Thursday, January 22, 2015


As the end of January approaches it is time to begin thinking about February when we recognize and celebrate African history. Whether we name our celebration/recognition “African Heritage Month,” “African Liberation Month” or “Black History Month” it is our choice. We learn about our heroes and sheroes. We learn about events in our history that makes us aware that we as a people have achieved much under very trying circumstances. We also learn or reiterate that our history did not begin with slavery. Yet those of us in the Diaspora know that the enslavement of our ancestors has an enormous effect on how we are treated today. We know that because of the enslavement of our ancestors and the stripping of our names, languages etc., many of us (even today) continue searching for an identity. We do not know who we are because many of the names that were forced on us have been accepted by many of us. Viewing the scene from the 1977 miniseries “Roots” where the enslaved African Kunta Kinte is beaten almost to death until he answers to the name “Toby” gives some idea of how our African names were stolen and replaced by European names.
There was always African resistance to enslavement. From the moment they were captured on the African continent; while they were being transported to the “slave dungeons,” while they were being loaded onto those filthy disease ridden ships, as they stood on auction blocks, as they were forced to work from sun-up to sun down, Africans resisted in various ways. Even those Africans born into the condition of slavery on the various plantations owned by members of the various White tribes, resisted. As they were sold from plantation to plantation, from country to country they resisted. They resisted by burning crops, by destroying property, by malingering, by learning to read and write, by fleeing to freedom, by assisting other enslaved Africans to flee slavery. Some of these heroes and sheroes are well known. Countless others are not as well known. Some of these freedom fighters remain nameless. However we have an obligation to “dig up the past” as Carter Godwin Woodson urged. In his 1933 book “The Mis-education of the Negro” Woodson wrote: “Truth must be dug up from the past and presented to the circle of scholastics in scientific form and then through stories and dramatizations that will permeate our educational system.” Woodson established “Negro History Week” during the second week of February in 1926 and the week was later expanded to include the entire month. The month was first known as “Black History Month” but over many years and Africans expressing their Kujichagulia (Self-Determination) it has evolved into “African Heritage Month” and even “African Liberation Month.” One of the many examples of Africans liberating themselves from slavery, gaining wealth through entrepreneurship and using that wealth to support the fight to liberate enslaved Africans was Barney Launcelot Ford.
Barney Launcelot Ford was born on January 22, 1822 to an enslaved African woman and a White plantation owner. He was given one name “Barney” his other names he chose later in life. The children of enslaved African women inherited their mother's status so Ford became the property of his mother's owner. His mother Phoebe wanted her child to escape slavery. She was determined that her child should learn to read and live as a free person. Phoebe was determined that her child would learn to read even at the risk of both their lives. According to information from the “Encyclopedia of African American Business, Volume 1” published in 2006, edited by African American historian Jessie Carney Smith: “Phoebe longed for her son to become free and live to do good for other people. She knew that young Barney must learn to read and write, and she wanted him to learn every word in the dictionary she borrowed. So in the evenings she took him to a fellow slave who taught him to read words from a ‘spelling book.’”
After the death of the plantation owner and the owner's widow attempting to engage Barney as a "house slave" his mother planned his escape. In attempting to find a way for her son to escape slavery Phoebe was found frozen to death. Barney was sold soon after his mother froze to death. Information from the “Encyclopedia of African American Business, Volume 1” documents that: “Friends found Phoebe frozen in the river one night soon thereafter, having attempted to find a way for Ford to escape. The day after his mother's funeral, Ford was sold.” Barney was hired out to work on a Mississippi River Boat by his new owner. When he was 25 years old in 1847 Barney escaped slavery. Seizing the opportunity to walk off while the Mississippi River Boat was docked at Quincy, Illinois he made his way to Chicago with support from members of the Underground Railroad. While living as a free man Barney decided to claim a middle and last names. He took his middle and last names (Launcelot Ford) from a steam locomotive in Chicago. In Chicago he worked as a barber. He met his wife, Julia Lyoni, in Chicago and they were married in 1848. The Fords left the USA for Nicaragua and between 1850 and 1885 Ford used money that he earned as a prospector for gold in Colorado to build several successful businesses. While prospecting in Colorado the hill where he supposedly “struck it rich” was given the dubious honour of being named “Ni--er Hill” a name it retained for approximately 100 years until 1964 when it was renamed “Barney Ford Hill.” In the 2006 published book “Hiking Colorado's Summit County Area: A Guide to the Best Hikes In And Around Summit County” White American author Maryann Gaug describing the area where Ford worked as a prospector writes: “Locals called the area ‘Ni--er Gulch’ and ‘Ni--er Hill.’ In 1964 the names were changed to ‘Ford Gulch’ and ‘Barney Ford Hill.’”
Ford and his wife used the money they earned from their barbershops, hotels and restaurants to support Africans fleeing slavery. Following the abolition of slavery in the USA Ford used his money to establish the first adult education classes (1871) for African Americans in Colorado. He was a Civil Rights activist who lobbied for African Americans to have the right to vote in Colorado. Today Ford is recognized in Colorado as an abolitionist and a Civil Rights activist.
