Black history is important, but so is celebrating black talent and confronting racism.
That’s the message of “Blackness and belonging: towards justice, recognition and development”, an event held at Toronto’s city hall Monday evening to recognize the United Nations’ international decade for people of African descent. Halfway through that decade which began in 2015, the event is part of the city’s plan to confront anti-black racism.
“There is a great need for people to recognize the historic—the transcendent— contributions of people of African descent and of Africa itself to the development of modernity,” said Toronto’s fourth poet laureate George Elliott Clarke in part of his keynote speech entitled ‘On making African peoples human beings and citizens.’
The speech moved the crowd to applause and cheers of “ashe,” a Yorùbá word that can be used to express agreement.
The event also featured live performances including drums, dance and a painting that participants signed with personal messages.
The city established a confronting anti-black racism unit (CABR) to implement the plan last May. The plan includes 22 goals to work on over a five-year period, ending in 2022. They include engaging black Torontonians in civic decision-making and developing programs for black youth.
The plan also includes a team of 12 black Torontonians who are on a partnership and accountability circle (PAC) to provide advice on the plan, including discussions with Toronto police.
Hodan Ahmed is part of the PAC. “It’s complicated, but it’s also empowering to see the survival and commitment of [the PAC] to constantly fight not just for their own rights, but for the rights of everyone else who is struggling as well,” she said.
A performance by Natasha Eck and Moss McNeilly, called ‘Daughters of the middle passage,’ was one of the evening highlights. The dancers used fabrics, drums, music and movement to imitate water and tell an emotional story about the history of slavery.
“There are many people who are not familiar with the type of history that [Elliott Clarke] talked about, and if they are, they do not live that,” said Lawson Clarke, a participant in the ceremony. “One thing that disturbs me is that there are too many people who are white, just taking the moment in and after that, that’s the end of it.”
To end the ceremony, participants raised their fists and sang Nkosi Sikelel iAfrika, the South African national anthem which was sung during the apartheid.
The city of Toronto sign at city hall lit up in pan-African colours—red, green and yellow—to honour of the day.
Aina-Nia Ayo’dele Grant, the manager of the CABR, asked participants to make a personal pledge to take action during the decade via Twitter. Chiedza Pasipanodya tweeted that her pledge is “to create spaces for authentic aliveness and world peace.”
Mayor John Tory and the deputy city manager Giuliana Carbone delivered opening remarks, along with host MC Bonde, the radio host of African Groove G98.7 FM to acknowledge March 25 as the international day of remembrance of the victims of slavery and the transatlantic slave trade.
Tory said that even though it’s halfway through the international decade, it’s never a bad time to recognize African contributions.
He also said that Toronto has the first government in North America to create an anti-black racism plan.