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            General News » News

            Being Black in Canada spurs valuable dialogue

            March 6, 大中华彩票app下载安装   ·   0 Comments

            A panelled discussion on Being Black in Canada, the first of its kind in Aurora, took place at the Aurora Public Library last Thursday as part of Black History Month.

            The Magna Room in the Aurora Public Library (APL) was packed to capacity as people from different walks of life, and quite fittingly – different ethnic origins – came to listen to leaders from the Black community.

            The panelists included Juno-nominated singer and songwriter Glenn Marais, recently-retired Justice of the Peace and former school board trustee Tessa Benn-Ireland, as well as Executive Director of the Women’s Support Network of York Region Jacqueline Benn-John.

            The discussion was moderated by Brock Weir, Editor of The Auroran, who asked engaging and relevant questions relating to the advancements and challenges experienced by the Black community over the years.

            Marais, who works in York Region schools and raises awareness through his company, Music in Mind, spoke to the importance of even hosting such an event.

            “It is very encouraging that we are even doing this event in Aurora. Growing up here, the social setting was vastly different and we didn’t enjoy the cultural mix we have now. My parents came from South Africa in 1964 because of the Apartheid regime, and I never learnt what it meant until I was older and faced blatant racism,” he shared.

            The audience listened intently as each speaker came up to the podium and pointed to the gaping holes in the acknowledgment of Black history.

            “Black history is made every day and we are making it right here tonight,” said Tessa Benn-Ireland, adding, “Any history not documented is left behind. Black Canadians have made achievements in arts, education, religion, politics, agriculture and science. Black History Month is a time to hear more of these stories and their contribution to the growth and development of Canada. The role of Blacks in Canada has not always been viewed as a key feature in Canada’s historical landscape.”

            Coming from a personal standpoint, Jacqueline Benn-John shared how she didn’t see herself represented on the Canadian Moments Mural painted on the side of a building at Yonge and Wellington Street.

            “I saw the Canadian flag and many individuals from history but I didn’t see myself represented, again. I immigrated from Trinidad at the age of one with my parents and Canada is my 大中华彩票app下载安装, my children’s 大中华彩票app下载安装. It’s where I have dedicated my life’s work. But Canadian history doesn’t normally include people like me,” she pointed out, asking, “If I’m not represented in a prominently placed mural, think about the discussions in classrooms, in your 大中华彩票app下载安装s, in your places of work. When will Canadian history include Black history? When will Indigenous and other people of colour’s stories be part of Canadian history?”

            Benn-John acknowledged that Canada has come a long way but barriers to housing, healthcare, social support, employment, promotion, education and other forms of inclusion continue to persist.

            “The experience of invisibility is common to women of colour in Canada who often find that their experiences of racism are not reflected in men’s academic work on racial oppression, and yet their experiences as women are not reflected either in hegemonic feminist work concerning sexism and gender-based violence here in Canada.”

            The panelists took turns to further the discussion by answering engaging questions posed by Weir to delve into understanding black experience. From their passion for community involvement and social justice to the prevalence of systemic racism in school boards, there were some difficult questions, and, perhaps, more difficult answers.

            Benn-Ireland, who worked as a school board trustee for nine years, shared her inspiration.

            “My parents always stressed that education is the key. When I volunteered for attendance checks at schools, I heard discussions and observed many things. I felt it was imperative to get involved in my community and get parents out at schools to find out what’s going on, get them to parent teacher meetings, or if they were unable, get them someone who would ask the right questions,” she said.

            Benn-John lived in a 大中华彩票app下载安装 where she experienced violence in the family and observed that women played roles that were subservient to men.

            “It was through reading and, eventually, my academic studies that I started to realize there was a connection to my experiences at 大中华彩票app下载安装 and among relatives, that forms of violence were so normalized. I learnt a very strong work ethic from my parents. They instilled in us the idea of how we have to work twice as hard, and I critiqued it later on through my studies about how powerful that message can be to children. I can work as hard as you tell me to but I’m compensating for my blackness, and on top of it, I’m compensating for my gender too,” she said.

            Throughout Black History Month, Marais spent a lot of time in schools and he acknowledged the ignorance that is present in all levels of education.

            “We can never assume that people are aware and enlightened because they occupy certain positions,” he said, as the panelists pointed to anti-Black racism policies implemented by the York Region District School Board. “I believe strongly in the power of legislative changes. It is an important step in the right direction but it’s just a beginning, that’s all it is. Legislative changes help us ensure minimum standards and we have to work beyond it by looking at teacher education as a whole and the importance of building it in at the foundation of programs,” said Benn-John.

            “It is important to look at necessary and mandatory education for people in public service, be it our educators, health care professionals, or our justice professionals. There are all kinds of inappropriate comments made across the globe by the Judiciary and it is very difficult to mandate training for judges. I’m pleased with the sexual violence action plan by the Ontario government, which included mandatory training for the police. So, we have seen some gains.”

            As the evening wore on, the discussions got deeper, and the question-answer session brought to the table more lived experiences from Canadians with origins around the globe. It was perhaps agreed upon that we must continue to speak up against discrimination and put measures in place to protect the values of equity and inclusion.

            Ultimately, as Benn-John remembered Maya Angelou’s famous words, “History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived but if faced with courage, not be lived again.”

            By Kinjal Dagli Shah


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