During February it is important that we do more than share food, dance and provide entertainment. We must return to the true purpose for which Woodson established the one week recognition of our history. In his 1933 published book “The Mis-education of the Negro” Woodson wrote: “Philosophers have long conceded, however, that every man has two educators: 'that which is given to him, and the other that which he gives himself. Of the two kinds the latter is by far the more desirable. Indeed all that is most worthy in man he must work out and conquer for himself. It is that which constitutes our real and best nourishment. What we are merely taught seldom nourishes the mind like that which we teach ourselves.” We need to make the month an opportunity to educate ourselves about ourstory. It will be a great start to the decade declared by the United Nations as the “International Decade for People of African Descent.”


"I know you are asking today, 'How long will it take?' I come to say to you this afternoon however difficult the moment, however frustrating the hour, it will not be long, because truth pressed to earth will rise again. I know you are asking today, 'How long will it take? How long will prejudice blind the visions of men, darken their understanding, and drive bright-eyed wisdom from her sacred throne? When will wounded justice, lying prostrate on the streets of Selma and Birmingham and communities all over the South, be lifted from this dust of shame to reign supreme among the children of men? When will the radiant star of hope be plunged against the nocturnal bosom of this lonely night, plucked from weary souls with chains of fear and the manacles of death? How long will justice be crucified, and truth bear it?' I come to say to you this afternoon, however difficult the moment, however frustrating the hour, it will not be long, because 'truth crushed to earth will rise again.' How long? Not long, because 'no lie can live forever.' How long? Not long, because 'you shall reap what you sow.' How long? Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice."
Excerpt from “How long, Not long” speech made by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., on March 25, 1965 on the steps of the capitol building in Montgomery, Alabama
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., made his famous “How long, Not long” speech on the steps of the state capitol building in Montgomery, Alabama on the completion of the 54 mile long Selma to Montgomery march to petition for African American right to vote. On Sunday, March 21, 1965 approximately 8,000 people assembled at Brown Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Selma, Alabama in preparation for the to 54 mile walk to Montgomery, the state capital. On March 25 a group of approximately 25,000 people gathered to listen to Dr. King speak after the completion of the 4 day, 54 mile walk Although Dr. King was the recognized leader of that 3rd attempt during March 1965 to make the journey from Selma to Montgomery, there were many African Americans in Alabama and specifically Selma who had worked for years advocating for African American right to vote. The movie “Selma” which is in the theatres in time for Martin Luther King Jr., Day 2015 pays tribute to some of those activists. The movie “Selma” brings to life on “the big screen” the story of the African American struggle during March 1965 to gain what is the right of every citizen (the right to elect our government representatives.) African Americans in the southern US states were denied that right even though they and their ancestors built the US economy with their blood, sweat, tears and (during slavery) unpaid labour.
Reading and even writing about “Bloody Sunday” the first attempt on March 7, 1965 to walk from Selma to Montgomery did not prepare me for the sight of that fateful day acted out on screen “in living colour.” I re-read John Lewis’ 1998 published book “Walking With the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement” on the January 3-4 weekend and then went to see the movie “Selma” on Thursday, January 8. Even with Lewis’ description of police using “rubber hose wrapped with barbed wire” to brutally beat peaceful African Americans I was not prepared for the sights on the screen as I watched “Selma.” In his description of March 7, 1965 Lewis writes: “I was bleeding badly. My head was exploding with pain. There was mayhem all around me. I could see a young kid – a teenaged boy- sitting on the ground with a gaping cut in his head, the blood just gushing out. Several women, including Mrs. Boynton, were lying on the pavement and the grass median. People were weeping. Some were vomiting from the tear gas. Men on horses were moving in all directions, purposely riding over the top of fallen people, bringing their animals’ hooves down on shoulders, stomachs and legs.” Lewis suffered a fractured skull from the vicious police attack on March 7, 1965 and he carries the scars from that “Bloody Sunday” of 50 years ago.
The movie “Selma” presents the brutal facts of “Bloody Sunday” and many of those who laid their lives on the line are portrayed. The Mrs. Boynton that Lewis refers in his book is Amelia Boynton Robinson (born on August 18, 1911) who was a 54 year old Civil Rights activist in 1965. In December 2014, Boynton Robinson now 103 years old was interviewed by the New York Post and spoke of being savagely beaten by White police who then pumped tear gas into the unconscious woman’s throat leaving her for dead. Boynton Robinson recovered and photographs of her unconscious on the Edmund Pettus Bridge on March 7, 1965 remain as evidence of that horrific day. She plans to attend the 50th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday” at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in March 2015. In “Selma” Boynton Robinson is portrayed by African Trinidad actress Lorraine Toussaint who visited Boynton Robinson when she was researching the role.
Following the savage and vicious beating and other brutality visited upon peaceful African Americans by White police in Selma, caught on camera for the world to witness, American President Johnson was shamed into signing the Voting Rights Act on August 6, 1965. The signing of the Voting Rights Act did not change the attitude of White people in the South and especially did not affect the behaviour of those who were in power. From the history channel website: “Although the Voting Rights Act passed, state and local enforcement of the law was weak and it was often outright ignored, mainly in the South and in areas where the proportion of blacks in the population was high and their vote threatened the political status quo.” In the movie “Selma” President Johnson signs the Voting Rights Act in the presence of Dr. King and other Civil Rights activists.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., would have been 86 years old on Thursday, January 15, 2015 if he had survived the single (.30-06 bullet) fired from a Remington Model 760 that entered through his right cheek, breaking his jaw and several vertebrae as it traveled down his spinal cord, severing his jugular vein and major arteries before lodging in his shoulder on April 4, 1968 at 6:01 p.m. After viewing “Selma” I have to wonder what Dr. King would say of the recent spate of White police killing African American men, women and children. Would he still say: “Not long, because 'you shall reap what you sow.' How long? Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice?" Since 1965 “Not long” seems like a very long time!


