Tales from the 2.9 — The Black Canadians Sharing their Stories in a Digital Age — Vol. 2 #19, Sagine Sémajuste, Commercial and TV/Film Actress

We are not Black Americans.

We’re not all that different from our brothers and sisters to the south of the 49th parallel, but it’s the differences in our narratives that define how our cultures work. We don’t have over 80% of our population descending from slavery—the vast majority of us came here by choice from the ’60s on seeking a better life. And though I can’t immediately tell you the number of countries we’re from, Black Canadians come from every corner of the globe, retaining much of their culture when they come here.

But we do know what it’s like to be marginalised. We do know what it’s like to struggle. Though we must learn to reframe our success as a culture distinct from the portrait of Blackness dominating popular culture, it doesn’t mean we’ve had an easy run, and that’s something Sagine Sémajuste has dealt with in her personal journey as a Black Canadian.

Ultimately I think Sagine’s submission touches on a point I’ve known since I was a boy—You Are Responsible for Yourself!

A phrase originally taught to me by my Grade 5 teacher, it holds so much more meaning to me as an adult. There’s no end to the problems and obstacles looking to keep us from reaching our potential, but we can’t blame them if we don’t get where we want to go in our lives. It’s up to us both individually and as a community to keep working for a better tomorrow, and if we continue hustling with that mindset, who knows what might be possible?

But since Sagine’s post beautifully outlines this point and more, I should just leave her to it. Enjoy her words below, and I’ll see you tomorrow with another Tale from the 2.9!

Until then,

–case p.

What does being Black Canadian mean to you?

Tales from the 2.9 — The Black Canadians Sharing their Stories in a Digital Age — Vol. 2 #19, Sagine Sémajuste, Commercial and TV:Film Actress — Sagine Looking BackBeing Black Canadian means my parents were able to leave their country of birth (Haiti) and freely enter Canada without having to conform or abandon their culture. It means being accepted and able to live in a diverse environment, where my differences are acknowledged without judgement and embraced without ridicule. That I got to freely learn and speak my mother tongue (kreyòl-Creole) as well as the country’s two official languages (English and French). It means responsibility. Sacrifice. Pride. Privilege. It means going to sleep with all that I am and rising looking forward to who I will become.

Tales from the 2.9 — The Black Canadians Sharing their Stories in a Digital Age — Vol. 2 #18, Sherika Powell, Speaker, Author, Podcaster, Rogers TV Host, “Women on the Rise”

If there’s one thing I know I could improve on as a Black Canadian, it’s my involvement in politics and keeping abreast of the issues affecting my larger community.

It’s one thing to vote—the bare minimum we can do as our civic duty—but we often take this right for granted, usually choosing an incumbent to continue doing their job, regardless of whether they reflect what we want from our elected officials or not.

That is—if we choose to vote at all.

If we want to see the changes we know are so direly needed in the environment around us, we can’t sit idly by and wait for someone to solve things for us—we need to get involved today and put people in power who are keenly aware of Black issues if we ever want to progress in the right direction. Remember—though Prime Minister Trudeau’s Cabinet’s praised as the most diverse in Canadian history, intentional or not, at first 2.9% wasn’t even large enough proportionally to see any Black faces on it1.

Sherika touches on this need and so much more in the post below—I hope you enjoy it!

Until tomorrow,

–case p.

What does being Black Canadian mean to you?

Being Black in Canada to me means many things. Number one for me, I am proud to not only be a black Canadian but also that my parents chose Canada to migrate to from Jamaica. The decision they made has allowed me to have privileges that many around the world often do not get to experience. Being a black Canadian means I am present and aware of my culture and the contributions that others have made before me, to make this country what it is today. I am excited to be a part of this generation and seeing all the accomplishments that we are making and how we continue to excel and make amazing contributions to Canadian culture.

Tales from the 2.9 — The Black Canadians Sharing their Stories in a Digital Age — Vol. 2 #17, Tanya Hayles, Chief Creative Officer, Hayles Creative Elements

I’d be willing to get some serious cash that had the Bank of Canada not decided to put Viola Desmond on the $10 bill starting 2018, most of us would be at a loss for any significant stories from Black Canadian history.

Despite more than 20 years with an annual nationally recognised month of recognition, Black Canadian history still feels like a minuscule footnote compared to everything we’re usually taught about the 150 years we’ve spent as a nation.

