Tales from the 2.9 — The Black Canadians Sharing Their Stories in a Digital Age — #24: Ryan Elcock, COO, The Habari Network

It’s funny the connections you make through something like Tales from the 2.9—before I started this project, while I thought I already stood out as a Dad Blogger in a landscape where male voices were usually reserved for sports, cars and tech, I didn’t fully appreciate the gravity of the conversations that’d happen around the collective experiences of my fellow Black Canadians, and how much we needed to keep having them. And when I put a call for submissions out on my Facebook, a mutual friend introduced me to Ryan Elcock, a man I’ve spent a wealth of time getting to know since!

Ryan, raised with a deeper understanding of Black history and culture than most Black Canadians are often exposed to, has written a submission for Tales from the 2.9 that reflects this, showing a wealth of experiences and interactions shaping him into the man he is today. Make sure to give it a good read — it’s a great addition to what’s proven quite the educational month!


  • Born in Canada to Caribbean Parents (Mother is from Barbados and Dad is from St. Kitts)
  • Mother was a single parent who instilled a value in education. Completed undergrad at Western and did grad school at Texas Christian University (Purple and Proud all day every day)
  • Ambitious Individual with an entrepreneurial bent. I would sometimes get paid to help do students homework in elementary school since I was not given an allowance as a kid.
  • Cofounder of Revolteur Clothing—an upcoming brand, as well as cofounder of The Habari Network—an africentric news magazine with a focus on Africa Trade policy as well as changing the narrative of how Blacks are presented by the mainstream media.  Also currently creating a new platform, Umaizi—an online community focused on creating a bridge for entrepreneurs and investors in Africa and the Diaspora who want to do business with one another.
  • Can become prickly when it comes to playing respectability politics in terms of race relations as I believe that Blacks have to strive to command respect not beg or ask for it from others.

1) When you think of Black History Month, what are some of the stories and images that come to mind?

When I think of Black History Month, I think about the stories of slavery, struggles of Blacks during the civil rights movement and the contributions of great Black men and women in the past. However, the key word is the past –right up to the 60s it seems.

In addition, when I think of Black History Month I tend to think of Black History Month in terms of what went on in America and what went on Ancient Egypt because that was always what was promoted and pushed to us.

Therefore, I always seem to have an image of Black contributions to the society as a thing of a distant past and in the context of struggle. However, I believe that Black History should be seen in the context of a great people who have done great things and continues to do so to this present day.

2) The Black Experience we’re largely exposed to in the media is that of our southern neighbours and the struggles they’ve faced. What’s your experience been as a Black person in Canada, and what have you learned from it?

My Black experience in Canada has been interesting to say the least. Growing up I was instilled with a sense of pride in being Black. From a young age, I was sent to Black heritage school and grew up learning about the great contributions Black people have made and reading African and Caribbean stories.

That did come in handy when I was in elementary school because sometimes my teacher would defer to me during Black History Month since I was not afraid to let her know that I knew my stuff. On the flip side, I was also made aware of the struggles that Black people face and that we always had to be twice as good to get half as far.

In addition, high school was tough because, as a young Black teen, I felt like an outsider since I was the only Black kid in many of my classes. Thus, I always had a chip on my shoulder and I would also try to prove that I was just as good as anyone else and more capable because I knew I would also be held to a different standard than my peers.

However, I have come to appreciate my experiences as a Black person in Canada because I was fortunate to not just have a concept of Blackness based and rooted in slavery alone. My Black experience is a culmination of not just experiencing life not just as a Black Canadian, but that of Black man of Caribbean descent who has lived in America’s South.

That has enabled me to see successful Black people not as an outlier, but as a norm and expectation which provides me a deeper appreciation for the true capability of what Blacks can achieve.

3) In sharing your voice with the world, what impression do you hope to leave on the world with everything you do?

When I share my voice, the impression I would hope to leave on this world is that being Black is not a liability but an asset. I want to make sure that I help change the way Blacks see themselves and how other people see Black people.

I want to make sure that when I do anything, it is seen as the platinum standard of excellence thereby eliminating the poisoned mindset that Black people are not capable of doing great things and that we are bottom feeder people.

