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans. Bridges' historic journey to school was immortalized in Norman Rockwell's painting "The Problem We All Live With," which appeared on the cover of Look Magazine on January 14, 1964. In the painting, a small African American girl with neatly braided hair tied with white ribbons, wearing a white dress, white socks and shoes is walking with four white men, two in front and two behind. The men are so much taller than the child that their faces are not seen; only their arms and legs. On the arm of each man is an armband with the words “Deputy U.S. Marshal.” Over the little girl’s head the word “ni--er” is scrawled and there is evidence that someone has violently thrown eggs and tomatoes that smashed against the wall. All this violence unleashed by a white mob because a six year old African American child was going to her first day of grade one class at the previously all white William Frantz Elementary School in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans. The same area where Hurricane Katrina touched down in 2005 and the world again witnessed the mistreatment of Africans in America.

Although the Supreme Court of the USA had ruled against segregated public schools in 1954 with the Brown v Board of Education decision, New Orleans had not desegregated its schools even though in 1956, Federal District Court Judge, J. Skelly Wright, ordered the Orleans Parish School Board to design an effective plan for the desegregation of New Orleans' public schools. The Bridges (Abon and Lucille) were forced by the segregation law to send their child to Johnson Lockett Elementary School, for her kindergarten year, where the student body and staff were African American even though it was farther from their home than the all white William Frantz School.

During the spring of 1960, members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) informed the Bridges their child was one of the few to pass a test the school Board had administered to choose African American children to attend two all white schools and she had been chosen to attend the William Frantz School. Of the six children chosen to integrate the schools, two decided to stay in their old schools and the other three were assigned to McDonough 19 which left 6 year old Ruby Bridges the lone African American child to integrate William Frantz Elementary School on November 14, 1960. On November 14, 1960, four girls, accompanied by United States Marshals, integrated the two schools; Leona Tate, Tessie Prevost, Gaile Etienne entering McDonough 19 and Ruby Bridges entering William Frantz Elementary.

While Bridges’ mother believed this was an opportunity to make a difference, her father had some reservations including fear for his child’s safety. In an article published in a March 2000 edition of Guideposts, Bridges wrote: My mother was all for it. My father wasn't. "We're just asking for trouble," he said. He thought things weren't going to change, and blacks and whites would never be treated as equals. Mama thought I would have an opportunity to get a better education if I went to the new school - and a chance for a good job later in life. My parents argued about it and prayed about it. Eventually my mother convinced my father that despite the risks, they had to take this step forward, not just for their own children, but for all black children.

Bridges also remembered that on November 14, 1960, that first day of school, the Federal Marshals drove the car in which she and her mother travelled the five blocks to the new school. While in the car one of the Marshals explained that when they got to the school two of the Marshals would walk in front and two behind the mother and child for protection on both sides. She wrote that as the car pulled up to the school her mother said to her "Ruby Nell, don't be afraid. There might be some people upset outside, but I'll be with you." That was the only preparation she received before being confronted by a vicious mob of white men and women as she and her mother hurried up the stairs between the four Marshals. Walter Cronkite reported the incident for the evening news and Americans witnessed the horrible scenes of mostly white women in a murderous frenzy because one small child entered a school where their children attended but the words that were screamed at that child were muffled. In his travelogue Travels with Charley: In Search of America, John Steinbeck who witnessed the scene on November 14, 1960 at William Franz Elementary School wrote of the blood thirsty mob: I’ve seen this kind bellow for blood at a prize fight, have orgasms when a man is gored in the bull ring, stare with vicarious lust at a highway accident, stand patiently in line for the privilege of watching any pain or any agony.

Adult white men and women took time out of their days to terrorise a small African American child for the entire school year. Describing the scene he witnessed at the William Franz Elementary School Steinbeck also wrote:
The show opened on time. Sound of sirens. Motorcycle cops. Then two big black cars filled with big men in blond felt hats pulled up in front of the school. The crowd seemed to hold its breath. Four big marshals got out of each car and from somewhere in the automobiles they extracted the littlest Negro girl you ever saw, dressed in shining starchy white, with new white shoes on feet so little they were almost round. Her face and little legs were very black against the white.

The big marshals stood her on the curb and a jangle of jeering shrieks went up from behind the barricades. The little girl did not look at the howling crowd but from the side the whites of her eyes showed like those of a frightened fawn. The men turned her around like a doll, and then the strange procession moved up the broad walk toward the school, and the child was even more a mite because the men were so big. Then the girl made a curious hop, and I think I know what it was. I think in her whole life she had not gone ten steps without skipping, but now in the middle of her first skip the weight bore her down and her little round feet took measured, reluctant steps between the tall guards. Slowly they climbed the steps and entered the school.
From Steinbeck’s description, the white women were especially vicious in expressing their hatred of the six year old: No newspaper had printed the words these women shouted. It was indicated that they were indelicate, some even said obscene, On television the sound track was made to blur or had crowd noises cut to occur. But now I heard the words, bestial and filthy and degenerate. In a long and unprotected life I have seen and heard the vomiting of demoniac humans before. Why then did these screams fill me with a shocked and sickened sorrow?