Tanya’s Tales entry raises the very valid point that our story often gets muddled with the Black American narrative, with our non-Black peers expecting us to instantly relate to a culture entirely different than our own. Though Tales from the 2.9 focuses more on the “now” than it does the “then”, I’d personally like to do more exploration of our history and package it in a way that the Black kids who come after me don’t have nearly as hard a time learning about exactly who they are.

Tanya’s piece is brief but impactful, and I hope it gets you thinking about the things it put in my mind—the huge need to build more awareness around the stories that make us who we are today.

Enjoy today’s read and I’ll see you tomorrow!

–case p.

What does being Black Canadian mean to you?

It means being grappling with being in the shadow of our southern counterparts. It does also, however, means embodying the spirit of the islands. Our community is small but mighty and resilient.

Tales from the 2.9 — The Black Canadians Sharing their Stories in a Digital Age — Vol. 2 #16, Jackline K, Blogger, Sincerely Miss J

If you’ve read the Tales from the 2.9 ’til now, you’ll have likely noticed some common themes that tie every narrative together:

  • The need to overcome the negative portrayal of Black people as depicted in popular culture
  • That all Black people aren’t the same but are the sum of people from dozens of countries, hundreds of cultures, and countless different personalities and mindsets, and
  • Our community needs to work together and support one another if we ever want to change the world we were dropped into

One thing in particular from Jackline’s submission really resonated with me—”our accomplishments need to weigh as much and have the same meaning as everyone else’s.” We need to elevate—we can’t just compare ourselves to our fellow Black people and see that as a measure of success; we need to excel in general and show the world what we’re capable of! It means writing series like this. Or talking to Black youth about what’s possible in this world—I did a chat last week at Youth Employment Services on personal branding and I’ll be on a panel later this month doing the same. We need to keep raising our standards and let no one tell us of all the things we can’t accomplish.

Enjoy Jackline’s thoughts as she explores her Black Canadian experience—I’ll be back tomorrow with another Tale from the 2.9!

Until then,

–case p.

What does being Black Canadian mean to you?

I consider the term “Black Canadian” a very broad term because I don’t really see myself as just that. Calling me just black leaves out a lot of vital information about me that is actually very important in understanding who I am. I’m not just black. I’m from Africa, Ghana to be precise, and I have many intricacies about me that are like or unlike most black Canadians out there. Therefore, I tend to use the term “Ghanaian Canadian” more often to describe myself.

Being a black Canadian means I need to grab every opportunity that I’m given. It’s almost a daily battle trying to disprove the many stereotypes that exist for black Canadians. I usually need to work harder than my counterparts to achieve the same goals and I have a bigger burden to be a good model for those younger than me.

Tales from the 2.9 — The Black Canadians Sharing their Stories in a Digital Age — Vol. 2 #15, Lian “Reese” Wright, Blogger, Reese Speaks

One point I’ve made a number of times while running this year’s Tales from the 2.9 is that I don’t wake up each morning with my Blackness at the forefront of my mind. Am I aware of it? Obviously—it’s an integral part of my identity of the beliefs, behaviours and biases I have today. But I don’t let it define me—my race is part of the whole that is Casey Palmer, and that’s something I believe today’s contributor would firmly agree with.

I first came across Lian “Reese” Wright when I put 2016’s series together, and she’s staunchly supported the series since. As mentioned last year, parent bloggers of colour aren’t that prevalent—especially not in Canada—so when we can learn from each other, it’s truly a beautiful thing.

Without further ado, please enjoy some of Reese’s thoughts on what her Black Canadian identity means to her, and I’ll be right back tomorrow with another Tale from the 2.9!

Until then,

–case p.

Tales from the 2.9 — Lian 'Reese' WrightWhat does being Black Canadian mean to you?

For me, being a Black Canadian means so many things. I feel unique because I am usually the only Black Canadian in a group of people. I feel proud because of the all of the accomplishments Black Canadians have achieved and continue to pursue. For me, being Black Canadian also means that I have to overcome challenges put in front of me to be successful and to change what others perceive of me due to the stereotypes that are believed about our community.

Tales from the 2.9 — The Black Canadians Sharing their Stories in a Digital Age — Vol. 2 #14, Jael Richardson, Author & Founder, Artistic Director, Festival of Literary Diversity

As a Black Canadian man now living life in his 30s, I’m still very much piecing my story together.

