Black History Month Spotlight: Viola Desmond

viola_desmond_700x400_with_name

As we continue to celebrate Black History Month, this week, we shed light on a historic Black Canadian figure. Viola Desmond was born and raised in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She initially trained to become a teacher but decided to change career paths. She was a successful businesswoman who owned a barbershop and hairdressing salon business in partnership with her husband, Jack Desmond. In the midst of her business’ expansion, Viola left for New Glasgow, Nova Scotia in 1946 to pursue a brighter future for her business.

It is in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia where Viola Desmond makes a name for herself as one of the most influential and remarkable people – especially as a woman – during times of segregation between Blacks and Whites. Viola Desmond innocently went to the movie theatres one night in New Glasgow and decided to take a seat in the main floor of the theatre. Unbeknownst to her, this specific theatre had specific tickets for African Canadians – who should be seated in the balcony area – and White Canadians – who may be seated in the main floor of the theatre, where the movie can be better seen. Upon being asked to leave her seat and relocate to the segregated seat she was intended to sit in, she refused. The police were called and Viola Desmond was charged without being advised of her right, ending in her spending the night in jail.

The following morning, she paid the fine of $20 for the alleged crime and was charged with defrauding the Government of Nova Scotia with the difference in tax between a ground floor ticket at the movie theatres and a balcony seat ticket. The difference amounted to approximately one cent.

Desmond courageously decided to fight the charges against her, understanding that the issue was not surrounding around the idea that it was tax evasion, but rather, inherently racist. Viola Desmond took the case to court, where she was able to gain public opinion on the matter both locally in her own community, nationally, and internationally. This issue raised significant awareness on segregation within Canada.

Viola Desmond’s arrest quickly caught the attention of the Black Canadian community. The Nova Scotia Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NSAACP) raised money to per her fine and help her to fight against her charges. Carrie best – the founder of Nova Scotia’s first Black owned and operated newspaper, publicized her story in order to truly amplify her message and spread awareness.

As a result of the garnered attention generated by Demond’s case, the government of Nova Scotia had no choice but to eliminate segregation laws. In 1954, the government completed repealed them.

This was quite a significant turning point in the history of segregation within Canada as it revealed and exposed the fact that segregation was still real and alive within Canadian borders. At that time, there was a notion that Canada was the safest place for Black people who are being racially discriminated and segregated internationally to go to. Canada was put on a pedestal for being “free of segregation and racial discrimination,” when in reality, such practices were still very much alive and not eradicated. This event urged the Canadian community – who was expected to be an ally in the Black Civil Rights Movement – to take corrective action and implement more inclusive and culturally-aware laws and policies into legislation. It significantly sparked the wave of Canadian Black Civil Rights movement, urging Canadians to explore, expose, and correct issues surrounding racism and racial discrimination within our own borders.

This event truly catapulted Canada’s policies and legislations towards a more progressive and inclusive direction. The Canadian government began consciously implementing more diverse, multicultural, and inclusive laws in the years to follow that incorporates Black Canadians into Canadian culture as valued members of society. As a result of the corrective action that followed after this event, Canadian people adopted a more culturally aware, inclusive, and diverse ideology about race. The issue of racism was brought to the forefront of social justice issues and light was being shed on racial discrimination as being very much so present in Canadian society, contrary to popular opinion.

This event ignited a very important movement in Canadian society. It sparked the discussion and the need for action towards a society that is built on a foundation of diversity and multiculturalism. Viola Desmond remains an influential historical figure in Canadian history who, despite how little her action back then may have seemed, took an action that is not only significant but extremely powerful.

Resources:

http://www.blackhistorycanada.ca/profiles.php?themeid=20&id=13

http://www.digitaljournal.com/print/article/249537

http://canada.metropolis.net/EVENTS/ethnocultural/publications/historical.pdf

Welcome Back!

 

Welcome_Back_021It’s the most wonderful time of the year… Well, maybe not.  Whether you gleefully ran through Staples buying your school supplies or hit the snooze button several times last week, we would like to welcome you back for the 2015/2016 school year!  We would also like to extend a warm welcome to all of the first year students joining us!  We are thrilled you chose to join the Faculty of Community Services here at Ryerson, and wish you the best of luck over the next four years.  We would also like to welcome back staff, faculty and administration in the Faculty of Community Services, as well as across Ryerson.

