The City of Toronto last week unveiled the first in its Contributions to Humanity poster series to commemorate the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination which is celebrated globally on March 21 each year.
The inaugural poster celebrates the achievements of the multi-talented Paul Robeson.
“We are introducing Robeson to the many who do not know of him and reintroducing him to those who know of his contributions to humanity,” said City of Toronto Parks, Forestry & Recreation Access and Diversity manager, Ken Jeffers. “We wanted to recognize someone who went beyond his own race and was able to reach out to others and work towards peace and harmony.
“We are doing this at a time when his legacy is so important and so relevant to these times that we face when governments are compelled to revisit human rights legislation and policies to make them stronger because of disturbing trends to dismantle what has been achieved by those who have endured pain of all sorts for all of us to enjoy the rights and freedoms that we too often take for granted.”
Robeson, who passed away in 1976 at age 77, was truly versatile. The son of a runaway slave was a scholar, bass-baritone concert singer, actor, writer, multi-lingual orator, lawyer and an accomplished athlete who earned 13 varsity letters in football, basketball, track and field and baseball. He was the third African-American accepted at Rutgers and the only Black student during his time on campus.
A prolific writer for leftist and progressive periodicals, Robeson was a regular visitor to Canada. He performed at Maple Leaf Gardens, Massey Hall and at the Peach Arch concerts and appeared at Communist Party of Canada events.
“Robeson’s powerful legacy transcended international borders,” said Mayor David Miller. “We are proud to recognize his contributions as a formidable and trailblazing leader.”
Windsor-born and Toronto-raised creative designer Gavin Ball created the poster that was unveiled last week at city hall.
“Robeson kick-started the civil rights movement, yet I had no idea who he was until I was commissioned to do the project,” admitted the graduate of the Heritage Skills Development Centre’s Youth Entrepreneurship, Claude Watson School for the Arts and Seneca College animation program. “I couldn’t believe I hadn’t heard of him so my whole mission was to re-introduce him to the public, especially the young people.
“In making the poster, I wanted to do something that was eye-catching and would attract the interest of youths.”
The poster is available for purchase by calling (416) 392-0436.