I do not want my accomplishments to be viewed as an individual success story, but rather as a cumulative effort by those who believed in me and encouraged me along the way.

I also want to make sure that whoever interacts with me feels like I bring value to them and that they are better or wiser after they have talked with me.

4) We all benefit from good mentors who guide us along the way to make sure we reach our potential in life. Who was your mentor to teach you from a cultural standpoint, and what’s the greatest lesson you learned from them?

I have been fortunate to have several mentors and teachers in my life. But there are a few people who really stand out to me along my journey called life. In high school, one of the key people who shaped me was Karl Francis. He was one year older than me and I looked up to him like a big brother.

Karl was the president of the African Caribbean Council (ACC) at Michael Power/St. Joseph Secondary School and he taught me the true meaning of leadership. I still remember one instance when he was creating several committees within the ACC and I wanted to be a leader because I thought I was a young hot-shot who should be a leader in one of his committees.

When I asked him to make me one of the leaders, he told me would make me a junior leader but not a full one because leadership was not just in title but in knowing how to interact with those higher up and know who the key decision makers were to get things done.

That has stuck with me for a long time and has shaped my mindset on the principles of leadership and power.

As an adult, one of the other key mentors was doctor by the name of Vincent Osundwa. His sons and I went to University of Western Ontario and he treated me like a son as well. He was very unassuming and quiet, yet when he spoke; it carried a lot of weight. But what stayed with me is the dignified manner in which he carried himself.

You see, he was originally from Kenya and lived in the US and the Middle East prior to settling in Canada. What stuck out to me was the way he deftly handled people no matter their background and the deference and the respect they gave him as well.

Dr. Osundwa always showed pride in his Kenyan heritage and did not try to water down who he was to fit in to Canadian culture. Yet, he found a way to balance the two with such skill that it became part of the charm of who he was.

Thus, the way he dealt with people demonstrated how a Black man could command respect without having to play respectability politics. It is from my time interacting with him, that I learned how to command the respect of others and carry myself in a dignified.

5) If you could say just one thing to the rest of the 2.9%, what would it be?

If I could say one thing to the rest of the 2.9%, it would be that as a people we must know our true power and that we should command respect do not ask for it. You see, you can only command respect when you are truly empowered. When you are empowered, you are able to change the narrative people have of you and also how they treat you.


Tales from the 2.9 is an ongoing series on CaseyPalmer.com showcasing Black Canadian content creators and the experiences they’ve had growing up Black in Canada!

Tales from the 2.9 — The Black Canadians Sharing their Stories in a Digital Age — #23: Zetta Elliott, PhD, Writer-in-Residence, Weeksville Heritage Center

Sometimes Canadians don’t stay in Canada — we like telling ourselves that we’ve built a utopia and that our country’s one of the best places to live on Earth, but that doesn’t make it perfect — we’ve still plenty of issues lurking beneath the surface, and unfortunately, the 2.9% of Canadians who identify as Black are far too familiar with far too many of them.

Dr. Zetta Elliott—born Canadian, but currently found in Brooklyn where she’s the writer-in-residence at the Weeksville Heritage Center—didn’t leave Canada filled with warm feelings. In fact, her contribution to Tales from the 2.9 details a life where she couldn’t fully reach her potential as a Black woman without leaving Canada. But that’s exactly why I’m glad to share her piece with you today — life as a minority’s rarely a bed of roses; heck, this entire project started when I realized that there weren’t proportionally enough of us in Canada to have a single Minister represent us in the federal Cabinet!

All that said, please take some time and read today’s entry. It’s well worth the read, and that’s saying something considering some of the stellar submissions we’ve seen this month!

Catch you at the next installment!


Born in Canada, Zetta Elliott moved to the US in 1994 to pursue her PhD in American Studies at NYU. Her poetry has been published in several anthologies, and her plays have been staged in New York, Chicago, and Cleveland. Her essays have appeared in The Huffington Post, School Library Journal, and Jeunesse: Young People, Texts, Cultures. She is the author of eighteen books for young readers, including the award-winning picture book Bird. Her urban fantasy novel, Ship of Souls, was named a Booklist Top Ten Sci-fi/Fantasy Title for Youth and was a finalist for the Phillis Wheatley Book Award. Her own imprint, Rosetta Press, generates culturally relevant stories that center children who have been marginalized, misrepresented, and/or rendered invisible in traditional children’s literature. Elliott is an advocate for greater diversity and equity in publishing, and currently serves as writer-in-residence at Weeksville Heritage Center. She lives in Brooklyn.