After a long summer, the Faculty of Community Services Blog team is happy to be back!  With new and returning bloggers, we know this is going to be an exciting year of writing, creativity and keeping you up to date with what’s happening at Ryerson and outside of Ryerson.  All of our writers are students in one of the nine Faculty of Community Services programs: Child and Youth Care, Disability Studies, Early Childhood Studies, Midwifery, Nursing, Nutrition, Occupational and Public Health, Social Work and, Urban and Regional Planning.  We write about a wide range of topics including activities, events, and issues at Ryerson and in the community.  We post multiple times a week about topics that are current and useful for all Ryerson community members.

We are looking forward to getting started and invite you to join us for another year of student blogging.  Stay tuned!  For Faculty of Community Services updates, follow the Ryerson Faculty Community Services on Twitter: @RyersonFCS.

-The Faculty of Community Services Blog Team

Get Outside

A man and dog walking near Humber River

Having spent my childhood running through cornfields and reading in the shade of huge oak trees, I sometimes find it hard to live in Toronto. I had always assumed that my longing to feel dirt in my fingers and the grass between my toes was because of this childhood. While, it definitely plays a role, I am becoming more conscious of just how important nature is to everyone’s well being.

In 2009 a study done by the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health found that the closer you live to nature, the healthier you are likely to be. This was found to be true for people living in cities which had plenty of green spaces. (Luckily, we live in Toronto, a city with tons of green spaces.) So being outside makes you healthier, but why? There are several theories. One is Vitamin D intake. The more time we spend outside, the more Vitamin D we soak up, the stronger our immune system. Another theory is that being outside improves our sleep as the natural sunlight helps to set our internal clock. Rather than relying on fluorescent lights and alarm clocks, this internal clock set by nature, helps to normalize our hormones (which can have the added benefit of weight loss).

Even beyond our internal clock and Vitamin D, being out in nature has been proven to make us happy. A study from the British Journal of Sports Medicine has provided proof that being outside causes “happiness, or the presence of positive emotional mindsets, broadens an individual’s thought-action repertoire with positive benefits to physical and intellectual actives, and to social and psychological resources”.

Even the dirt we walk or roll on has a part to play. Scientists at the University of Bristol and University College London discovered a couple of years ago a connection between dirt and mental health. There is a microbe found in soil called Mycobacterium vaccae. This microbe stimulates the same neurons of your brain that produce serotonin. Serotonin is known to increase your level of general well being. So even if you don’t live close to a green space or you have allergies and this time of the year is difficult, chances are you can still get your hands dirty with an indoor plant.

While Toronto may not be one of the top ten park filled cities in the world, we do have a large number of parks to enjoy. From High Park, Edwards Gardens, Dufferin Grove, Allan Gardens, the Islands, Rogue Park, Guildwood, to Woodbine and Humber River, the city is full of places to get outside, enjoy nature and improve your health.

Here is a complete list of Toronto parks to enjoy.

Reviving Spirits with Blithe Spirit

a photograph of Angela Lansbury playing the role of Madame Arcati in Blithe Spirit

It’s been a long winter. A long, cold winter. A long, cold, dark winter. The kind of winter which makes you want to stock up on supplies, have a collection of hot water bottles and never leave the house again till spring. With that being said, I needed a little pick me up. Blithe Spirit was just the thing.

My mother and I have had a standing late winter weekend date. This year we were lucky enough to have it coincide with Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit. I knew very little about this play. I only knew that Angela Lansbury was playing the role of medium, Madame Arcati. That alone was enough to get us out in the snow and heading to the Princess of Wales Theatre. Despite being almost ninety, Ms. Lansbury was energetic and spry on stage. You could see how much she loved the role.

I can’t recommend this play enough. It was fabulously hilariously, so engrossing that an hour and a half passed without even noticing it. There was an audible sigh of sadness when the play ended. You could feel the collective wish for it to continue. The play had every element you could want; brilliant acting, stellar comedic timing, great set and costume design, witty writing, and the tiny details which make you feel like you are actually in Kent on a chilly summer night.

The play, written in the 1940s, features Mr. and Mrs. Condomine who invite a medium (a hilariously eccentric character), Madame Arcati to dinner to provide Mr. Condomine with material for his next novel. Madame Arcati, falls into a trance and accidentally summons Mr. Condomine’s dead first wife, Elvira. Mr. Condomine is the only one able to see or hear her. You can imagine how having two wives, one being a rather petulant invisible spirit, can lead to farcical situations and interactions. I won’t give away the ending, suffice to say that it was not what I had expected to happen.