"At the very same time that America refused to give the Negro any land, through an act of Congress, our government was giving away millions of acres of land in the West and the mid-West, which meant that it was willing to undergird its white peasants from Europe with an economic floor. But not only did they give the land, they built land grant colleges with government money to teach them how to farm. Not only that, they provided county agents to further their expertise in farming. Not only that, they provided low interest rates in order that they could mechanize their farms. Not only that, today many of these people are receiving millions of dollars in federal subsidies not to farm. And they are the very people telling the Black man that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps. And this is what we are faced with. Now this is the reality. Now when we come to Washington, in this campaign, we are coming to get our check."
Excerpt from a speech made by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., in 1968.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., was born Michael King Jr., on January 15, 1929 to the Reverend Michael King and Alberta Williams King. King senior later changed his name and his son’s name (reportedly in 1934) to Martin Luther King and Martin Luther King Jr., respectively. The speech quoted above was made when Dr. King visited rural African American communities in the southern states in a bid to gain support for his planned “Poor People’s Campaign.” In this video ( Dr. King is seen and heard speaking with members of an African American community in Mississippi who spoke passionately about the level of poverty in the African American community. Dr. King commiserated and empathized and then spoke about the American government’s policy of giving land to White people and training them to farm the land by building special colleges for this purpose. At the time White people were receiving these special favours (1850s) African Americans remained enslaved. The idea of publicly funded agricultural and technical educational institutions in the USA was brought forward by Jonathan Baldwin Turner as early as the 1830s. In the 2001 published book “Together We Can: Pathways to Collective Leadership in Agriculture at Texas A&M” White American authors Steven Lee Bosserman and Edward Allan Hiler write: “In the 1830s, 1840s, and 850s Jonathan Baldwin Turner developed and tirelessly promoted a plan to achieve universal education for those who did not normally have the opportunity to pursue it – the sons and daughters of what he called the working class.” This brilliant idea of course did not include African Americans who were enslaved and whose unpaid labour would underwrite the education of the White “working class.” During slavery it was illegal for African Americans to read and write and any enslaved African who was literate was risking their life. The first land-grant bill was introduced in Congress by Representative Justin Smith Morrill of Vermont in 1857 and became law in 1862. Africans in America gained their freedom in 1865 and have never been compensated, never received reparations. The 40 acres and a mule they were each supposed to receive never materialised. However every White person (even those who never owned a “slave”) benefited from the coerced labour of enslaved Africans. This is put in perspective by T. D. Allman a White American historian in his 2013 published book “Finding Florida: The True History of the Sunshine State” where he writes: “In America, Irishmen, Jews, Russians, Italians even Turks and Arabs could be Americanized. Even as they were devastating native Americans and enslaving black people, Americans were announcing to the world that the ‘wretched refuse of your teeming shore’ was welcome, but it had to be white.”
Dr. King’s words of encouragement to the group of African Americans gathered in that church just a few weeks before he was assassinated probably caused much alarm to the American government who preferred the August 28, 1963 “dreamer.” A King speaking about reparations for the descendants of enslaved Africans was a threat. A King speaking about the extreme poverty of African Americans and linking that to the advantage (including unearned privilege) that was handed to white skin people regardless of when they arrived in the USA was threatening to White America.
To this day, in the 21st century Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream” speech is co-opted by the most dreadful racist White supremacists. Not the entire speech but these 35 words: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
As we approach January 15, the date that would have been Dr. King’s 85th birthday, Dr. King has been reduced to a dreamer whose words are frequently used to justify White supremacist/racist rhetoric. The Dr. King who wrote in his 1964 published “Why We Can’t Wait” seems to have been forgotten: “Whenever this issue of compensatory or preferential treatment for the Negro is raised, some of our friends recoil in horror. The Negro should be granted equality, they agree, but he should ask for nothing more. On the surface, this appears reasonable, but it is not realistic. For it is obvious that if a man enters the starting line of a race three hundred years after another man, the first would have to perform some incredible feat in order to catch up.” In an interview with Alex Haley (author of Roots) which was published in the January 1965 issue of “Playboy Magazine” Dr. King is quoted: “Can any fair-minded citizen deny that the Negro has been deprived? Few people reflect that for two centuries the Negro was enslaved, and robbed of any wages—potential accrued wealth which would have been the legacy of his descendants. All of America's wealth today could not adequately compensate its Negroes for his centuries of exploitation and humiliation.” These are not the words of the dreamer whose birthday has been observed with a National holiday on the 3rd Monday of January since 1986. Some states including Alabama, Arizona, Mississippi, Virginia, Wyoming and New Hampshire resisted observing the holiday to honour Dr. King until (New Hampshire) 2000.
