Ryerson Stands with #BlackLivesMatterTO

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http://theeyeopener.com/2016/04/ryerson-students-march-with-blm-to/

Garnering a lot of media attention lately has been Toronto’s very own Black Lives Matter movement. A very pertinent social justice issue of our time, the Black Lives Matter movement holds its roots in our neighbouring country, the United States, where the current racial climate is centred on the persecution of the members of the black community. There have been numerous injustices involving the various police officers in different states of America, wrongly persecuting black individuals, namely, young black men. Unfortunately, for the majority, the result has been death for these wrongly persecuted individuals. This has led to a revolution in the black community; the Black Lives Matter activists used their voices to speak out on such injustices and bring honor to the fallen people of their community. They have protested various streets in the United States, asking government officials and police department officials to end the racial profiling and racial discrimination. The powerful voices of the Black Lives Matter movement in the States has been heard all around the world – including our very own neighbourhood, Toronto.

The Black Lives Matter Toronto – Coalition was is made up of Black Torontonians working in solidarity with various communities in our local streets of Toronto to work towards a common goal: social justice. This group has acknowledged the deep racial discrimination and stigmatization that black communities in the States have been going through, and have noticed similar patterns of behaviour in our very own neighbourhood. Currently, the Black Lives Matter Toronto activists have been fighting for justice for the death of Andrew Loku.

Andrew Loku was a 45 year old man, living in an apartment building on Eglinton Ave. W and Caledonia Ave. On the evening of July 4, 2015, Andrew was disturbed in his sleep by a significantly loud noise from his upstairs neighbours. He asked them continuously to minimize the noise, so that he can be able to sleep, but the noise persisted. Overwhelmed by the loud noise, and being unable to sleep, Loku grabbed a hammer and began banging it against the apartment hallway doors and walls. The police were called to address this particular noise. Within seconds of the police officer’s arrivals, a police officer shot Andrew Loku twice, killing him in the hallway of his apartment building.

Andrew Loku was regarded by all those who knew him as a kind and friendly man. He was a husband and a father to five children, and lived alone in Toronto, while working to bring his family to Canada from where they currently live in South Sudan. He graduated from George Brown College in the construction program, and worked various jobs to make ends meet for himself and for his family back in South Sudan.

The Black Lives Matter Toronto Coalition has challenged the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) to release the name of the officer who shot Andrew Loku, having not been in immediate danger or threat himself. The identity of the officer has remained un-released while the SIU investigates logistics of the situation – such as whether or not officers were notified that the building in which they were responding to, the building that Andrew Loku resided in, was leased by the Canadian Mental Health Association. This apartment complex offered affordable housing services for people suffering with a mental illness. The Black Lives Matter Toronto Coalition have worked tirelessly in protest, rain or shine – snow or sun, to plead to government officials, such as Toronto Mayor John Tory and Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, to address this serious injustice. As such, the officer who fatally shot Andrew Loku has not yet been charged for this unjust act nearly a year after his untimely death.

I have had the privilege of visiting the hub of the protests on 40 College Street, where I met protestors from BLM-TO. It was an environment unlike any other. While one would imagine a protest to have quite a tense, aggressive, and hostile energy, the BLM-TO exuded nothing but love and hospitality to all those who observed and/or joined the protest. There was food, water, warm blankets, gloves, and hats being passed around to the protestors – not just from amongst one another, but from the on-lookers as well. There were shouts of social justice, peace, and equality. There were cries and pleads of putting an end to racial profiling and discrimination, and a plea to the SIU and the Toronto Police Department to be accountable for their actions. There was music, dancing, motivating speeches, laughter, and deep discussions to honor the valuable black lives lost to racial injustices.

