LFP LONGFORM: Learning from the past, yearning for a better future

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Shocking video of the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, by a white Minneapolis police officer. Black Lives Matter. Global protests. Racial dog whistles. Big-league athletes saying enough is enough. Calls to defund police. Is there a way forward for racial equality and justice after a 2020 that was both horrifying and inspiring? What might that look like?

Southwestern Ontario is a region rich in Black heritage, from immigration and the Underground Railroad that brought escaped American slaves to freedom here. We asked members of the community to share their thoughts on the road ahead in their own words.

CLEVELAND BROWNLEE: ‘I’ve seen both sides of the field’

Cleveland Brownlee, the designated hitter for the Majors connects for a single on his first pitch of their doubleheader against the unbeaten Barrie Baycats at Labatt Park on Sunday July 9, 2017. The Majors were wearing their purple uniforms for their Shine the Light on Woman Abuse game.  Mike Hensen/The London Free Press/Postmedia Network
Cleveland Brownlee Photo by Mike Hensen /Mike Hensen/The London Free Pres

Brownlee is a London Majors baseball veteran, one of the Intercounty Baseball League’s top 100 players of all time

I’ve seen both sides of the field. Where I come from in the southern United States (Atlanta, Ga), this was everyday life to us. (The police killing of George Floyd) hurt a lot because we had gone through this for generations.


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We’re about 60 to 70 years removed from segregation and hoping we got past it, but it felt like we’re back to a full circle. Down there, it was almost instilled in us to expect a difference. We came up knowing from a young age the system’s not fair. You’re starting out on a different playing field.

In Canada, it’s now a topic of conversation and I’m glad people are talking about it. Now, we’ve got to put it in action and make the necessary changes. It has been interesting up here and eye-opening to hear some of the questions people ask.

I don’t mean it in a disrespectful way, but unless you’re from that area down there, you were shut out of what goes on in the U.S. You would think with as much technology and information (available today), people would understand it more, but they don’t.

It wasn’t a way of life here. I want to be a voice to help explain what people of colour have been or are still going through. I want to teach my son the history of everything. Put it in the schools. It should be everybody’s responsibility to try to learn the history of all cultures. I’m not saying every single day, but let’s not limit it to one month, either.

Last week (in South Dakota), there were people fighting a resolution on Black History Month and I’m just like, ‘Wow, it’s 2021 and you’re protesting learning about other people’s history.’ That’s the sad part. Give kids more information; that will change the way they grow up. If you don’t, you’re limiting that kid in understanding what other people go through in life.


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SHANNON PRINCE: ‘When we say nothing, we are complicit’

Shannon Prince at the Buxton museum. (Derek Ruttan/The London Free Press)

Prince is curator of the Buxton National Historic Site and Museum and a sixth-generation descendant of escaped slaves

Since the slaying of George Floyd and the simultaneous events it triggered around the world, particularly Black Lives Matter, I have experienced numerous emotions.

As I witnessed the protest marches, I had a feeling of hope, inspiration and change. There was so much passion, compassion, enthusiasm, and it appeared as though everyone was on board with the principle.

But it wasn’t until I participated in a Black Lives Matters protest that I felt exhilarated! I was surrounded by my husband, our children, grandchildren, nieces and friends to have our voices heard and start to make that change. I was in awe at the diversity of my fellow marchers — young, old, white, some in wheelchairs, some pushing strollers — and we all had one common theme: “Black Lives Matter.”

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The fact is there is racial injustice and systemic racism that’s always been here. Some people are just now opening their ears and hearing it and others opening their eyes and seeing it. The silence enables the racism.

There was worldwide momentum of “let’s get it done” and “let’s get it done now,” and as moments pass and momentums die down, we are sort of left with legislation.

When we say nothing, we are complicit. We need to hold ourselves and others accountable, especially those in power, like our employer and public officials. We need to continually talk about it, so it’s just not a Band-Aid.


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Becoming more diversified within society and educating are very key components to help make change.

It’s important to remember who has the power: it is us!

TREVOR HINDS: ‘We need this momentum to continue’

Trevor Hinds, business and diversity consultant with Black Unicorn Consulting in Glanworth, Ont. (Derek Ruttan/The London Free Press)

Hinds is principal consultant with Black Unicorn Consulting in London

As we come into another February and celebrate the many voices and cultures of Black Canadians, we must take the time to reflect on what it means to be Black in Canada. 2020 was an extraordinary year for all of us, and it has brought to light the myriad ways systemic inequities shape the lives of Black people.

The COVID-19 virus does not see race, but the disproportionate impacts of the virus highlight the racial inequities of our society. The intersection of race, poverty, education, and access to resources show the complexities of understanding a “Black experience” that cannot be separated from racism alone. These complexities make the notions of equal opportunity less of a reality and more of a crutch that well-meaning people can use to feel like they have made progress.

Many of us have stood in solidarity with Black Canadians in demanding change, safety and access to the same resources afforded to others. The killing of George Floyd was not the beginning of the Black Lives Matter movement, but it moved the discussion into the mainstream, giving a platform for Black voices to be heard.

Those voices, and the voices of other oppressed groups, need to stay at the table; they need to continue to be heard long after the month of February has concluded, and the emotional turmoil has begun to subside. We need this momentum to continue, to have people not speak on behalf of, but create space for diverse experiences. Acknowledge those experiences, seek to understand them, believe them, and make your own decisions accordingly. This is what is needed, this is what will move us toward real, sustainable change.