The 29th official Martin Luther King Jr., Day will be observed on January 19, 2015 throughout the USA with a holiday when Americans are expected to honour the life and legacy of Dr. King. The day is usually spent exploring the life of Dr. King, his contribution to the Civil Rights movement and the Civil Rights movement. With the research and the availability of books written about the Civil Rights movement and Dr. King’s life hopefully there will be more than his “I Have A Dream” speech featured in newspaper articles and other media. On May 8, 1967 approximately 11 months before he was assassinated Dr. King said in an interview: “I must confess that that dream I had that day in many points turned into a nightmare.” ( The nightmare continues with the constant instances of African American men, women and children killed by White police who suffer no consequences. During this United Nations (UN) declared “International Decade for People of African Descent” beginning in 2015 we can work to ensure Reparations for the descendants of enslaved Africans become a reality. We can shine the light on the continued and sustained abuse of Africans in North America. Shining a light on these abuses may help to make the perpetrators scatter like so many dangerous rodents and other pests.

Friday, January 2, 2015


When he was seventeen It was a very good year for small town girls And soft summer nights They would hide from the lights On the village green that's when he was seventeen When he was twenty-one It was a very good year for big city girls Who lived up the stairs With all that perfumed hair And it came undone that's When he was twenty-one When he was thirty-five It was a very good year for blue-blooded girls with independent means they would ride in the limousines that was when chauffeurs would drive But now the days grow short he's in the autumn of his years And now he thinks of his life as vintage wine from fine old kegs from the brim to the dregs it poured sweet and clear It was a very good year
Excerpt from “It Was A Very Good Year” sung by Lou Rawls on his 1966 album “Soulin'”
Lou Rawls (December 1, 1933 – January 6, 2006) was almost 33 years old when he released “Soulin’” with “It Was A Very Good Year” as one of the 14 songs featured on the album. The title of this song came to mind as I planned to write about the year 2014 which is almost gone. In some ways it was a very good year for me. I have come to realise that when unpleasant events and/or people enter your life you mostly only have control over your own emotions and reactions to circumstances. I came to this realization by actively engaging in social media beginning in September 2014. Following my decision to become a candidate in the October 27, 2014 Municipal Election I became active on some social media including Twitter, Facebook, Google plus, Flickr and LinkedIn. It has been a learning experience! I also made the decision (after years of considering) to publish a book. On December 5, 2014 my book “Berbician Griot” was published. I am delighted to share that many of my acquaintances, friends and relatives have been very supportive and I have sold several copies of my book. There will be an official launch of “Berbician Griot” in 2015 and everyone is invited as soon as date and location are finalised!
The year 2014 has not been a very good year for everyone, including the relatives, friends and supporters of the many African American men, women and children who have been brutalized, maimed and/or killed by police. We in Canada have not been immune to the sting of anti-African racism, racial profiling or White supremacist culture. The new Mayor of Toronto when asked about White skin privilege was very cavalier (or maybe clueless) in his reply. In spite of being faced with this phenomenon during the campaign period, the man who for the next 4 years will be in charge of policies that govern how we are treated by police, transit workers, housing staff etc., thinks White skin privilege does not exist. He did not see White skin privilege when Mayoral candidates Dionne Renee and Dewitt Lee were not invited to speak during Mayoral debates but Ari Goldkind was invited. He did not see White skin privilege when Olivia Chow was racially attacked and harassed at Mayoral debates. White skin privilege has nothing to do with religion or class. It is based on the unearned privileges bestowed on White people based on the colour of their skin regardless of their religious beliefs or their economic status. Examples of this proliferate in this city of ours where the motto is: “Diversity Our Strength.”
Yes it has been a very good year because I choose to ignore anyone and anything that would “steal my joy.” Each time I log onto Facebook there are negative and positive images. I choose how I react to each one. I will continue to “comment” “tweet” and “share” and I will ignore any and all negativity as my good friend (and fellow Guyanese) Rita has been advising me for years. The year 2015 will be a very good year because whatever enters my life I will choose how to respond so that I am not emotionally or psychologically harmed. The next decade from 2015 to 2025 has been designated the decade for African people! By the time we get to 2025 many of us will be as Lou Rawls sang “in the autumn of our years” and can then think of our lives as “vintage wine from fine old kegs from the brim to the dregs pouring sweet and clear” and know that it will be “a very good year.” Meanwhile we have 10 years from 2015 to 2025 to address the negative effects of anti-African racism on our emotional, physical, psychological and spiritual well being. The United Nations (UN) has designated 2015-2024 the “International Decade for People of African Descent.” On the UN website the title: “A Decade Dedicated to People of African Descent: Recognition, Justice and Development” is accompanied by this explanation: “In proclaiming this Decade, the international community is recognizing that people of African descent represent a distinct group whose human rights must be promoted and protected. Around 200 million people identifying themselves as being of African descent live in the Americas. Many millions more live in other parts of the world, outside of the African continent.” There is also a quote from Ban Ki-moon the United Nations Secretary-General: "We must remember that people of African descent are among those most affected by racism. Too often, they face denial of basic rights such as access to quality health services and education."