It was a pleasant surprise to see Ryerson students in solidarity with BLM-TO on campus the other day. The march was organized by numerous student groups on campus, in collaboration with BLM-TO, to protest social justice in and around the Ryerson community. With Ryerson being at the very heart of Toronto, it seemed only natural that Ryerson students stand in solidarity with our community. Among the student groups during this march for social justice included the Ryerson East Africans’ Students Association (REASA); Ryerson Student Union (RSU); and the United Black Students at Ryerson (UBSR). During the march, the students in protest used their voices to urge other fellow students to show their support by donating supplies, food, water, warm clothing, etc to the BLM-TO Coalition, to encourage the progression of the protest. Students on campus were eager and receptive to what Ryerson students and BLM-TO had to say, and showed their solidarity with the movement. It was a refreshing and culturally enriching experience to have witnessed – and frankly, it made me even more proud to be a Ram and a Torontonian.

If you would like to donate and show your support and solidarity, BLM-TO can be found here:

Black Lives Matter Toronto Coalition Facebook

Black Lives Matter Toronto Coalition Twitter

blacklivesmatterTO@gmail.com

40 College Street, Toronto, ON

Resources:

http://news.nationalpost.com/toronto/the-life-and-bloody-death-of-andrew-loku

http://www.thestar.com/news/crime/2015/07/07/andrew-lokus-death-by-a-police-bullet-came-quickly-witness-says.html

Black History Month Spotlight: Maryann Elizabeth Francis

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As we continue to celebrate Black History Month, this week, we focus the spotlight on another strong Black Canadian female figure. Mayann Elizabeth Francis was born in Sydney, Nova Scotia and came from parents who hailed from Cuba (her father) and Antigua (her mother). She had strong roots in the church, being brought up and raised surrounded by strong religious influences, especially due to the fact that her father was the archpriest of the African Orthodox Church.

Mayann Elizabeth grew up in a diverse neighbourhood of Nova Scotia, yet, despite the apparent diversity of her community, there were still quite prominent issues of racial discrimination and inequality occurring in various communities surrounding her. Mayann was made aware at quite a young age of the segregation and racial disparities that were occurring in her community, and in communities across the country. She knew that she wanted to be a part of the social justice movements that would work to abolish racial segregation and discrimination on Canada, and was compelled to do her part to affect change in some way. So Maryann pursued higher education at St. Mary’s University, graduating in 1972 with a Bachelor of Arts degree. Following her undergraduate education, she took a job for the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission.

Shortly after her experience with the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission, she moved to the United States, where she lived for 16 years. In those 16 years, Maryann was able to earn her Master of Arts degree, in 1984, with a specialization in Public Administration from New York University. She used her Masters degree to build a career with a focus on personnel and labour relations issues, issues that influence the quality of people’s lives, and issues that seek to be rectified through public bodies. This was in strong part due to her upbringing in an unstable racial climate in Nova Scotia, where racial segregation and discrimination were very real realities with which she experienced.

After 16 years in the United States, returned back to Canada and settled in the province of Ontario. There, she worked as an assistant deputy minister with the Ontario Women’s Directorate. Shortly after, she became the Director of the same organization. After her experience with the Ontario Women’s Directorate, she decided to return to her roots and pursue her career with the Nova Scotia human Right Commission. There, she became to Chief Executive Officer.

Mayann’s work to bring about social justice and equality within society was widely recognized both nationally and internationally. She received the Harry Jerome Award from the Black Business and Professional Association, the Multicultural Education Council of Nova Scotia Award, and the Golden Jubilee Medla. Furthermore, she is the first woman ombudsman, black or white, of Nova Scotia. She moved on to become the lieutenant-governor of Nova Scotia in 2006. She is also the first Black Nova Scotian, man or woman, and the second Black Canadian to hold this position.

Her extensive experience in various senior public service positions is in large part due to her experience with racism and segregation. As a Black woman during a time where segregation was the everyday reality for all people in the United States and in Canada, Mayann Elizabeth knew first-hand what it was like to be discriminated and judged for reasons beyond control. She understood what social injustice and inequality felt like from a victim’s point of view. These horrible experiences inspired Maryann to live a life of public advocacy; live a life and build a career built on the principles of social justice and equality. To this day, she remains a largely influential and historical figure of Canadian history through her work in affecting change with regards to racial discrimination, segregation, and racial inequality.

