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!