Even if you don’t manage to catch this play with Angela Lansbury, the next time it comes to town, it is absolutely worth going to see.

The School-Home Pull

coachcanada

When I started at Ryerson three years ago, it was my first time living away from home.  I moved from my mother’s home in Niagara Falls to my own apartment in downtown Toronto.  I’ve made Toronto my home and I still go back to Niagara to visit but I find wherever I am, I experience the school-home pull.  I wonder if other students experience this pull as well.

When I’m in Toronto and going to school, I’m really happy.  I love the social work program and I’ve made friends in the program that I see outside of school.  I have a nicely decorated bachelor apartment and I really enjoy living in downtown Toronto.  There’s always something to do and being able to walk everywhere is great!  I’m doing my placement at a great agency and volunteering at places I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to in my hometown.

Despite loving Toronto and building a life there, I still feel pulls to home.  I always look forward to going home over the holidays and reading week.  I spend two months of the summer holiday in Niagara.  My family still lives in Niagara and I am fortunate to have a great group of friends I went to high school with that I still see when I’m home.  There are still specific places I like going to in the Niagara region such as Mossimo’s in Fonthill.  I’m always excited to go home and know it won’t be a boring week on the couch with nothing to do.

I’m really happy when I arrive in Niagara and enjoy spending time with family and friends but when I’m in Niagara, I start feeling a pull to school and Toronto.  For example, I’m currently home for reading week but had to miss the march on February 14th for missing and murdered Indigenous women.  I find I’m missing things, usually social justice related, that I really want to go to.  Near the end of the winter break, I took a trip to Toronto and stayed for 14 hours (including sleep) just so I would be able to attend an event.  When I visit Niagara, I’m missing my volunteer shift at Holland Bloorview which I love going to.  I’m also missing out on things my friends who live in Toronto year-round invite me to.

Fortunately, Niagara Falls and Toronto are close enough that I get the best of both.  I just hope the cost of bus tickets doesn’t go up.

Photo from: kevinsbusrail.com /Taken by Kevin Lo

Inaccessibility at Ryerson

With the AODA deadline for accessibility fast approaching, ensuring accessibility should be on the minds of designers, urban planners and well, everyone. This is sadly not the case. For example, Ryerson is a leading university, and yet, accessibility still not on the forefront of planning. If you have been downtown lately you will have noticed the new student centre which is being built. What you may not have noticed, are the stairs. The front of the building is stairs. No ramp, no stramp, but stairs. The ramp, disability and accessibility are hidden at the back of the building.

photograph of the contruction of Ryerson's new student centre

Think about how this could have been done differently. Think about how ensuring universal access could have highlighted the forward thinking that should be bred in a university setting. Think about the design potential. Think about the implications of not including access in a student centre.

 

photograph of a stramp

Ever been to a dance studio on campus? If you are a wheelchair user you haven’t. They aren’t accessible.

Even this student blog is an example of inaccessibility on campus. This blog is hosted on the blogging platform, WordPress. It is considered one of the most accessible platforms but only if the blogger uses the accessibility features. For example, all images should be described for screen readers. On WordPress this is easily done. Simply use the alt text. I have even written a blog on making your blog accessible and yet this blog isn’t. To be fair student bloggers are not asked to ensure accessibility or instructed in the accessibility features of the platform.

A university should push boundaries and limits. It should make students and the public think about issues with its programs, buildings and policies. It should be inclusive of all people and bodies. Inaccessibility on any university campus implies that disabled people don’t attend university. They aren’t dancers, they don’t read blogs, and they are more than happy to be forced to the back in order to enter a student centre. Is this the university that you want to attend? We students pay thousands of dollars to attend this institution and we should demand that everyone be given equal access.

When the “Man-spread” is an Issue

man-spreading

Over the past few months, “man-spreading” has become a household term.  The transit controversy was discussed on the evening news, newspaper articles explored the issue and it appeared on social media.  For those who missed the uproar of the term “man-spreading”, it means angling ones legs in a way that takes up more space.  It’s been most noted on public transit and is generally done by men.  I have been wanting to write about this for a while but have been waiting for the parade of ridiculous articles to pass.