As we move towards the year 2015 and the beginning of the UN declared “International Decade for People of African Descent” this is an opportunity for us to engage in dialogue and action to repair the damage to African lives. Here is an opportunity to educate people about “White skin privilege” as the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) tried to do in 2014 which caused a furor in several daily White newspapers. The articles published in those newspapers and the comments made by their readers prove that neither the writers of the articles nor their readers have any understanding of their privilege. If they do they are desperately trying to ensure that their privilege continues. It is way past time that the mindset that allows racial profiling to flourish, that allows White police to kill racialized people with impunity knowing that they will be supported by the majority is exposed, dissected and corrected. As we approach 2015 I wish everyone a Happy New Year and with sincere hope that each person can think of some experience that made them think even for a moment that 2014 was “A Very Good Year!” The image of the mythic Sankofa bird from the Ghanaian Akan culture comes to mind as we move forward but not forget and learn from the past.


Here's to this flag of mine The Red, Black and Green Hopes in its future bright Africa has seen. Here's to the Red of it, Great nations shall know of it Red blood shall flow of it, Historians shall write of it, Great flag of mine. Here's to the Black of it Four hundred millions back of it, Whose destiny depends on it The RED, BLACK and GREEN of it, Here's to the Green of it Young men shall dream of it, Thank God for giving it Great Flag of Mine.
Excerpt from “THIS FLAG OF MINE” composed by Amy Jacques Garvey
The red, black and green flag was adopted by the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA-ACL) on August 13, 1920 during the organization’s month long convention in New York City. The UNIA-ACL was an organization founded in 1914 in Jamaica by the Honourable Marcus Mosiah Garvey. The UNIA-ACL did not enjoy much success in Jamaica and only became a force for change when Garvey moved to the USA (March 24, 1916) where he founded a branch of the organization (May 1917) and incorporated the organization in New York State on June 17, 1919. The Black Star Line Inc., (Garvey’s shipping company) was incorporated in Delaware on June 27, 1919 with a value of $500,000 dollars (half a million dollars.) In 1920 Garvey incorporated the Negro Factories Corporation which owned and operated several businesses that employed African Americans. African Jamaican history professor at University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) Robert A. Hill in his 1990 published book “The Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Association Papers, Volume 7” has listed the names and locations of the businesses that were owned by the UNIA-ACL. The organization owned several grocery stores, a fleet of trucks, a millinery store (making hats,) a bakery, a steam laundry, tailoring and dressmaking store, office buildings, restaurants, hotels, a printing company, publishing company, Liberty Hall and Lafayette Hall. Garvey was a man before his time who organized successful and thriving businesses owned by a group of united African Americans. The organization he founded had within 4 years of operation (1916-1920) an international membership of millions on every continent, in every country where Africans lived.
Garvey’s philosophies included the intent of unifying all Africans as expressed in Bob Marley’s popular “Africa Unite” released in 1979 on the “Survival” album. Garvey is considered the father of the modern Pan-African movement. His philosophy has greatly influenced Kwanzaa the 7 day celebration of African culture and history from December 26 to January 1 which is 48 years old in 2014. Garvey was a visionary, a man before his time and such people are mostly vilified during their lifetime because they espouse ideas and views which are too advanced for that period in history.
During the Kwanzaa celebration the 7 principles (Nguzo Saba) reflect Garvey’s expressed and documented philosophies. The first Kwanzaa principle is Umoja which is observed by lighting of the black candle which represents Africans everywhere of every religion and belief. Garvey’s vision of unity (Umoja) was expressed as article 1 of the “Declaration of Rights of the Negro Peoples of the World” on August 13, 1920 at the first convention of the UNIA: “Be it known to all men that whereas, all men are created equal and entitled to the rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and because of this we, the duly elected representatives of the Negro peoples of the world, invoking the aid of the just and Almighty God do declare all men, women and children of our blood throughout the world free citizens, and do claim them as free citizens of Africa, the Motherland of all Negroes.”
The second Kwanzaa principle is Kujichagulia which is observed by lighting the first red candle placed to the left of the black candle. Garvey’s vision of Self-determination (Kujichagulia) was expressed when he urged Africans to see their God through African “spectacles.” In “The Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Association Papers” Hill has documented several of Garvey’s speeches including a speech he made urging his followers to worship the “God of Ethiopia” from which this quote is taken: “Since the white people have seen their God through white spectacles, we only now started out (late though it be) to see our God through our own spectacles. The God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. We Negroes believe in the God of Ethiopia, the everlasting God - God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost, the One God of all ages. That is the God in whom we believe, but we shall worship Him through the spectacles of Ethiopia.” Garvey also encouraged his followers to give their children dolls that looked like them instead of White dolls.
Garvey’s efforts to build sustainable businesses to provide employment for African Americans brilliantly expressed Ujima and Ujamaa the third and fourth Kwanzaa principles. Collective work and responsibility (Ujima) and Cooperatvie Economics (Ujamaa) were at the heart of Garvey’s establishment of the “Negro Factories Corporation.”
