Black culture is unique—one of the few cultures thrust upon a people and not developed by them. A Jamaican is not a Gambian is not an Australian Aborigine. We’ve got tribes within tribes and languages within languages but somehow lumped together by the colour of our skin.
And we’ve made the best of it. From Canada’s first Negro History Week in 1926 to officially recognising Black History Month in 1995 thanks to the help of the Honourable Jean Augustine, we’ve celebrated our Blackness and looked to remind the world that we’re not just one thing.
But it hasn’t been easy, with “Black Canadian” conjuring up images of The Weeknd or Drake and not so much Cameron Bailey or Michaëlle Jean. You hear about Black Canadians on February 1st, but where do they go for the rest of the year?
And that’s why I’m here working on Live from the 3.5—because if we don’t invest the time to own our stories, who will?
And then sometimes you need to take a step back and handle your ish.
With Father’s Day come and gone for 2018, I was finally free to take stock of everything going on in the rest of my life, and it was a mess. A to-do list 270 items deep. Friends and family whose voices I hadn’t heard in months. Things were hectic, and I quickly remembered I couldn’t be a good husband, father, son, brother, friend, employee, churchgoer and content creator all at the same time.
So I took the time to handle a few things and while they’re still far from perfect, being able to find some time to get back to the podcast’s always okay by me!
But enough with the preamble—let me tell you why episode six is so good.
CaribbeanTales couldn’t have known I was in the middle of deeply searching for a great connection to my roots when they reached out to collaborate. It’s a dope time for content creators who look like us with Jordan Peele’s 2017 horror smash Get Out taking home an Oscar and 2018’s Black Panther smashing every record the world can toss at it, but we can still do more.
Black culture has long challenged anyone who dares try to keep it in a box. Most of what the world calls “Black culture” is culture reshaped and repackaged for public consumption. Hip-hop. Television. Fashion. It all reached a tipping point where Black culture met bold couture, and suddenly we found ourselves without identifiers accurately representing us anymore.
Or at least—that’s the narrative some would have us believe.
Take a trip out to Kelowna, BC to keynote a parenting conference and change others’ thinking on what fatherhood means in 2018, and
Think it’s a good idea to take on such an ambitious creative project when it’s the financial year-end at your 9-5… and you’re in charge of keeping the numbers balanced.
But for those of you keeping score at home, that was my situation exactly this February, and though I got a bit of content out in its last few days, there was still so much I could do to move the needle.
Because after all—we’d danced this dance before. The dance we danced every February, schedules packed with dinners, discussions and dialogues as we revel in the attention everyone’s giving us… but what then? What happens when Black History Month’s over and we’re back to our regular lives, the Black Canadian narrative nothing more than a side note to everything else going on? I’m sorry, but as a Black Canadian myself, I’m still Black full-time well after February ends. I’ll celebrate other aspects of who I am as the year goes on from fatherhood to masculinity and back… but what says I should hold back from celebrating my Blackness just because it’s not the month where everyone else is doing it too?
And that’s why I’m thinking… maybe it’s time I tell some Black Canadian stories beyond the work I do each February.
So a lot happened at the Dad 2.0 Summit. I made new friends. Finally met up with old ones. And on top of that, I got to meet men I idolised without even realising I was doing it, like Beleaf Melanin and his beautiful family, half of which were there with him at the summit itself!
We exchanged info and became Facebook friends… and if it wasn’t for that, I’m not sure I would’ve been there for what came next.
See, Beleaf Melanin, the rapper-turned-father-turned-prolific creator behind Beleaf in Fatherhood’s video content… he published a book. And I don’t mean an ebook or some YouTuber tell-all at a publisher’s request… he self-published an honest-to-goodness hardcover children’s book: Dad 2.0 Summit, featuring himself and his family as the characters within.
If Black people aren’t some of the most fashionable people on the planet, I don’t know who are!
Growing up, my mother was always adamant that my brothers and I dressed our best to head out the door. As I liked to say, she’d dress up to get the paper from the front step. It took a while for that lesson to take hold in my mind, but as a man and now as a parent myself, it’s important to me to represent, making sure people know I came from a solid upbringing.
No matter what kind of Black person you are, I’d argue you see clothes as a direct reflection of yourself. Businesspeople. Gang members. Ballplayers and fashionistas. It’s the colours, the cut, the brand names and more—it’s completely woven into our culture with mentions in our music, movies, magazines and more… we are what we wear, and Black people rarely shy away from that!
