By RON FANFAIR
Whether it’s a fundraiser to send relief to Africa, a rally to show solidarity with the people of Haiti, a street protest with the Black Action Defense Committee (BADC) or a march with United Mothers Opposed to Violence Everywhere, you can count on Mary Alcindor’s presence and support.
That’s why it was no surprise that nearly 400 friends and family attended her 60th birthday last Sunday night in Scarborough. She reached the golden milestone on October 2.
“I am in no way taken back by the outpouring of affection and the large turnout because Mary is authentic,” said master of ceremony and former Jamaican Canadian Association president, Valarie Steele. “We have worked on many community initiatives and the thing that stands out is that even though she worked with the federal government, she always came back to the comfort of her community and made meaningful contributions in areas that might not be seen as popular.”
Lawyer and community activist Charles Roach said Alcindor has a spectacular personality and a lot of empathy for individuals with problems.
“She’s a very committed person and the world needs more people like her,” he said. “Despite the fact that she was slowed by an accident a few years ago, she has remained very active.”
Raised in St. Lucia’s southwest coastal town Soufriere, noted for the magnificent towering Pitons and the volcanic hot sulphur spring baths, Alcindor operated two record stores – Network Records and Castries Record Store – that sold all genres of music ranging from reggae, soca, calypso, jazz blues and African to gospel, hip-hop/rap, funk/dance, R & B and cadence/zouke.
Visitors to the retail outlets were certain to find almost all of the Mighty Sparrow recordings, virtually any Indian soca record, an Otis Redding hit or all of the current year’s fantastic calypso hits.
The stores were also meeting places for many local and Caribbean artistes and the base upon which soca DJ Dr. Jay launched his career.
“He used to work with Mary and when he started to get into the radio business, I took over for a year and worked in the store when Mary was not there,” said Dr. Jay’s father, Mike Rosteng. “It was a pleasure working for her and we have maintained a very good relationship over the years. She’s really awesome.”
Alcindor, who was a disc jockey, turned to the music business after shelving plans to open a fashion store to sell women’s clothing. She felt that her busy schedule, that included taking care of three young daughters and working full-time as an employment counselor with Canada Employment and Immigration, would not have permitted her to keep abreast with new fashions.
Bankrolled with $5,000, she rented a store in a mall at Victoria Park Ave. and Morecambe Gate and made her first purchases from then Markham-based record distributor, Record on Wheels.
From this modest beginning, she launched Network in 1986 and Castries five months later. In 1992, Network won the Canadian Reggae Music’s “Top Record Store” award.
Alcindor increased her community service after the record stores closed.
She became a Black Action Defence Committee board member and forged links with the Haitian and Sierra Leone communities in the Greater Toronto Area.
“I was introduced to Mary by Ken Jeffers when I was working with the Sierra Building Committee and she was the first person to make a contribution to the project,” recalled Abou Nabe, a prominent member of the Sierra Leone community in this city. “She’s a valuable friend of our community.”
St. Lucian-born Regional Senior Court judge, Gregory Regis, said Alcindor is held in very high esteem in the St. Lucian community here while Share columnist and close friend, Norman “Otis” Richmond, said he values their relationship because he can always count on Alcindor for help.
“She has assisted me in so many situations,” he said. “The first word that comes to mind when I think of Mary is help. She has always been there for me.”
Jim Karygiannis and Bas Balkissoon represented the federal and provincial governments respectively while special assistant Sylvia Searles represented Mayor David Miller.
Haiti’s honorary Consul General Dr. Eric Pierre and Antigua & Barbuda’s Consul General Madeline Blackman also attended the birthday celebration.