Resources:

http://www.blackhistorycanada.ca/profiles.php?themeid=20&id=17

http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/en/article/mayann-elizabeth-francis/

http://www.cbc.ca/informationmorningcb/2009/10/mayann-francis.html

Black History Month Spotlight: Viola Desmond

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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

Engineering vs. Business: Deep Sea Mining

On Thursday, November 5th, I attended the Deep-Sea Mining Debate hosted by the Ryerson Natural Energy & Natural Resource Association (RENRA), Ryerson Speech & Debate Association (RSDA), and Ryerson Engineering Student Society (RESS). This event was hosted at the Ryerson Student Learning Centre Amphitheatre. The panel was made up of a group of business students and a group of engineering students. The topic of discussion was Deep-Sea Mining: Are you for or against it?
IMG_0316 Deep Sea Mining is a relatively new process of retrieval that is characterized by the practice of mining the ocean floors to uncover valuable metals and minerals. Such products include silver, gold, copper, manganese, cobalt, and zinc. This topic was chosen for debate as it raises a number of questions and concerns relating to whether or not its positive outcomes outweigh the potential negative implications to our environment.

During this debate, the business students’ panel advocated for the practice of deep-sea mining, highlighting its key advantages to society and focusing on the positive implications of mineral retrieval. One of the major arguments in favor of deep-sea mining included the enhancement of fossil fuel resources. With fossil fuel being an extremely useful natural resource, the increase of fossil fuel production would significantly contribute to industrial development. In turn, this would maximize the sustainability of natural resources while simultaneously contributing to the development of the industrial sector.
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One major rebuttal to a key argument against deep-sea mining that the engineering students’ panel made was its potentially negative environmental implications. There were concerns raised about the amount of damage that would result from deep-sea mining to neighbouring deep-sea ecosystems. While deep-sea mining would allow greater accessibility to valuable minerals embedded on the ocean floor, it poses high risks of disrupting deep-sea ecosystems, resulting in great potential harm to the aquatic environment. It was raised that it would be quite counter-productive to harvest the ocean floor for the retrieval of valuable and sustainable metals and minerals, while at the same time, potentially harming and disrupting another valuable ecosystem that should be protected as well.IMG_0317

This debate was thoughtful, invoking, and brought light to a recent issue with a number of positive and negative implications. It allowed students at Ryerson who attended the event to think critically about our environment and ways in which we can ensure that it will be able to provide us with sustainable, natural resources. I found this event to be of great importance as it highlighted key issues regarding our environment. It is time that we put such issues as a priority. As a community, we must be able to discuss the implications of man-made practices on our environment and work towards more sustainable and eco-friendly ways of community and industrial development. This debate sparked a number of great discussions on environmental change, bringing ecological sustainability to the forefront of the community’s priorities. I encourage everyone to consider how your actions affect the environment and how it affects the community on a larger scale. The environment is our home – let’s starting treating it that way.

Mad Pride

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Did you have a good time at Gay Pride?  Want to keep the fun going and learn something?  Then try Mad Pride.  Mad Pride is an arts, culture, and heritage festival created by psychiatric survivors, consumers, mad people, and folks the world has labelled ‘mentally ill.’  People experiencing mental health deal with discrimination, stigma and are commonly misunderstood. Mad Pride uses art and theatre to dispel stereotypes and to educate. There are free Mad Pride events all over the city and on campus at Ryerson from July 8-14.  This years international Mad Pride day is July 14.

If you can only make a couple of events, here are some recommendations.  However, I have a feeling that if you attend one you will want to attend more!

Altered States – Films by mad people

This documentary follows the life of Khari Stewart, a Canadian rapper who has rejected his label of schizophrenia.  He has chosen to view his experiences as spiritual rather than medical.  This documentary challenges our notions of mental illness and health.