It’s especially important for me as a Black Dad—we gain this reputation as slobs once we enter this phase of our lives, so focused on raising our kids that we don’t spend any time on ourselves. I’m looking to fight against that amidst a wardrobe of tailored suits, polished shoes and three-quarter length coats in the winter.
I’ll admit it—with Tales from the 2.9‘s successful completion, I almost felt like resting on my laurels and taking the day off. I mean, this year was easily far bigger than I’d expected, running the media circuit, coordinating with contributors, writing heaps of social shares for Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn… it’d be so easy to just pat myself on the back and take a break until the next great initiative. Let’s face it—I am but one man.
But sitting on my haunches didn’t get me here—it was nights spent grinding away on a project that sincerely mattered to me, and happily found it matters to others as well.
That’s not the end game, though—not by a long shot.
Tales from the 2.9 — This is Only the Beginning.
With Tales, I was able to explore part of my identity through the lens of my kinfolk’s experiences, examining its many facets through the stories told.
And the project did well—Tales saw:
5000 unique page views over the month
3.5% engagement on Twitter, where the average is 0.5-1%
44.2% engagement on Instagram, where the average is 3-6%, and
60.8% engagement on Facebook, where the average is 0.5-1%
And that’s just content I shared. Combine it with the shares from contributors and media outlets, and you start seeing numbers like:
1025 Facebook likes
245 Facebook shares
455 retweets, and
640 Twitter likes!
So yeah, this year’s Tales showed there’s a definite appetite for Black Canadian content in this nation, but why limit ourselves to February alone?
See—that right there’s the problem. The point. The crux of why we must keep pressing forward even when Black History Month’s wrapped up. Sure, the celebration’s over, and yes, we had our time to shine. But you know what?
February’s over, but we’re still Black.
Black Fridays — Because One Month Alone Cannot Tell Our Story.
We still need to speak up. We still need to keep our momentum and show the world what we’ve got. When the Honourable Jean Augustine bolstered awareness of Black history by introducing an official Black History Month over 20 years ago, it was only a first step. It’s up to us to keep that mission going and work with one another to clearly outline why we’re important to Canada’ s history and that 28 days alone won’t tell the full tale.
But that means taking action. It means doing more than just crying foul when we celebrate our achievements in the coldest and shortest month of the year. It means putting something out in the world that begins to move us in the right direction, and for me, that’s a new series I’m calling Black Fridays.
Though I wrote an introduction for each post in Tales, there’s much of my stories and viewpoint I never got around to telling. Like the three times someone confused me for staff on our honeymoon cruise. Or the double takes that sometimes happen when I first walk in an interview. There’s plenty yet to explore with sometimes as vast as Black Canadian culture, and I think a longer look at its various aspects will help us dive deeper into plenty of places we might not explore otherwise! We’ll start this Friday with a Tales submission from artist Stephanie Konu that I never got to share, as well as other tales and tidbits that I’d do a disservice not to mention.
So thanks to all the contributors, the media contacts and others who really believed in the project, and thanks to all of you who checked it out! Those who wrote, shared, and suggested others who’d make great contributors—it’d be impossible without you!
Thanks again, everyone, and we’ll see you for #Chronicle150!
Until the next,
Tell your wife, tell your kids, tell your husbands:
This year’s been a challenging one for Tales from the 2.9.
Last year was bad timing—putting 29 daily posts out right after becoming a Dad for the second time is no simple feat, and we somehow pulled it off. I was eager to build on that success and keep it going well past February, but life as a quartet caught up with me, and my time and energy soon found themselves committed… elsewhere.
So I stood this year determined to learn from my mistakes, and I thought I had it all figured out. I started looking for contributors weeks earlier, hoping to get everything lined up at the beginning of February to make time for other things. I tried to build awareness for the project, putting out a press release and landing interviews in several major Toronto media outlets with both luck and a noteworthy story. Everything felt perfect for an amazing Tales from the 2.9… until we reached the end and I suddenly found myself without enough contributors.
Fortunately, I had access to unpublished work like Ardean Peters’ piece below, but I’m surprised that things worked out this way. I definitely get it—some were too busy to write; it is Black History Month, after all. Some too overwhelmed by the questions’ gravity in a polarised world. And I’m sure some started writing, but life had other plans for their time and they never got to finish.
Whatever the reasons, I’m just glad we got to see 28 unique stories in 2017, and it’s taught me a valuable lesson—don’t expect miracles when you’re spreading a message only one month of the year!
But these are words befitting a wrap-up post; this is not my soapbox right now—the eyes are squarely focused on Ardean. Her story mirrors that of many Black children born here in that we don’t really recognise our Blackness until we’re older. We know we’re different at first, but don’t often understand what that means in the larger world until we have the life experience to get it.
