The brightly lit stage was, for a few minutes, Nigel Barriffe’s platform to absorb the applause and receive his J.S. Woodsworth Award from Ontario New Democratic Party (NDP) leader, Andrea Horwath and Member of Parliament, Olivia Chow.
His selflessness kicked in, however, and the elementary school teacher invited the young people in the audience to join him on stage to be part of the celebration of this moment of recognition.
The award honours individuals and organizations striving to eliminate discrimination.
“This honour is quite unexpected but very humbling,” said Barriffe before inviting the youth to stand with him. “I want our young people to understand that we believe in them and they have power to effect change. Too often, they come out to these events and are in the background.”
After spending nearly two decades in the banking industry, information technology and sales and marketing industries, Barriffe switched careers. The York University Math graduate returned to school to pursue studies in primary education and, in the process, became an even stronger community activist.
The Greenholme Junior Middle School teacher ran for the Green Party of Canada in the 2008 federal election and is an advocate for the challenges that young people face in the ethnically diverse Rexdale community where he has lived since he and his family came to Canada in the mid-1980s.
Honoured for community service two years ago by the Urban Alliance on Race Relations at its 35th annual awards dinner, Barriffe is a member of the African Heritage Educational Network, the Community Organization for Responsible Development, the Etobicoke Youth Network and the Civic Engagement Working Group of the Rexdale/Jamestown Neighbourhood Action Partnership.
Other nominees for the individual award were educator, Diana Andrews, The People Project co-founder, Kim Crosby and Black Community Action Network of Peel founder, Melissa Toney.
The Regional Diversity Roundtable of Peel, a network of 36 organizations established in 2005 to build inclusion and diversity competences, was the recipient of the organizational award.
Two youth categories were added to this year’s awards.
First Nations equal education rights activist Chelsea Edwards and the Sikh Activist Network won the individual and organizational honours.
“Tonight, we are recognizing people who make an outstanding effort to fight racism and prejudice wherever they encounter it,” said Horwath. “I am especially proud that we have added a new award for youth leadership. Across Ontario, young people are taking up the cause of fighting racism and discrimination. They are essential to building this movement and their work speaks to the vitality of the movement.”
Horwath presented Chow with a Certificate of Special Recognition for her outstanding lifelong commitment and excellence in the fight for the elimination of racial discrimination.
The Ontario New Democratic Party administers the awards which commemorate the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, celebrated on March 21. On that day in 1960, a large crowd of Black South Africans assembled in front of the Sharpeville police station to protest the pass laws imposed by the apartheid government. The pass laws were statutes requiring Blacks to carry a reference (pass) book with them when they travelled outside of their homes. The protest escalated into violence, resulting in the police killing 69 protestors – many of whom were shot in the back – and wounding 180 in what has come to be known as the Sharpeville Massacre.
The awards ceremony, in its 16th year, honours the memory of J.S. Woodsworth who was a powerful advocate for Ontario’s working class in the early 1900s. In 1932, he created the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), a political movement that was the forerunner of the NDP.
Newly-elected Member of Parliament, Craig Scott, made his first public appearance since winning the Toronto-Danforth riding which was held by the late party leader Jack Layton. He received 59.4 per cent of the votes.
The human rights lawyer and Osgoode law professor provided legal advice to the African National Congress (ANC) leadership in exile while Nelson Mandela was still in prison and he helped draft segments of the constitution after Mandela was released.
He said Canadians and South African nationals residing in Canada played a critical role as part of a broad transnational front in the struggle to end apartheid at a time when the Canadian government was not overwhelmingly welcoming of the ANC.
“It shows how reaching across boundaries by civil society activists can be a crucial factor in breaking open structures of oppression,” said Scott. “Without the global civil society movement against apartheid, it would not have ended when it did and as peacefully as it did, despite all the struggles of the ANC and the people of South Africa.”
By RON FANFAIR