6-8pm
Ryerson University
ENG103
245 Church Street

“The walls are alive with the sound of mad people” 

In the 19th century the buildings of CAMH were built by unpaid patient labourers.  This tour of the grounds is a theatrical event guided by the Friendly Spike Theatre Band.  If you don’t know anything about the history of CAMH (Centre of Mental Health) then this is the event for you.

6-830pm
CAMH
1001 Queen Street West
Meet on the corner of Queen and Shaw

The Mad Market

11am-5pm
1001 Queen Street West

All good pride events have a market.  The mad market will have goods made by mad people which you will go made for.  Performance artists will also be wandering the market.  The perfect place to find that ‘bizarre’ item that you have been searching for.

The Bed Push and After-Party

Meet at Parkdale Library (1303 Queen Street West)
1230-3pm – parade
3-7pm – BBQ

One of the best events of Mad Pride is the annual bed push. Bring your costumes, banners, mad gear, children, family and of course your pride. Enjoy the parade filled with drumming and speeches.  Then stay for food and fun at the destination.

There are tons of other events, from lectures, discussion panels, dance parties to book launches,  happening at various times all around downtown and on campus.  All Mad Pride events are free and accessible.  If you have little experience with ‘mad’ people, you want to learn more about this community, you enjoy arts and theatre, you want to challenge stigma and discrimination or you just want to have some fun then Mad Pride is for you.

Check out Mad Pride’s website for all the details.  Hope to see you there!

http://www.madprideto.com/about.html

A Woman’s Place

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I have a habit of reading the news while laying in bed with a cup of tea.  All the news I can.  Toronto Star, Globe and Mail, BBC World News, New York Times, Al Jazeera.  Recently, I have noticed an increase in articles relating to the epidemic of violence against women.  The rape gang in Acapulco, the protests of rapes in South Africa, the use of rape and mutilation as a weapon of war in the DR Congo, the 64, 000 rapes reported in South Africa last year alone, the unsolved rapes and assaults on native women in Thunder Bay, the rape and coverup in Steubenville, Ohio, the gang rape and death of a 23 year old student in Delhi, the sexual assault allegations against Dr. Doodnaught in Toronto, the assaults on women protesting in Tahrir Square, the rape and murder of three young sister in Maharashtra state in India, the police arrested in Mexico for rape, the murder of Reeva Steenkamp; the list never seems to end. A friend of mine even posted on Facebook a photo from the elementary school where they teach in South Korea.  It is of a ‘sexual violence relief room.’

When I was relating these horrors to an acquaintance, they said that these stories are related to the upcoming international women’s day.  I can’t believe this.  The only way that I can deal with onslaught of news (other than sticking my head in the sand which is not an option for me) without being reduced to a pile of tears or seething anger is to believe that these articles represent a change in our consciousness as a society.  In South Africa rape is rarely reported by the victim let alone by the news, except in cases where the victim was elderly or a toddler.  However, the gang rape and murder of Anene Booysen finally got the country (not only the women) talking on a large scale about the problem of violence against women.  Reeva Steenkamp even tweeted about it before her own brutal murder.  In India, the brutal gang rape and murder of Jyoti Singh Pandey sparked protests and called for change in the practice of victim blaming and ‘eve teasing.’

Rape is not about sex.  It is about control.  We live in a world where women have been traditionally and are still controlled by men.  Perhaps things are starting to change. (Slowly mind you, but change nonetheless).  Organizations, actions and protests, like Slutwalk and One Billion Rising are capitalizing on our (women and men’s) anger over the injustice of the systemic epidemic of violence against women.

However, we are still operating at the individual level.  I recently read an article about a group of women in India who run a female driver only taxi company.  This provides women a safe option instead of riding buses and provides the female drivers with income and a chance to be of service to other women.  These women are exceptionally brave and I don’t want to diminish their efforts, but placing the onus on the individual to change the situation is only one way to deal with issue.  It will not address the systemic problems that allow men to get away with violence against women and for people to think that gender based violence is acceptable.  We need to change the systems which keep the status quo.