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MAYA MARK: ‘There is more value in us coming together’

Maya Mark

Mark is with the Congress of Black Women, London chapter

When I was introduced to the Congress of Black Women, London chapter, I had just moved to London from the Caribbean, and was struggling to fit in. At the time, the congress was running two youth-centred programs, Future Smart, the congress’s finishing school, and a Toastmasters International Youth Program. On my first day at Future Smart, I found myself surrounded by young people who not only looked like me, but who I could relate to, and by the time I had completed Toastmasters, in addition to confidence, I had friends who, 20 years later, have become family. 

I credit those programs with my growth over those few months, and I went from being a shy kid searching for a place where I belonged, to initiating the first Black History Month recognition week at my high school.  

The congress has had an immeasurable positive impact on countless lives. The value of education is paramount to our organization, and since 1992, we have awarded dozens of scholarships via the establishment of four different scholarship funds, and recognized numerous youth via the Yaphet Robinson human equality award, and in collaboration with London Police Services, the Lewis Coray trailblazer award, all of which honour the memories of Black lives who paved the way for us, by acknowledging Black lives who will pave the way for others.  

All that we do is symbolic of the value that we have always recognized within our community, and we have many new ideas as to how we can serve our community in an even greater capacity. However, we have seen an increase in community organizations over the past year, and while we serve different purposes, we know there is more value in us coming together and working with one another.


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A few weeks ago, we hosted the first of a series of meetings for the leaders of some of these organizations, old and new. We believe that if a solid foundation is laid, we can build more sturdily upon it, and our hope is that with forces joined, the end result would be different branches of a firmly rooted tree serving our community with a common goal and a united front.

DERRICK BERNEY: ‘Teach more Black entrepreneurs how to lead’

Derrick Berney in London. (Mike Hensen/The London Free Press)

Berney is a London tech entrepreneur, founder of three businesses and an entrepreneurship program to help Black businesspeople

As a Black entrepreneur invested in the local community, I see many gaps in the current ecosystem that need to be addressed.

Start-up incubators and accelerators focus on tech or other scalable industries. This excludes most small, Black-owned businesses that are non-tech-based, leading to a disproportionate lack of representation of Black businesses in existing accelerators.

There is a lack of leadership for young black entrepreneurs and youth to emulate.

To create leaders among the Black community and Black youth, it is essential to address the racial and structural inequalities that Black youth and communities across the country experience.

Implementing opportunities for Black entrepreneurs and youth to be mentored in business and in becoming successful leaders is critical to ensure equal opportunity and a diverse supply chain in Canada. To do this, it is essential that the people and leaders who mentor individuals do not just focus on themselves being the face of the movement. Instead, focus on what is important as an inclusive community, rather than making others less relative.


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Creating resources online to help entrepreneurs as they face common business barriers is an important part of encouraging a supportive community that fosters growth organically as more experienced members give back by mentoring others.

The momentum that Black Lives Matter brought to the world and, more locally, to London, Ont., should be used as a catalyst to engage people from all walks of life to work towards a more inclusive style of entrepreneurship.

From the famous words of Ella Baker, “Traditional leadership creates a dependency of the leadership and led.”

The Black community lacks visible Black chief executives, political figures and entrepreneurs that can act as inspiration for young people. Without positive role models in the community, who are Black youth meant to emulate?

Teach more Black entrepreneurs how to lead, so all Black entrepreneurs can lead to their own success.

MALVIN WRIGHT: ‘A different present and better future’

Maryam and Malvin Wright, owners of Yaya’s Kitchen on Dundas Street. (Files)

Wright is a London chef and owner of Yaya’s Kitchen

Every generation has a moment and an opportunity to either continue on the established path or pivot into the unknown and the new. This is where we are as a society; yet I doubt that we realize or acknowledge the fork in the road that is before us.

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There is a failure of imagination in our society that shrouds us from dreaming dreams, imagining a different world, a different economy, a different society and a different and better way of being. Frantz Fanon said it best: “Each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfil it, or betray it.”


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I believe that the Black Lives Matter movement is our moment in time, our fork in the road that was born out of centuries of injustice and unanswered demands from Black communities globally, in Canada and in London for rights, equality, justice, dignity and freedom.

What is amazing is that this moment is being articulated and spoken into being amid a global pandemic, yet the Black community has managed to demonstrate an incredible sense of Nkonsonkonson (an adinkra symbol that depicts two links in a chain. It represents unity, community, and the strength that comes from each.) They are not always in agreement, but are tied together. Here is the beautiful tension that exists within our community. Unity and community are different branches on the same tree that tie us together.

We are never able to fully explain the complex factors and catalytic moments that exist in history and in our present. What sparked the Black Lives Matter movement? The movement emerged in 2013 under a Black president and a Black attorney general in the United States. Was it then a crisis in leadership, a failure in imagination, or was it something greater?

I believe the Black Lives Matter movement is a response to a failure of leadership within and outside the Black community to respond to the aspirations of the Black community. It is a response and an indictment of Black leadership and elites who have failed to deliver on the demands for better education, better housing, better health outcomes and greater opportunities.


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Where are we now? The global pandemic is raging, yet people protested and came out 10,000-strong in London. This signalled to me that an escalation of moral and spiritual sensitivity to Black suffering and struggle that has not been present in our consciousness since the 1960s. There is also an awakening globally. People are making the connections between each other, the environment, the economy, justice, health and lack of accountability within the entire system.

To non-Black people, understand that Black people are working through two crises: disproportionately being killed by COVID-19 and by the systemic systems we exist in. In spite of the protest, the movement, the marching, we are still living the Black experience. We still hold our breath every time we leave the house, every time we watch the news, every time we enter a store with a mask on, every time we apply for a job online. For Black people, this is a lived, everyday experience and we yearn for a different present and better rendering of the future. Please be mindful and honour that dream.

Compiled by Norman De Bono, Jennifer Bieman, Megan Stacey and Ryan Pyette,
The London Free Press


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