Colin Kerr quietly passed away two weeks ago. A founding member of the Black Action Defence Committee (BADC), his memorial was relatively unheralded and hadn’t the pomp and circumstance as marked the recent passing, too, of Dudley Laws.
Colin’s life and efforts, similarly selfless and heroic, was nonetheless more like the passing and burial of Sir John Moore as recorded in the exquisite poetry of Charles Wolfe: “Not a drum was heard, not a funeral note, as his corpse to the ramparts we hurried; Nor a soldier discharged a farewell shot, o’er the grave where our hero we buried.”
The lesson, among the many, is that being heroic or not, is a choice often made, not by one but for one in circumstances where one’s interest, endeavour and decency are confronted with choices indecent and unjust; and one’s only choice is either to enter the fray, or to walk away. Heroism is mundane, yet is a conditioning more directly determined from occasion and timing than from preparation and education.
From his education in the Caribbean, like that of my mother’s, Colin simply loved poetry. One love of his, penned by Longfellow, was “The Psalm Of Life”. In it we are admonished that “in the world’s broad field of battle, in the bivouac of life, be not like dumb, driven cattle; be a hero in the strife.”
Among those gathered at the funeral home, and coming out of deep respect and fondly retold memories were many from our community. Many who have served, volunteered, unpaid and unrecorded and, remaining oft as they wish, also unheralded. There were others who have also served at various levels of commitment to our struggles and presence here and elsewhere.
Among the mourners also were Colin’s siblings, relatives and family: reserved, dignified and sorrowing greatly.
Of Colin, and from my personal experiences of working with him in the BADC, is that if Black communities here in Toronto, in Ontario and in Canada could be likened to a library, a library of struggle for human rights, and against injustice, racism and public misrepresentation, a library of staying stamina and of unparalleled cultural contributions to the betterment of society; yes, if our communities can be compared to a library, the wholesome presence therein of Colin Kerr would require a section not only of individual books but, even more, a section of encyclopedias.
To extend the metaphor of the printed word, Colin was among those “older folk” whose love for literature, learning and language went beyond both that of a means and an end. A generation to whom virtue was its own best reward. A generation who dressed well, spoke well, and wished well.
His was the other resplendent white beard and black beret faithfully sitting day after day in court during Dudley’s long trials of attempted entrapment by Metro’s Finest. His was the other white beard and black beret, defiant beside Dudley during the many marches against the killing of young and older Black men in Toronto. His was the other white beard and black beret, intense during discussions in which his opinions were presented in precise grammar and unassailable logic, with teeth one minute a gritted glint of determination and the other a gleaming hint at his marvelous smile, ever gracious, ever gallant, ever Colin.
His passing reminds me and others of our once vibrant youthfulness, now itself surprisingly unavailable; of our lives now more involuntarily sedate, our movements more measured, but of our response to duty, still deeply, and unapologetically, in love with who we as a people have been and are and who our children must become.
Colin’s passing, “like the lives of great men and women remind us that we, too, must make our lives sublime”.
It also reminds me of the ethos which best defined him, his understanding, and his determination. It is that, as a people, we have a narrative which, begun by us in the struggle for human dignity and decency, ultimately also belongs to all others and yet, remains uniquely a narrative by which we, more than others, have come, legitimately.