August 2022 / Toronto - It is a sunny but cool morning as I sit to write this monthly blog in my messy backyard. There is a sense of peace as the cats lay about, lazily watching the squirrels go about their food gathering, all three of us listening to the wind softly rustling the leaves of the box elder maple tree overhead and the birds twittering as they call to each other flitting from tree to bush to tree.
I wonder if one hundred and eighty-eight years ago, that first emancipation day dawned as any other day, my ancestors up before the dawn to prepare for their families before the work in the hot sun under the cocoa and nutmeg trees commenced. Or had the news filtered down through song and gossip to all within earshot that this day, was their day of liberation; the day that would signal the removal of their shackles from their feet hands necks. The day that the resistance rested, if only for a few hours to celebrate this moment in the struggle- a moment in time.
My ancestors knew that this declaration of the end of the Atlantic slave trade by the British enslaver government, which saw countless African people kidnapped, stolen and made property was not the end of their struggle, but the continuance of the resistance against dehumanizing laws, practices and beliefs.
They knew- from Nova Scotia, Lower (Quebec) and Upper (Ontario) Canada to Grenada from where my family hail, that the struggle for their humanity must continue. That the resistance against the brutality of the regime which turned people into property would and must continue. And it continues to this day as we call out and resist anti-Black racism in our laws, public policies and public institutions including policing, immigration, education, health, employment (public and private and non-profit sectors) and housing.
August 1 has finally gained official recognition as Emancipation Day by Canadian governments. It is a cause of celebration and recognition of the long and persistent work of among many, Black liberation activist and former president of the Ontario Black History Society, Rosemary Sadlier.
The history of the enslavement of Black People has been erased from our official history lessons here in Canada. Instead, we proudly tell the story of Canada as savior- white savior, welcoming ‘runaway slaves’ through the underground railroad. I am grateful to celebrated author (and friend) Dr. Afua Cooper whose scholarship unearths the rich and storied history of our people here in Canada. Her work on Marie Joseph Angelique, an enslaved woman in what is now called Montreal, is a must read.
The weekend leading up to this day of legal freedom in 2022 has been filled with Black offerings- from the Michaëlle Jean Foundation convened National Black Canadian Summit in Halifax where hundreds gathered to take the pulse of Black communities across the country; to Global Black Pride which touched down in Toronto, welcoming queer folks from Africa and across its diasporas; to the fifty-fifth annual Caribana celebrations, now called the Toronto Carnival, a premier celebration contributing more than four hundred million dollars to the economies of Toronto and Ontario each year, with little to nothing reaching the various Black communities organizations and businesses in the city and province.
In Montreal, the International AIDS Conference is heavily attended by Black scholars and health activists alike, with recognition of the leadership that Black women in particular have played in the struggle for resources, research and service access for Black, Indigenous and racialized people living with HIV and AIDS.
For both the Global Black Pride and International AIDS conferences, the issue of delayed or refused visas for attendees from the political global south, particularly from Africa and the Caribbean has been the background struggle to these important events. It is unfortunate and shameful. Immigration Canada has a lot to answer for.
As does the whole federal government. In her address to the National Black Canadian Summit, Senator Wanda Thomas Bernard, a Nova Scotian, called for a formal apology for the enslavement of Black people in Canada and for reparations. We echo that call.
I join in the celebration and commemoration of our ancestors whose resistance led to this emancipation proclamation of 1834. And whose continued struggles and commitment to liberation continue to inform our political work today including on ourselves. As descendants of an enslaved people we must commit to the decolonization of our minds as much as the decolonization of the systems and institutions that rule our lives.
As Jamaica’s favourite son, Bob Marley reminds us, we must emancipate ourselves from mental slavery.
As I prepare to celebrate this day with my loved ones, I will hold on to the image of the grandmothers in colourful headties, telling the story of that day of emancipation after little girls and boys ran around the village ringing the bells, calling out in voices made hoarse from excitement- freedom is here! freedom is here! Freedom is Here!
The Struggle continues….