There were a lot of opinions and stories on “man-spreading” that diverted from the main discussion.  There were articles on how the seats on the TTC are small and do not accommodate all body types.  True and an important issue, but that has nothing to do with the “man-spreading” discussion.  There were articles about people putting their feet up and taking up seats with their bags which diverted us away from the topic of “man-spreading”.  There were articles about how men need to spread out due to their anatomy and asking them not to was a violation of their rights.  The Men’s Rights Activists had a good time with that one.  The final group of articles was close to hitting the nail on the head but not quite; they discussed men who spread so far that they take up two seats so no one can sit beside them.  This is part of the “man-spreading” issue but there’s a piece that is missing.

For me, “man-spreading” becomes an issue when I’m sitting beside that person.  It’s an issue when the person beside me is sitting with their legs wide open while I’m sitting with my legs together and they’re being crushed against the side of the seat.  Even with my legs like that, the person beside me still has their leg on mine.

Living in Toronto, you have to get used to not always having your own personal space.  It’s not an option during the morning commute where everyone is packed in and pushed up against each other in the subway.  Almost everywhere in Toronto is busy and being in each other’s personal space has become so common we don’t even think about it.

Despite personal space being less common in Toronto daily life, I like to have it when I can.  When it’s not rush hour and I manage to get a seat, that is a time when I can have personal space.  During that time, I don’t want someone’s leg almost on top of mine and to be crushed against the side of the seat just because someone can’t be bothered to close their legs.

Be courteous to other people on transit- stop “man-spreading”.

Photo from: cbc.ca

Panhandling – Social Justice is Not Charity

a photograph of the Toronto Homeless Memorial

Over the last few weeks there has been a barrage of articles about panhandling and homeless. I understand this. It’s January. Toronto is cold, freezing actually. Shelters are over full and Shabbir Jaffa and another unidentified man died because of these facts. Sadly these are issues that we drop come July or August. I recently read an article about how to give to panhandlers. The author states that they are unwilling to give money because they are unsure how it will be used and don’t want to an unwitting participate in the person’s harm. Stating, “I am not trying make gross assumptions about addictions and homelessness, nor am I taking a stance on the issue of how one spends their money because both of these issues are very complex … but suffice it to say that I believe everyone has the right to do with their money as they wish and once you give money to someone else, they have that right just like anyone else.”

Yet, this statement does make gross assumptions about homelessness and the people who experience it. In a recent study of people panhandling in San Francisco, 94% disclosed that they spend the money they collect while panhandling on food. Less than half admitted to spending that money on drugs or alcohol.  Even if that were not true, who are we to judge how someone else spends their money? It feels as we need to treat homeless people as children, as not capable of making decisions which would be best for their situation. You may not want to give money to homeless people, that is your right, but feeling bad about it, is your choice not theirs.

The author writes, “when we’re in the car and are approached by someone at a red light, we always feel awful. Keeping the window closed and ignoring them seems like no way to behave.” So don’t, open the window, say hello. Say you have nothing to offer.

The author goes on “It’s nice to have a mix of healthy snacks and treats. Our kits will include: granola bars, bottled water, juice, protein bars, raisins, a $5 gift card to Tim Hortons and a note saying, “Have a nice day”. You could also include a small flashlight with batteries or some Hot Paws in the winter. Purchase some cellophane bags and ribbon from the Dollar Store and package individual kits. Storing 5 kits in your glove box is a good place to start.”

While, the sentiment is well meant. I wonder what it would be like to be on the receiving end. Each item separately might be okay to receive, but I suspect that a pretty package wrapped with ribbons and a note wishing them ‘a nice day’ would feel demeaning. This is not a child’s lunch box after all.

While I understand the desire to give and to have your children see compassion in action. I think there are more productive and less demeaning ways to go about this. Cathy Crowe, a Toronto street nurse, has this suggestion, “ I have a formula to help …. and it’s based on the notion that social justice involves more than charity. The equation is simple. It’s one-third plus one-third plus one-third and it’s a formula for social justice not charity. The formula ingredients could be your time, your energy, your passion, your creativity, your letter writing or some other skill, your donations including your money.”

Homelessness is a complex issue. It can be an uncomfortable one. Unpacking privilege is not an easy process. One we collectively need to work if we are to stop people from dying on our streets.

The impossibility of balance

A couch leg is surrounded by dust bunnies.