Website | Twitter | Facebook

 


1) When you think of Black History Month, what are some of the stories and images that come to mind?

When I was growing up in Canada in the ’70s and ’80s, there was no Black History Month. As an expat who has lived in the US for over 20 years, I don’t have many positive memories of Canada when it comes to the development of my Black identity. My family happens to have African American roots, which I’m researching right now (with funds from the Canada Arts Council). I understand why my enslaved ancestors might have seen Canada as their best option in 1820, but I also understand why—once they got here—some of them chose to cross the color line and leave their Blackness behind. I was a Black Studies professor for almost a decade but that wouldn’t have happened if I had stayed in Canada (where I never had a Black educator until my last year of university). I’m the author of nearly 20 books for young readers that blend Black history with magic—that also wouldn’t have happened if I had stayed in Canada. I often draw inspiration from Dionne Brand’s book A Map to the Door of No Return; in it she writes that people of African descent have had to develop a “mastery of way-finding.” So I guess when I think about Canada and Black History, I think of all the ways we’ve found to survive and make our stories known—even if that means re-crossing the border.

2) The Black Experience we’re largely exposed to in the media is that of our southern neighbours and the struggles they’ve faced. What’s your experience been as a Black person in Canada, and what have you learned from it?

I wrote about my life in Canada in my memoir, Stranger in the Family. And that title pretty much sums up my experience as a Black woman in a country that I found to be hostile and/or indifferent to Blacks. My father was an Afro-Caribbean immigrant who arrived in Toronto at 15 but attended high school and college in the US. He used to say, “I can’t get anything started in Canada,” and he ultimately returned to the US in 1990. That opened the door for me to move to the US, too, and I left Canada because all I could see were closed doors. Everything seemed so much harder in “the Great White North,” and racial advances in the US take 10-20 years to take hold in Canada. I found it hard to build community in Toronto and yet felt immediately embraced by the Black community in the US. There’s not much I miss about my early life in Canada—besides Shreddies and butter tarts!

3) In sharing your voice with the world, what impression do you hope to leave on the world with everything you do?

I hope my example—as a Black feminist writer and educator—lets young people know what’s possible for them, too. I never read any Black Canadian authors as a child and never met an author until I started graduate school at NYU. I hope my books let kids know that magic can happen to anyone, anywhere. I’m still trying to decolonize my imagination after consuming so much imperialist British literature in Canada, and I hope young people—by having “mirror books”—won’t have to spend as much time decolonizing their minds, too.

4) We all benefit from good mentors who guide us along the way to make sure we reach our potential in life. Who was your mentor to teach you from a cultural standpoint, and what’s the greatest lesson you learned from them?

My father really struggled with his Black identity because he grew up in poverty in the Caribbean, and was raised by a religious grandmother who told him to pinch his nose so he look more like “the buckra.” He married a woman who identified as white and felt that would ensure that his children would have every advantage as light-skinned Blacks. But then he had a “Black Power” moment, separated from my mother, and became an activist within the Department of Education in Toronto. He ran a summer camp where we watched Roots and learned about ancient African civilizations. But then his radical moment ended, and he married a Caribbean woman who convinced him he needed to perm his “hard” hair. She got me perming my hair, too, and I only stopped when I moved to Brooklyn and met a group of Black women artists/activists who wore their hair natural. So I’d say I learned from my father that the struggle to love yourself requires you to dig up the roots of self-loathing. And that sometimes means distancing yourself from those who love you but can’t or won’t decolonize their minds. My maternal grandmother looked white but identified as “colored,” and her refusal to “pass” for white like her relatives truly inspired me as a young woman. Sometimes being true to yourself means being alone…   

5) If you could say just one thing to the rest of the 2.9%, what would it be?