Black History Month or no, I didn’t learn much about the Black Canadians who came before me growing up. Sure, we finally designated February as our own in 1995, but what good is that when there’re no Black kids in your classes to study it with? And if Black history means just the history of Black people once they’ve entered the country, do we then just ignore the rich multinational tale of all the Blacks who came here by choice? There’s no one answer to any of this, and Jael put it quite well—it’s a narrative we constantly need to shape and own for ourselves, lest the national thirst for a homogeneous Canadian identity erase everything that’s defined our community.

As Founder and Artistic Director for the Festival of Literary Diversity, I’m sure that Jael Richardson sometimes feels pigeonholed by this endless pursuit, but as marred as our ongoing narrative is by trauma, colonialism and societal pressures, take a reminder from her—we are more than just our skin colour.

As we continue exploring the vastness that is Canadian Black culture, we need to remember diversity’s more than just our countries of origin or the languages we speak. It’s our sexual orientations. Our gender identifications. Our lifestyles, our environments—28 days isn’t nearly enough to peel back every layer of Black Canadian identity… but it’s a start.

Enjoy Jael’s entry and see you tomorrow,

–case p.

What does being Black Canadian mean to you?

Being black means being a part of a complex history – it means being the descendant of incredibly brave and resilient people. It means constantly working to re-craft history by creating a present and a future that reinserts our stories into a national identity that threatens to erase us and shape us in ways that reduce, restrict, and limit us. Being Canadian means being a part of a country that has created an opportunity for my family that we would not have anywhere else. It’s a place where I’ve been able to thrive, and it is the place that will always be the first and only place I call home. Being a Black Canadian means carrying both of these truths– accepting and embracing the way they live inside me.

Tales from the 2.9 — The Black Canadians Sharing their Stories in a Digital Age — Vol. 2 #13, Karlyn Percil, Elephant Storyteller, Success Coach & Lifestyle Speaker

One thing I’m appreciating the more I work at these Tales from the 2.9 is there’s still so much work to do.  Karlyn’s post made it clear she’s in the business of bringing out the best in her fellow Black Canadians, but it’s not up to her to make sure our community lives up to its potential. Instead, we all need to step up and collaborate to build our best possible lives.

One mistake our community often makes is not aiming high enough. We’ve been told for so long we’re worth less than others whose skin doesn’t look like our own, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. We may only be 2.9% of Canada’s population, but that’s still a million people. That’s one million stories. One million voices bringing something different to the table. Tales from the 2.9 is an example of what’s possible when you bring dozens together and combine their talents for a cause—can you imagine what we could accomplish if we built something tens of thousands times greater???

Karlyn’s post definitely calls to me in a profound way, challenging me to do more for the Black Canadian community beyond February and ensure we develop digital spaces where we can nurture and grow our narratives. I’ve already seen it happening with this year’s Tales, speaking at youth employment groups, community events against racism, and as a panellist discussing life as a Black Canadian father in an ever-challenging world.

I’m making moves to help improve things for my community, but that’s not the point. Karlyn said it best—”Our youth is depending on us. Rest if you must, but continue to carry the torch wherever you are.”

And that? It’s a pursuit one should never stop working for.

Enjoy Karlyn’s entry!

Until tomorrow,

–case p.

Tales from the 2.9 — The Black Canadians Sharing their Stories in a Digital Age — Vol. 2 #13, Karlyn Percil, Elephant Storyteller, Success Coach & Lifestyle Speaker — Karlyn RelaxingWhat does being Black Canadian mean to you?

It means celebrating who I am – a St. Lucian native and a Canadian as well. It means finding or having space to create and celebrate all the narratives of who I am and who I am becoming along with acknowledging and celebrating those who have done the same here. It a nutshell it means telling our stories – to me, it represents acknowledging our existence, creating space for us, who we are, where we come from and where we’re going – the legacy we would like to create for us Black Canadians.

Tales from the 2.9 — The Black Canadians Sharing their Stories in a Digital Age — Vol. 2 #12, Cassandra Chambers, Blogger, Curvaceously Ambitious

Unfortunately, we aren’t all one big happy family in the Black Canadian community—its fragmented nature and the disadvantaged origins of its people mean dealing not only with the conflict and stereotypes that come from outside the community but also dealing with it internally as well.