Laying on my living room floor looking at the surprisingly large dust bunnies under the couch (I mean really, how do they get so big?) I am thinking about the precipitating factor that got me here: stress. Okay, so to be honest, a couple of physical jobs, a history of back issues and sitting are also what laid me low, but stress plays a larger part than most people think.

As a part time student, working full time at several contract positions, volunteering with several organizations, all while trying to have a life, stress is as second nature to me as breathing. The question, I guess, is how to manage my commitments and the stress that comes from them. Now I could go on about diet, exercise, natural remedies, mediation and yoga (and I have, at length in other posts) but the reality is that there aren’t enough hours in the day. Today another back pain sufferer and robaxecet pusher jokingly said that if she could do yoga every day then she wouldn’t have any problems, but then who would do her laundry and pick up her daughter from school?

Maybe that’s what is so upsetting about it all. The myth pushed onto us that we can do it all, that we should, that it’s really our fault if we can’t find balance. I am tired of seeing blogs about the ‘5 things that balanced people do every day’, or ’10 ways to have it all’. Those tips will not help me accomplish all the tasks I have listed on sticky notes pasted all over my apartment, they won’t help me sleep at night when my mind races, they won’t stop the spasms in my back. It just places the blame for my lack of balance squarely on my shoulders, or more accurately on my lower back. It goes without saying, or it should, that what goes up must come down and juggling life is no different. Eventually, you (me, everyone) will drop the ball.

Reading this over, I feel like I should have some over riding moral or conclusion instead of just blathering on about the impossibility of balance. I have none. Maybe I am just tired. Maybe I am just overwhelmed. Maybe I am just in pain.

Shifting into another position (more dust bunnies, it’s like I never sweep!) and a little more comfortable, I can think again. Maybe that is the over riding message, a little shifting is necessary from time to time. Or maybe the melatonin and muscle relaxers are just kicking in.

Mayoral Debate on Disability Issues

The Mayoral Debate on Disability issues. From left to right, Olivia Chow, John Tory and moderator Helen Henderson and ASL interpreters.

The Mayoral Debate on Disability issues. From left to right, Olivia Chow, John Tory and moderator Helen Henderson and ASL interpreters.

On Monday, September 22nd a mayoral debate on disability issues was held in Ryerson’s Student Centre. Having been to the same event four years ago I had an idea of what to expect. Needless to say I was surprised when I arrived. The room was tiny, not nearly large enough to accommodate everyone who attended and not large enough to provide space for those who may have anxiety in large crowds, people with service animals, using mobility devices or with strollers. The microphones where quiet and captioning was only on one side of the room. Doug Ford, not surprisingly, did not show, John Tory and Olivia Chow did. Ari Goldkind, stood in the back ready to go, but was not allowed to debate.

The issues raised are important; housing, transit, employment, creation of anti-ableist policy, but the answers where the same as they have been every election. There were no concrete solutions, no actual timelines, but agreement there should be timelines. At one point, John Tory even suggested that having participated in disability simulation event and having spent time in a wheel chair meant that he knew what it was like for wheel chair users. “Suffering,” “caring for” and “differing abilities” where phrases that were thrown around as if they were meaningful.

The debate ended early, with Tory indicating that he had somewhere else to be and leaving at 2:30pm. Olivia Chow stayed to answer questions until 3pm. The debate was scheduled from 1pm to 3:30pm. I realize that candidates have busy lives, but so do those who attended the debate. For some, attending the debate was a day trip. Booking wheel trans the week before, getting up early for the long ride down town, then waiting around for a ride that was booked to pick them after 3:30pm. To leave before the debate was scheduled to end, to imply your schedule is more important, is offensive to say the least.

I did learn several important things from this debate. One being that we need to rethink how we organize events for the disability community at large. More time, larger rooms, scent free policy, an overflow area for those not able to participate in crowds, advanced notice of live streaming availability with options to tweet or email questions are just a few things that need to be considered. Secondly, the disabled community should host meetings before hand to discuss how to ask questions and demand answers in the most effective way. Questions about accommodations at universities are valid questions, for universities, but not for mayoral debates. Thirdly, we need to ensure that all members of the disabled community are present and able to participate. There were many people attending who use AAC devices, but there were no communication facilitators. And lastly, we need to get better at holding candidates accountable. John Tory had agreed to the debate, Doug Ford is front runner, both should have attended and stayed for the entire debate.

One of the final questions from the audience was one that has stayed with me. What can we do to encourage disabled people to run for office? This is a question we need to collectively work on for four years from now.