Speak up for your children! Find out what they’re learning in school, see what’s available at the public library, and advocate for materials that reflect the histories and cultures of the African diaspora ALL YEAR ROUND. If there aren’t any books that provide a mirror for your child, you might need to make that book yourself. I write the books I wish I’d had as a child. Make sure your child has material that empowers her/him and makes her/him feel valued and loved.


Tales from the 2.9 is an ongoing series on CaseyPalmer.com showcasing Black Canadian content creators and the experiences they’ve had growing up Black in Canada!

Tales from the 2.9 — The Black Canadians Sharing their Stories in a Digital Age — #22: Mike Armstrong, Blogger, Daddy Realness

Pretty sure I haven’t stepped foot in Hamilton since dating someone there, but Justin’s told me about its booming blogger scene, including — for example — parent bloggers I’ve yet to meet in the flesh!

Mike Armstrong is one of those Dad bloggers out in Steel Town sharing about his journey, and as his moniker implies, he’s always looking to keep it as real as possible when sharing. His submission for Tales from the 2.9 echoes what many of us are trying to do — just live the best lives we can with the resources afforded to us.

You can check his thoughts out below!


Mike Armstrong is a husband and father of two kids. Born and raised in Hamilton, his day job involves working in industrial distribution. In his spare time, he writes about his parenting experiences on his website, Daddy Realness. It’s him blogging about the adventures and misadventures of fatherhood (mainly the misadventures).

Website | Twitter | Facebook


1) When you think of Black History Month, what are some of the stories and images that come to mind?

I think of the more well known stories and people.  It also makes me think of of how much history that I don’t know. For example, I remember, years ago, reading about how a new school in Hamilton was going be called Ray Lewis Elementary School. I didn’t get why they were naming a school after the Baltimore Raven’s linebacker. I then found out that it was named after a different Ray Lewis. I felt so foolish. I knew about the important Black American Olympians, but not the Canadian ones. Anyway, this month really does make me realize that it is on me to learn and appreciate our history more.

2) The Black Experience we’re largely exposed to in the media is that of our southern neighbours and the struggles they’ve faced. What’s your experience been as a Black person in Canada, and what have you learned from it?

For the most part, my experience in Canada has been positive. There have been incidents and moments along the way, but, overall, the vibe up here is different than in the US. Count me in the category as one of the people who’s never been considered “Black enough”, too. I’ve lost track of the number of times that I’ve been called White Mike. I mean, yeah, I’m aware of what the old stereotypes and perceptions of what a Black male is supposed to look and sound like. And yeah, I could easily act and talk that way, too…but what’s the point? In a country as diverse and tolerant (mostly) as this one, I’ve learned that I can get by just fine by being myself.

3) In sharing your voice with the world, what impression do you hope to leave on the world with everything you do?

I may not be the best at anything, and I make a lot of mistakes, but I try. In everything that I do, there’s always an honest effort. So much good has happened in my life just from being open-minded, and working hard. I don’t know how much of an impression this mentality has made on the rest of the world, but it’s worked for me, so far. If I can at least instill it in my kids, then that’s a win.

4) We all benefit from good mentors who guide us along the way to make sure we reach our potential in life. Who was your mentor to teach you from a cultural standpoint, and what’s the greatest lesson you learned from them?

Definitely my Mom.  Her life experiences have given her a more jaded perspective. I don’t share her same viewpoint, but she has opened my eyes to a lot of cultural and racial issues. From that, her oft-repeated quote to me back in the day was “work hard, go to school, and get an education.” Pretty simple advice that I took to heart.

5) If you could say just one thing to the rest of the 2.9%, what would it be?

Whatever you think your expectations are, defy them. Like that Big Sean song says, one man can change the world.


Tales from the 2.9 is an ongoing series on CaseyPalmer.com showcasing Black Canadian content creators and the experiences they’ve had growing up Black in Canada!

Tales from the 2.9 — The Black Canadians Sharing their Stories in a Digital Age — #21: Bridget “Bee” Quammie, Digital Content Creator

After all this time invested in blogging and building my brand, I sometimes foolishly (arrogantly?) think that I’ve met everybody in the Toronto-area blogosphere who I’d vibe with, and I’m very glad that I’m still continually proven wrong today — Bee Quammie is the business.