Garvey’s entire life was lived with Nia the fifth Kwanzaa principle. Garvey’s life was one of purpose (Nia) and it was purposeful that he used propaganda to strategically move his people towards self awareness. His messages urging African Americans and other Africans to be proud of the colour of their skin, to learn their history, to see themselves as the equal of all other human beings were purpose driven. From “The Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey: Africa for the Africans” edited by Amy Jacques Garvey in 1977 come these purposeful words of warning from Garvey: “Propaganda has done more to defeat the good intentions of races and nations than even open warfare. Propaganda is a method or medium used by organized peoples to convert others against their will. We of the Negro race are suffering more than any other race in the world from propaganda - Propaganda to destroy our hopes, our ambitions and our confidence in self.” Garvey therefore advised his followers to “emancipate” themselves from “mental slavery” in a speech he made in Sydney, Nova Scotia in Menelik Hall during his visit on October 1, 1937. Quoted from “The Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Association Papers” Garvey told his followers: “We are going to emancipate ourselves from mental slavery because whilst others might free the body, none but ourselves can free the mind. Mind is your only ruler, sovereign.”
Garvey’s Kuumba has given us one of the Kwanzaa symbols that has even been used by several African nations when they gained independence from their colonizers. Using his creativity (Kuumba) Garvey designed the “red, black and green” flag “bendera” that is used during the Kwanzaa celebrations and the colours are also used in the Mishuuma saba (7 candles) that are lit as part of the observances. The now recognized Pan-African flag was formally adopted on August 13, 1920 in Article 39 of the Declaration of Rights of the Negro Peoples of the World during the first convention in New York City. Article 39 states: “That the colors, Red Black and Green, be the colors of the Negro race.” In her 2012 published book “Literary and Sociopolitical Writings of the Black Diaspora in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries” Haitian born African American professor Kersuze Simeon-Jones has written about the importance of the flag: “The U.N.I.A’s most significant emblem of nationhood was its flag. The Declaration of Rights of 1920 proclaimed the adoption of the red, black and green flag, as the official colors of this race. Such proclamation was also of paramount importance, for a flag is the ultimate symbol of nationhood.”
The 7th and final Kwanzaa principle is Imani and Garvey had to have much faith (Imani) in himself, in his people in the God that he worshipped to step out on faith and achieve so much that his name, his words, his ideas and philosophies live on 74 years (June 10, 1940) after he joined the ancestors.
As we look forward to the celebration of Kwanzaa within the next few days the principles which are based on the philosophies of Garvey should guide us throughout the 365 days of every year. This is especially relevant as we read about or experience the daily oppression of living in a culture where we are suspected of wrongdoing based on the colour of our skin. The stories are myriad including the recent story of an African Canadian man who was arrested when he attempted to deposit a cheque for 9,000 dollars into his Bank of Nova Scotia account. The Haitian born Canadian was handcuffed and marched through the crowded with Christmas shoppers Scarborough Town Centre. Ironically the Bank of Nova Scotia which has branded and renamed our festival which we named “Caribana” has also made a fortune on the backs of African Caribbean people beginning with their establishment of a branch in Jamaica in 1889, almost a decade before opening a branch in Toronto. In his 24 pages long poem “The Tragedy of White Injustice” Garvey includes this bit about banks: “The bankers employ men to shoot and kill, When we interfere with their august will; They take the savings of deaf, dumb and poor, Gamble with it here and on foreign shore: In oil, gold, rum, rubber they speculate, Then bring their foreign troubles upon the State: Friends in Government they control at will; War they make, for others, our sons to kill.”
As we celebrate Kwanzaa in our homes and at community events and light the “red, black and green” candles we also remember those who went before us. We remember those ancestors on whose shoulders we stand on whose backs we have crossed over! Heri za Kwanzaa! Kwanzaa yenu iwe na heri! Happy Kwanzaa!


It's the most wonderful time of the year With the kids jingle belling And everyone telling you 'be of good cheer' It's the most wonderful time of the year There'll be parties for hosting, marshmallows for toasting And carolling out in the snow There'll be scary ghost stories and tales of the glories Of Christmases long, long ago It's the most wonderful time of the year There'll be much mistletoeing and hearts will be glowing When loved ones are near It's the most wonderful time of the year
Excerpt from "It's the Most Wonderful time of the year" composed in 1963 by Edward Pola and George Wyle. Recorded by Johnny Mathis on his 1986 released album "Christmas Eve with Johnny Mathis"
On Saturday, December 13, 2014 while desperately trying to find a pair of winter boots in a Toronto mall I heard Johnny Mathis singing the popular song "It's the Most Wonderful time of the year." I immediately lost that tense, desperate feeling that I was never going to find a pair of winter boots that I liked, that would last the entire winter and that I could afford. It is truly amazing how a song can affect your mood especially a song associated with beautiful memories. Although the Johnny Mathis version of the song "Most Wonderful time of the year" is not the song I remember from my youth it is the one I prefer. At this time of the year many of the songs that are played on the radio, in advertisements and in the malls remind us that Christmas is near. Christmas was indeed one of the most wonderful times of the year when I was a child. We listened to songs with catchy melodies and lyrics that made no sense because we had never seen many of the things mentioned in popular Christmas songs. We had never seen snow or "a winter wonderland," we had never seen reindeer or "a one horse open sleigh."
It was not the words of the songs that made Christmas in Guyana magical and "the most wonderful time of the year," the music was a backdrop to the Christmas experience. And a Guyanese Christmas is an "experience" that everyone must have at least once in their life. Ask any Guyanese living outside of Guyana about their Christmases "long, long ago" and you might have to buy them a box of Kleenex especially if they have not been "home" in years to celebrate Christmas.
