ACHA marks 40 years of educating Black kids

By RON FANFAIR

Chike Jeffers is pursuing a doctorate in philosophy, Troy March is working in the banking industry, Emily Mills is employed in the media and communications sector, Thando Hyman-Aman is a school principal and Aisha Wickham-Thomas founded a communications consulting company.

They are among hundreds of graduates of the four-decade-old African Canadian Heritage Association’s (ACHA) curriculum-based program who have carved out successful professional careers.

The stellar achievements were celebrated at the organization’s 40th anniversary gala last Saturday night.

Originally launched as the Black Heritage Association, the organization changed to its current name in 1992 to preserve its unique identity following the establishment of several Black heritage programs across the city.

The “Black Heritage Association has snowballed into a frontline warrior for the souls of Black children and the first crop of success stories would be the children of those early classes,” said founding president, Dr. Ronald Blake, in his keynote address. “To date, we have no record of a single child from that group who has failed in life or failed to develop a self-confident, positive attitude in society.”

Blake, who also created Higher Marks Educational Institute in 1979, said the ACHA did not emerge out of poetic thinking or social idealism but rather as a necessary response to intense social provocation on the part of the host society in which the majority of people of colour were systematically not welcomed.

“Not only was it very difficult for a person of colour to find positions of equal opportunity in the society, but also nearly impossible for their children and our children to feel a sense of belonging and acceptance in the school systems of Ontario,” he said. “At the time, we were a people without economic, social or political power. Decisions were made on our behalf outside of our community by power brokers who neither respected our leaders, valued our children nor perceived us as viable social entities.

“It was true that an early few from our community, after much loitering in the corridors of power, did manage to occupy backseats in the halls of junior authority, some at the price of denying themselves the lot of their people. However, irrespective of our variant cultures, the wider society simply grouped us as a people on the basis of our colour or skin. We were pressed into oneness, not by forces of harmonious social cohesion, but by a sense of general exclusion that made us brothers and sisters in a common social adversity.”

Blake explained that it was against that background that then York University professors, Dr. Rudy Grant and Dr. Wolseley “Percy” Anderson, sounded the alarm in the late 1960s while conducting a sociological experiment that Black children were in crisis when they observed that they rejected Black dolls in favour of White ones.

Blake said that economist and educator, Aggrey King (ACHA’s second president in 1970), who attended last Saturday night’s event, and his late wife, Olive, instantly pulled together a group of concerned citizens at their Thorncliffe Park residence to discuss the implications of these disturbing findings.

“Searching for possible explanations as to why Black children would reject Black dolls while selecting White ones, the group settled on the hypothesis that the cause of the behaviour was a serious lack of positive self-acceptance on the part of the Black child lacking a sense of confirming personal identity,” said Blake, who came to Canada from Jamaica in 1965.

“The group reasoned that, were the problem to be left unresolved, soon the descendants of Black people in Canada, along with their community, would be socially adrift…

“The questions the concerned group then faced were how to find a solution to the problem and how to implement it. Prior to our contemplation, the pattern of Black community response to group threats was a faceless and needless multitude protesting and losing the impact of its message in the din and clamour of collective community hysteria.”

Blake, who holds degrees in extension education and sociology and political studies and a doctorate in religious studies, suggested that the organization has been able to stay afloat for 40 years because of committed leadership that inspires young people with conviction, courage, vigilance and vision.

“Your legacy to posterity will be your continuing positive transformation of our community by calling upon the tools of our history, mentorship, cultures and faith in God Almighty,” he said, addressing the group’s executive – Carole Cushnie (president), Gail Pryce (vice-president), Lindis Collins-Bacchus (treasurer), Kimberley Brathwaite (secretary), Louis March, Lesa Francis, Christine Davis, Ginelle Skeritt and Veronica Sullivan, who has been the children’s program co-ordinator since 1981.

During the celebration, the organization paid tribute to its past presidents, including Dr. Eric Wickham and his wife, Emily, who have imbued ACHA students with their wisdom and knowledge for the past 34 years, former member Marjorie Lewsey who passionately supported the organization before her death nine years ago and the late Gwen Johnston, Edsworth & Kathleen Searles, Joseph Addae and Khamissa Baya.

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