I do hope you’ve enjoyed this year’s Tales from the 2.9, and we’ll wrap this up tonight with one. More. Post!
See you then,
Many Black Canadians come from families who sacrificed plenty to give them the lives they have today. What do you know of your family history and how has it shaped your current self?
Both my mom and dad are from the Caribbean island of St. Vincent and emigrated to Canada in 1968 and 1971 respectively. I think what I remember most is, while my parents had a strong connection to their home and instilled in us those traditions, they also always encouraged us as ‘Canadian kids’, making sure that we knew that we were Canadian and this was our home. To that end, I see myself as Canadian first, sewn and stitched together with a rich and diverse history and culture, which informs who I am today.
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?
Interesting question, because it wasn’t really until I was an older child, that I saw myself as ‘black’. As a child growing up, I just thought of myself as ‘Canadian’ and my skin colour was an afterthought. I grew up in the most diverse community in North York at the time, Jane and Finch. On top of that, the school I was in, really encouraged the belief that we were ALL Canadians and equal. I was so lucky to experience such a diversity of people and culture, which has shaped how I treat and connect with people as an adult.
On the flip side, as I’ve gotten older, had more experiences, worked in many different environments and experienced more of the city, its people and neighbourhoods, I’ve come to realise that I am a minority, which I honestly didn’t see as a young person. Because of this, and the realisation how strong an impact media has on shaping the opinions of people that have limited access and contact with black people (and people of other ethnic backgrounds), I realise the importance there is in promoting positive and normalising images of Black Diaspora people.
If I can agree on one thing with Rachel Lambo’s Tale from the 2.9, it’s our need to expect more from ourselves as a community.
It’s 2017, and there’re so many options to help a people thrive. We can bolster our business with think tanks and workshops. Or pool our resources to give opportunities to those who wouldn’t have them otherwise. We want to see the Black community thrive and prosper, but with other cultures so ahead in the game, we’ll need some creative solutions to bridge the gap!
With the second-last Tale, we’re looking for a paradigm shift—making use of tools, technologies, people and methods to excel beyond the limitations thrust upon us. It’s easy to dwell on the things that’ve held us back and cry foul on the situation… but it’s time to rely on our strength and resilience to reach out for the future that’s completely attainable.
We just need to work for it. Together.
Enjoy today’s Tale and we’ll see you tomorrow for one last go at 2017’s Tales from the 2.9!
What does being Black Canadian mean to you?
It represents and means community to me.
What’s your experience been like as a Black Canadian and how has it shaped who you are today?
It has been a great experience to see so many people get involved and how much information is being shared on social media, radio, and TV. Last year’s Black History Month was very uplifting, learning about the great achievements of Black Pioneers in Canada and Worldwide.
What’s something you’d like to see more of within the Black Canadian community?
More events that include think tanks, tech- and business law-related workshops. There is certainly a need for more opportunities so people cannot only network but have discussions and build consortiums.
Having lived in the Toronto area my whole life, I’ve had the benefit of a highly multicultural Canada.
Half of Toronto’s made up of visible minorities, with 8.5% of that pie being Black. It’s quite possibly the best place in the world to raise my mixed race family, in a city known for its diversity and acceptance. There’s something for everyone in The Big Smoke, and I don’t see my family living anywhere else!
But what about the rest of Canada?
Toronto’s but a 7.7% sliver of Canada’s population at 2.8 million strong, yet the 220,000 Black people who call it home make up more than 23% of the country’s total Black population! In fact, 80% of our country’s Black people live in a mere 0.1% of the country’s landmass, which makes you wonder what life is like for the 20% in the rest of the country.
Hailing from Plaster Rock, New Brunswick, Alicia’s view is one of optimism, seeing how far she’s come and filled with hope for her years ahead. Check out what she has to say below!
And me, I’ll be prepping for tomorrow’s penultimate Tale from the 2.9!
What does being Black Canadian mean to you?
Being Black Canadian means that I’ve never had to worry about the colour of my skin or who my friends are. I’m proud to live in an amazing country that accepts everyone regardless and I feel blessed to be Black Canadian.
What’s your experience been like as a Black Canadian and how has it shaped who you are today?
Being Black Canadian has shaped who I am today because I grew up in an area of New Brunswick that was predominantly all white. Even though I was different I was proud to be different and happy to educate people on my background. Being diverse and Black in Canada opens me up to influence so many people with my passion for helping others reach their health and fitness goals.