Even though it was recognized that Christmas was about the celebration of the birth of "baby Jesus" and several churches would have a crèche (nativity scene) displayed to remind the faithful of the reason for the celebration there were Guyanese of other religions who celebrated Christmas. Guyanese of various religious beliefs celebrated Christmas as a secular holiday because there were mandated holidays on December 25 and 26 and January 1. All government offices and private sector businesses (except rum shops and cake shops) closed on those 3 days while all schools closed for 3 weeks during the Christmas holidays.
In the Guyana of my childhood Christmas Day preparations began in one form or another several months before December. Christmas Day celebrations in any Guyanese household would be incomplete without “black cake.” Various dried fruits (raisins, currants, prunes etc.,) would be ground, mixed and then stored in a container of rum for weeks (sometimes months) to “cure” the fruits. This method of “setting” the fruits preferably in a covered glass container varies from family to family. The excitement increased as December approached with adults preparing for and children anticipating the great day.
A few days before Christmas Day the house would be unrecognizable with most of the wooden furniture stripped of their year old varnish. The furniture would be sanded and polished mostly by the men of the family with the reluctant help of the children. At this time of the year many young adults were hired to help sand and polish floors and furniture. New coverings for chair cushions together with sheets and pillow cases were bought or sewn.
A flurry of activity in the kitchen would herald preparations for making “black cake” with children commandeered to “cream” butter and sugar (mix until all the sugar melted into the butter) which I always tried to avoid! The more adults in the house (hired help or relatives on holiday) the better chance children had of escaping the tasks of helping to sand furniture or “cream” butter and sugar! The hustle and bustle in the kitchen increased the night before Christmas when the black cakes were already baked and left to “cool off” and the feast was being prepared. The ham had to be prepared (I admit I ate ham then) the chickens and ducks had to be prepared. All that work was accomplished overnight. On Christmas Eve night we all went to bed in new night gowns or pyjamas. The beds with new mattresses (or new covers on the mattresses) were covered with new sheets, pillows and pillow cases. The adults worked through the night and on Christmas morning the children awoke to an entirely new house! The walls looked different with new paint and decorations. The “new” furniture in their gleaming wooden glory was unveiled and the gifts under the tree tempted us to open them. The rule was breakfast first then presents could be opened.
The smell of “pepperpot” drew us to the table on Christmas morning. There is no Guyanese Christmas morning without “pepperpot” and homemade bread. Whatever else is on the table takes second place to “pepperpot” and plait bread. The main ingredients in Guyanese pepperpot are cassareep (made from boiled cassava juice) and meat. Various spices are added to the thick brown liquid cassareep (an Amerindian creation) which preserves the meat for days. After breakfast and exclamations over how different everything looked on Christmas morning (including the artificial snow on the artificial Christmas tree) it was time to open the gifts. We were excited to see our presents that “Father Christmas” had brought for us while we were sleeping. Santa Claus was non-existent in the Guyana of my childhood. There would be books and new clothes for everyone, cap guns and holsters were a staple, dolls, beautifully decorated doll size teapots, teacups and saucers, water guns, whistles, jacks sets and dolls’ clothes. There were cricket sets, child size sewing machines and ovens but the toys that were most used on Christmas Day by everyone were the cap guns and water guns. We were all “cowboys” male and female, for some reason we never thought about playing “cowgirls.”
The smell of Christmas Day in Guyana cannot be replicated anywhere else. The smell of polished furniture and floor, together with new linoleum strategically placed to protect the polished floor, smell of new fabric from curtains billowing at the windows and of course the food!! The table groaned on Christmas Day with the black cakes, baked ham, roasted and curried chicken and duck, chow mein, patties, pine tarts, cheese rolls, pickled onions, dahl puri, roti, various kinds of rice, salads and casseroles. The drinks were on a separate table because women and children did not drink the liquor and there was much liquor for the men. Rum, highwine, brandy and various other “hard stuff” were the drinks of choice for the men of the family and male guests. Most women and the children drank mauby, cider, ginger beer, sorrel, Cidrax and Peardrax. On Christmas Day the food was shared with relatives, friends, neighbours and strangers who visited. Everyone was welcome and invited to eat, drink and take food home when they visited on Christmas Day and the drinks flowed freely.
All this Christmas Day feasting and excitement took place to a backdrop of music, including calypsos, carols and other Christmas songs. The traditional Masquerade bands were an integral part of Christmas Day with “Mother Sally” and the “Mad Cow.” Well I always thought the cow was mad because it charged at everyone watching the masqueraders dance! It was not a real cow but a man in a cow costume who accompanied “Mother Sally” (a man on stilts dressed as a woman.) The masqueraders would move energetically to the music of fife and drums. When money was thrown in their path the masqueraders would “flounce” as they danced low to the ground to retrieve the money. As a child I was very afraid of “Mother Sally” and the “Mad Cow” so although the music was lovely I much preferred to listen to Christmas records played on the “radiogram.” On Saturday December 13 I did not get the winter boots I wanted but I left the mall with the sound of Johnny Mathis reminding me that this is “The most wonderful time of the year” and I remembered “the glories of Christmases long, long ago” when I was a child in Guyana!!


“Until the killing of Black men, Black mothers’ sons, becomes as important to the rest of the country as the killing of a White mother’s son, we who believe in freedom cannot rest until this happens.”