As a fellow ’83 baby — and more recently as one of the few parent bloggers of colour in our nation — Bee’s stayed true to her brand ever since her first post way back in August 2011 (yes, I looked), and stands for much of what I’m trying to accomplish as a Black father and content creator in Toronto!

Bee’s submission for Tales from the 2.9 is a good one — it looks at what it’s like coming from a place that sees you as the enemy, what our responsibilities are in shaping a better world for the generation to come, and ultimately, a lesson we all need to remember to keep moving forward!

Check it out below!


Photo courtesy of Samantha Clarke Photography

Bridget “Bee” Quammie is a healthcare professional, award-winning digital media content creator, and speaker.

Bee manages two personal blogs – ‘83 To Infinity and The Brown Suga Mama – and writes for publications like Chatelaine, Metro News, Parents Canada, For Harriet, and The Huffington Post Canada. Bee has been recognized by Black Enterprise and the Black Canadians Awards, and has held speaking engagements and television features across North America.

Websites: www.83toinfinity.com | www.thebrownsugamama.com | https://beequammie.contently.com/

Twitter: @beequammie | Instagram: @beequammie


1) When you think of Black History Month, what are some of the stories and images that come to mind?

The first image that comes to mind is me, back in elementary school – the only Black girl in the class, who was always tasked with speaking on BHM and doing the jobs of teachers who had no clue where to start. I think of historic Black American figures like Malcolm X, Shirley Chisholm, and Black Wall Street, etc. – but I always remember that Black history is global. Now I make an effort to also seek out stories of Black history within Canada and across the diaspora.

2) The Black Experience we’re largely exposed to in the media is that of our southern neighbours and the struggles they’ve faced. What’s your experience been as a Black person in Canada, and what have you learned from it?

I grew up in London, Ontario – a place and time where it was par for the course to have bananas thrown at my family and I from apartment building balconies and have the N-word hurled at us in both loud and hushed voices. Moving to Toronto opened me up to connections with a more diverse community, but anti-Blackness lives here too. As a first-generation Canadian, there’s a bit of internal reconciliation work I do constantly to figure out what it means to be Canadian when the family and culture I was raised within are from elsewhere.

When we think about the experience of being a Black person in Canada, it’s crucial to remember that this is a huge country with places that are the complete opposite of Toronto. I’m so happy to be here and have opportunities to connect with my culture in ways I didn’t have outside of the city, thus I often think about how others across the country view their own Black Canadian experience.

3) In sharing your voice with the world, what impression do you hope to leave on the world with everything you do?

My motivations are twofold. There have been so many times where I felt like my voice was drowned out, invalidated, or ignored. Having my own platform via the work I do helps me to speak up and out authentically, so I hope that it encourages others – particularly those whose voices are marginalized – to do the same in their own way, and remind people that they aren’t alone in various life experiences. Secondly, I do the work I do to hopefully make my daughter’s navigation through life a bit smoother than mine. I’m having conversations now that I hope she doesn’t have to repeat in the future.

4) We all benefit from good mentors who guide us along the way to make sure we reach our potential in life. Who was your mentor to teach you from a cultural standpoint, and what’s the greatest lesson you learned from them?

My parents have been my immediate mentors – the good and bad of their life experiences give me a lot to learn from. As far as a cultural mentor, I’d say Bob Marley has been a huge figure for me. His music and thoughts on everything from Jamaican culture to politics to spirituality to Black empowerment to global equality always give me something to think about, learn more about, or embrace with my own understanding. He consistently makes me consider what my definitions of success and legacy are.

5) If you could say just one thing to the rest of the 2.9%, what would it be?

Let’s find ways to connect with each other. The experiences of Black people in this country are extremely multifaceted, but we have threads that link us to each other. There’s so much we can learn from each other and so many commonalities that can strengthen our various communities, so I believe it’s important to find ways to navigate these connections.


Tales from the 2.9 is an ongoing series on CaseyPalmer.com showcasing Black Canadian content creators and the experiences they’ve had growing up Black in Canada!