Popular culture’s painted us as dangerous. Untrustworthy. As a people unwilling to lift a finger to help themselves, instead sponging off the efforts of other hardworking Canadians to get by. And many of these came to mind when I read Cassandra’s entry.

Now—those biases don’t mean she’s entirely wrong. It’s because we don’t come from a unified front that dissent, distrust and contempt can breed between us.  And it doesn’t have to take much—you have Jamaicans who dislike anyone from Guyana or Trinidad. You have Caribbean immigrants who distrust anyone from Africa. We spend a lot of time focusing on the ills that’ve been done to us from outside the Black community, but we can’t ignore the shifts in attitude and healing needed within the community if we want to collectively grow past what’s holding us back.

I didn’t put today’s piece out to vilify anyone, but to shed light on a simple fact—if unification’s something our community’s seeking, we’ve still got a long way to go.

Until tomorrow,

–case p.

What does being Black Canadian mean to you?

To me, being a Black Canadian means diversity and being part of a country—a city, especially—that accepts black people, is cultured, and celebrates the achievements of black Canadians.  Over the years, Black History Month’s become more recognised; we also have our first black-owned radio station G98FM as well as different black-owned businesses and companies. Opportunities are available as long as you are willing to work for it.

Tales from the 2.9 — The Black Canadians Sharing their Stories in a Digital Age — Vol. 2 #11, Rhonda Thompson(-Wilson), Board Treasurer, Winnipeg Black History Month Celebration

An interesting part of Tales from the 2.9 is the interesting people my (potential) contributors introduce me to as we go. I’m not so ignorant to believe that Black Canadian narratives exist in Toronto alone—no matter HOW much we consider ourselves the centre of the universe—so I need the help of others to build bridges with those who live farther away than a few subway stops or so.

One of these people is Rhonda Thompson(-Wilson) of Winnipeg, Manitoba, someone Natalie introduced me to when writing the series up last year. And ever since then I’ve seen her passion for Black culture, going as far as to run a series of events each year for Black History Month—a tradition currently in its 36th year running with no signs of stopping!

In her entry, Rhonda takes the opportunity to examine her life as a Black Canadian at multiple points in time from her childhood days where the few Black families in Winnipeg still felt quite connected, to present day, where she still faces overt racism in an age where we swear it’s over.

If you want an interesting story with plenty of insight, search no further—Rhonda’s thoughts will put you in her shoes, possibly bringing you one step closer to understanding what life can be like as one of the 2.9%!

Enjoy the read!

–case p.

What does being Black Canadian mean to you?

I knew I was Black and born in Canada, but when I was younger and anyone asked me “Where are you from”, I always felt like I had to tell them that my family was from Jamaica. Most times when I was asked the “Where are you from” question, it was followed up with, “No, where are you FROM?” because the assumption was that Black people were not Canadian by birth, not at that time anyways. I related much more with my Caribbean linkage then with the country of my birth. Even to this day, I still find myself giving more significance to my parent’s homeland than to my own.

Living in a larger Canadian city, we are blessed with a large Black population (relative to many smaller cities/towns) so we are afforded the opportunity to feel at ease and congregate with others from a similar cultural background and share stories of the racial tensions we face as a people. Sadly, not all Black Canadians have that privilege.

Tales from the 2.9 — The Black Canadians Sharing their Stories in a Digital Age — Vol. 2 #10, Shelley Jarrett, Founder & Publisher SMJ Magazine

They say today’s Black youth have no leaders to look up to.

Every time that comment’s made, the discussion invariably turns to the late Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X and what a shame they were gone before their time, et cetera. And yes—while it’s certainly true that Black History’s forever marred with their murders, that shouldn’t stop us from striving for excellence nearly 50 years later!

With Shelley Jarrett’s Tales from the 2.9 entry, it got me thinking about the things and people that inspire us most, and that instead of sitting around and hoping today’s youth will find the mentors to guide them down the right path, we should strive to be them.

If we truly invest in the world we want to create, what harm can come from that?

Enjoy today’s post!

–case p.

What does being Black Canadian mean to you?

Being able to wake up every day and utilise the many opportunities that are available to me, allowing me to walk in my purpose is as important to me as celebrating my culture.  For me, it is more about who I am as a woman, in the things I do, people I connect with, and the friendships I form than it is where I come from.