Because of the angry mob Bridges did not get to class on the first day of school, November 14, 1960, she and her mother spent the day in the principal’s office where they witnessed furious white men and women taking their children out of the school. Bridges wrote of her recollections from that day and the following day: “We spent that whole day sitting in the principal's office. Through the window, I saw white parents pointing at us and yelling, then rushing their children out of the school. In the uproar I never got to my classroom. The marshals drove my mother and me to school again the next day. I tried not to pay attention to the mob. Someone had a black doll in a coffin, and that scared me more than the nasty things people screamed at us.” On the second day she did enter a classroom because one teacher agreed to teach her even though no white parents would allow their children to sit in the classroom with her. Bridges spent her entire grade one year protected by Federal Marshals, she was the only child in the classroom and she was never allowed to leave the class even for recess.

Meanwhile the white mob, mostly women, continued to riot outside the school, swearing, throwing objects and threatening death to the six year old It is almost unbelievable that the women, many of them mothers of children the same age as the then 6 year old Bridges, vowed to murder the child simply because she entered the same school as their children. One woman promised to poison Bridges which prompted the decision to not allow her to eat anything that was not prepared at home. The family suffered repercussions because of their decision to have their child integrate the all white school. Abon Bridges was fired from his job and his parents who were tenant farmers in Mississippi were thrown off the land by the white farmer/owner for whom they had worked for 25 years.

The family received a great deal of support from the African American community in their New Orleans neighbourhood. Speaking of the support the family received, during an interview aired on PBS Bridges said: “I don't think that my parents could have gone through what they did without the whole community coming together. We had friends that would come over and help dress me for school. Even when I rode to school, there were people in the neighborhood that would walk behind the car. I actually didn't live that far from school, and so they would actually just come out and walk to school with me.”

In 1999 Ruby Bridges Hall established the Ruby Bridges Foundation to “promote the values of tolerance, respect and appreciation through educational programs.” One of the projects she plans is the repair and restoration of the William Frantz Elementary School which was damaged in the Hurricane Katrina disaster. She hopes to re-open the school in 2012 with a Civil Rights Museum as part of it. As the Honourable Robert “Bob” Nesta Marley sang: We’re the survivors, the black survivors.

In defiance of the desegregation law, the white people of New Orleans did more than terrorize Ruby Bridges, Leona Tate, Tessie Prevost, Gaile Etienne and their families. The Knights of White Christians was a New Orleans group that published and distributed the following leaflet:

“Death Stalks Our Land With Black Plague,” Knights of White Christians, New Orleans, August 1960

We call upon the white Christian manhood and womanhood of our native southland to fight and prove your loyalty to your forefathers who created this country with their courage, work, sacrifice and blood. The purity of the white race must be protected and preserved—Our racial dignity, southern heritages, and traditions as well as our rights guaranteed by the Constitution of our country cannot and will not perish from this earth. No power on earth can bring death to our white race and the southern Legion of Honor cause which we love so well – more than life – enough to defy and fight communism, tyranny and persecution, spearheaded by the black plague of racial integration, without fear of personal sacrifice or death.

Almighty God created segregation and in his name we would prefer to die than submit to mulatto mongrelization and the indoctrination, regimentation and mental slavery of a government of tyranny.

You are born alone – must die alone – must face the King of Kings alone – so – make your own decision.

United we stand and lead on to victory – divided we fall victims to black plague and Communism. . . .

Our No. 1 plank in our battle for survival program is the weapon used by the N.A.A.C.P. – BOYCOTT NEGROES. Do not employ Negroes – Do not deal with or patronize stores, business places, restaurants, churches, T.V. advertised products, sporting events, etc., that sponsor or promote racial integration.

Numerous Letters to the Editor were sent to the New Orleans Times-Picayune, protesting the desegregation of the two public schools, including:

New Orleans Times-Picayune, November 21, 1960

To the Editor:
A day that will live in the archives of New Orleans as its “Black Monday” of the 20th century, engulfed this city of the historic South on the 14th of November.

In direct violation of the state and federal constitution, a federal judge has assumed dictatorial powers over the city as well as the state of Louisiana. Never in the annals of American history has a so-called governing body of the United States, in the representation of the federal courts, intervened themselves . . . as in New Orleans.

If this nation is to enjoy the liberty and freedom of a democracy, then first of all, its leaders should renew the ideology of a democracy. . . .

As Louisiana speaker J. Thomas Jewell, in deliverance of his classic piece of oratory before the House of Representatives, said on the 14th of November:

“The courts are traditionally the guardian of liberty. They have the right to pass upon the actions of the lawmakers of Louisiana and every other state. They can render opinions regarding the constitutionality of laws passed by Congress itself. But no power on earth – including the federal court – can assume unto itself the right to prejudge the actions of the Legislature.”

These words are symbolic of the very meaning of American democracy. This nation was built upon foundations of strength, faith and determination – not upon the whimsical theories of dreamers. The strength of a country lies first of all in the patriotic health and moral stamina of that nation, not in an idea of liberalistic philosophy.

Lloyd F. Fricke, Jr.
Metairie, LA

Jack Howard, the mayor of Monroe, Louisiana, sent the following telegram to the legislative delegation from Monroe on Sunday, November 13, 1960. It was published in the Monroe Morning Herald on November 14, 1960

“Ouachita Men Strongly Back School Action”
Monroe Morning Herald, November 14, 1960
The white citizens of Monroe and Ouachita Parish are supporting you and the governor one thousand percent. Let’s battle the U.S. courts to the bitter end and learn once and for all whether the state of Louisiana, its legislature and its governor are going to run the affairs of our state or whether or not traitors like Skelly Wright and a Communist Supreme Court is going to take over, and run our state. We are supporting you all the way and ask that no stone be left unturned in this all important fight to preserve our traditional way of life. If we lose this fight then we have lost it all. Keep up the good work.