Tales from the 2.9 — The Black Canadians Sharing their Stories in a Digital Age — #20: Shaun Worrell, Blogger, Milk and Coco

Something I realized after my near-immediate induction into parent blogging just months after the birth of my first child was that the world of parent bloggers was a small one, and that of the Dad Bloggers specifically smaller yet. But though the number of Canadian fathers publicly sharing their stories online is but a handful, I’ve gotta say I’m glad I’ve met the number of Dads I have who I’d be more than happy to share a beer with sometime!

Shaun Worrell is one half of Milk and Coco, a parenting blog he shares with his wife Amy about their life in Durham, ON raising biracial children — much like another blogger we know. His contribution to Tales from the 2.9 looks a bit at inspiration, discrimination, and what it means to be a Black father in today’s Canada.

Check it out below!


Shaun’s the middle of three boys, a married father of two, employed full-time in telecom and one half of Milk and Coco, a parenting and lifestyle blog. He has recently jumped on his wife’s blogging adventure and he is going with the flow. He’s a self-proclaimed jack of all trades and knows enough to be deadly. You will find him writing about DIY’s, kitchen creations, tech toys, BASS MUSIC (Jungle) and anything in between. His favourite saying is “Food always tastes better with a pepper in the pot!”


1) When you think of Black History Month, what are some of the stories and images that come to mind?

I think about the stories of hardships faced by those before me. What they had to endure to ensure I had the opportunities I have today. I think about my parents and my parents’ parents. Where they originally came from. I think about what my parents had to go through to get here and what they had to go through when they were here. There is so much that I think about including the contributions of trailblazers from the past, those living among us today and those making their way.

2) The Black Experience we’re largely exposed to in the media is that of our southern neighbours and the struggles they’ve faced. What’s your experience been as a Black person in Canada, and what have you learned from it?

My experience in Canada has been nothing like what we’ve all been exposed to south of the border. I grew up in multicultural communities my whole life and it wasn’t until I started my career that I noticed I became the minority.

I’ve had a couple situations where the “N-word” was used towards me growing up and it was always people looking for a fight.

One moment that stuck with me from years ago was when I was getting off of a bus, walking home from work and I noticed a person immediately crossed the street so we would not have to cross paths. I remember thinking to myself “is she doing this because I am Black?” I thought it was funny, I always wanted to be “that” guy but at 160 lbs 5”8’ looking in the mirror, I didn’t see it. But because of what we see on the news, I could be the most vicious person on the block. We seemed to have the same schedule and I saw her often, so I started to cross the street before she felt the need to. I’ve learned that there are stereotypes out there and I need to be aware of them and people’s actions and responses to my presence.

3) In sharing your voice with the world, what impression do you hope to leave on the world with everything you do?

Regardless of what we may hear, read or see we are all unique and special in our own way. I believe you should never let them see you sweat. What I mean is, whatever you want to do, do it, and do it like you own it! Be confident and proud of who you are! That doesn’t mean being flamboyant or flashy it means respecting yourself and others. The most important thing to me is that my kids see me as who I really am, not what the world says I am or should be. At the end of the day, my children are my everything and I hope that they learn confidence from how I live day to day!

4) We all benefit from good mentors who guide us along the way to make sure we reach our potential in life. Who was your mentor to teach you from a cultural standpoint, and what’s the greatest lesson you learned from them?

To say I’ve had a single mentor would be a complete lie. I’ve had many, but if I had to choose one (well two) it would be my parents. Besides my parents my uncles, aunts, cousins and close friends. My family has always had my best intentions in mind and gave me the best guidance and life advice. My parents were immigrants to this country and they were brought up differently, I respect that. The greatest lesson I learned from them was to keep yourself Royal. Don’t ever stoop to “their” level.

5) If you could say just one thing to the rest of the 2.9%, what would it be?

In order to stand out from everyone you will need to give 115% in everything and be persistent! Always be prepared for your dream to happen and if there is something you want, go for it and know when you have it! Dream Big!! That extra 15% effort is what sets you apart from the pack!


Tales from the 2.9 is an ongoing series on CaseyPalmer.com showcasing Black Canadian content creators and the experiences they’ve had growing up Black in Canada!