Quote from Ella Josephine Baker in August, 1964 during her speech as the keynote speaker of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party Convention
Ella Josephine Baker was born on December 13, 1903 in Norfolk, Virginia the middle child of the 3 children of Blake Baker and Georgiana Ross Baker. Baker made the above statement shortly after the bodies of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner were discovered in a river in Philadelphia, Mississippi on August 4, 1964. Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner were civil rights volunteers who had been missing since June 21, 1964. They were murdered by a group of White men who were virulently opposed to African Americans having any rights including the right to vote. During the 1964 Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey as a founding member of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, Ella Baker spoke about the search for the missing civil rights workers. Two of the civil rights workers (Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner) were White men from New York while James Chaney was African American from Mississippi. During the search for the bodies of the 3 missing men, several African Americans who had been lynched by White men were discovered in the Mississippi river. The African American lives were not considered valuable enough to warrant a search by the authorities. In the 1998 published book "Black Women Film and Video Artists" African American professor Jacqueline Bobo writes: "Many Black people were aware that as the authorities searched for the missing workers, they found bodies of murdered Black men in the rivers of Mississippi that no one had previously investigated because they had not been killed along with white men." Baker was one of the architects of the Civil Rights Movement working mostly with the youth as a grassroots organizer. She like Fannie Lou Hamer is one of many unsung sheroes who worked tirelessly in the movement. Baker was an outspoken social justice activist and advocate and worked in several organizations that addressed the injustices faced by African Americans. She worked as a field organizer for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) beginning in 1938. As a field organizer with the NAACP Baker traveled to various southern cities and townsestablishing NAACP chapters, recruiting new members and raising money. As one of the contributors to the 1980 book “Moving the Mountain: Women Working for Social Change 1980” Baker expressed her philosophy of organizing: “You start where the people are.” This philosophy helped to make Baker an effective and successful organizer because she could communicate with African Americans living in poverty working as tenant farmers (sharecroppers)as well as middle-class, educated African Americans. In her 2003 published book “Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement: A Radical Democratic Vision” African American professor Barbara Ransby wrote about Baker:“her primary base of knowledge came from grassroots communities and from lived experience, not from formal study. She was a partisan intellectual, never feigning a bloodless objectivity, but always insisting that ideas should be employed in the service of oppressed people and toward the goal of justice.”
In 1942 Baker became the director of the NAACP responsible for the NAACP branches throughout the USA. She left the NAACP in 1948 to raise her pre-teen niece who she had adopted and returned in 1954 as president of the New York City branch of the NAACP. In 1955 Baker became involved in the effort to integrate New York City’s public schools when she was asked by the mayor of New York City to be a member of the Commission on School Integration. The Commission delivered its report in 1957 and one of the recommendations suggested by Baker was to allow children to attend schools outside of their own neighbourhoods. The Open Enrollment Program which was established in 1961 was the result of that recommendation. The Open Enrollment Program provided free transportation to elementary students on school buses while secondary school students were given special passes to be used on subway and buses.
Baker was also involved in other civil rights activism. On January 5, 1956, one month after Rosa Parks was tried and found guilty of breaking the White supremacist segregation law and African Americans in Montgomery, Alabama began the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Ella Baker and other activists in New York City founded the organization “In Friendship.” During its three years of operation “In Friendship” contributed thousands of dollars to support the work of the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) and its campaign to desegregate public transportation. With the successful integration of the Montgomery public transportation system African American activists including Baker co-founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in February 1957. Baker moved to Atlanta in 1958 to help with organizing membership in the SCLC and she also ran Crusade for Citizenship a voter registration campaign.
Baker was instrumental in founding the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) which grew out of the peaceful African American student sit-ins to desegregate lunch counters in department stores. On Monday, February 1, 1960 a group of African American students from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical University - one of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in the USA - refused to leave a Woolworth's lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina where they had been denied service. This sparked a wave of other sit-ins in college towns across the South. The SNCC was co-founded by Baker in April 1960 on the campus of Shaw University (an HBCU) in Raleigh, North Carolina to coordinate and support the sit-ins. In “Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement” Ransby describes the beginnings of Baker’s activism: “nurtured, educated and challenged by a community of strong, hard-working, deeply religious people—most of them women—who celebrated their accomplishments and recognized their class advantage, but who also pledged themselves to serve and uplift those less fortunate.” Ransby also recognizes Baker’s contribution to the movement throughout her years of activism and advocacy: “From her tenure as field secretary and later director of branches for the NAACP during the 1940s through her role as political godmother to young activists in the Student Non Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), Baker insisted that democratic struggles be guided by an internally democratic process of open debate, deliberation and equal participation for all regardless of gender, income, education or status.”
Ella Baker's words from 50 years ago urging that “the killing of Black men, Black mothers’ sons, becomes as important to the rest of the country as the killing of a White mother’s son” are still not a reality today in 2014 with the recent “Grand Jury” refusal to indict the White men who killed Eric Garner and Michael Brown. Those words immortalized in song “Ella’s Song” by the African American group Sweet Honey in the Rock composed in 1998 are almost heart breaking in today’s toxic environment where “Breathing While Black” seems to be a criminal offence. The words of “Ella’s Song” which were spoken by Baker in 1964 are poignant as we witness the almost daily extrajudicial killing of unarmed African Americans as young as 12 years old.