Looking back and looking forward in a new year




Time does fly when you’re having fun! We are more than halfway through the first month of 2011, the International Year for People of African Descent and it seems as if it was just yesterday we left 2010.

Some of us had an amazing 2010 and are looking forward to what this New Year will bring. Some of us had not such a good 2010 but not exactly an annus horribilis and are looking forward to what this New Year will bring while trying to forget last year. Some of us said Kwaherini (goodbye) to worries from the old year and Karibuni (welcome) to opportunities in the New Year in various forms.

We who attended the Kwanzaa karamu (feast) and celebration at the programming space of the Association of Part-time Undergraduate Students (APUS) at the University of Toronto on December 31, certainly had an enjoyable time at the standing room only event. The drummers Debbie Douglas, Ian Mc Rae, Nzingha Saul and Burt Smith provided the beat for the celebration as we prepared to enter the New Year.

We celebrated Kuumba (creativity) with a karamu prepared by Smiley’s Catering and a generous contribution of jollof rice from Amma Ofori. We sang popular African and Caribbean folk songs and Guyanese Kwekwe songs and enjoyed the sharing of history and culture in community spirit and creativity. Amma Ofori demonstrated her creativity with more than her culinary skills; she shared some amazing traditional Ghanaian dance moves which some of us tried with varying degrees of success and much hilarity.

There were some people who were veteran Kwanzaa celebrants and those who were celebrating Kwanzaa for the first time including two month old Hassan. This celebration was especially enjoyable for the children who expressed their creativity by making Kwanzaa crafts with the very capable and artistic Sistah Afiya.

Karamu 2010 was the fourth year that the board and staff at APUS have lent their support to this community event which began in St. Jamestown in 2003. The celebration has come a long way since 2003 when with the support of Sister Sherona Hall we celebrated Kwanzaa and in 2004 African Heritage Month, Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Bob Marley Day in St. Jamestown for the first time. Shortly after Sister Sherona was transferred to another community we began to face a different reality in St. Jamestown and the Kwanzaa Karamu had to seek a new home.

With the United Nations designating 2011 the International Year for People of African Descent maybe there will be a revitalization of the same spirit as 2003 at the Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) leadership level that led to the appointment of Sister Sherona to work with the St. Jamestown community. I live in hope.

Many people make resolutions for the New Year. I am not a New Year’s resolution kind of person but this year I decided to make an exception and have planned some goals I want to achieve for 2011. I plan to learn more of the Kiswahili language and find people to practice my language skills on/with. I also plan to re-read several books beginning with Dr. Verene Shepherd’s 2007 book I Want to Disturb My Neighbour: Lectures on Slavery, Emancipation and Postcolonial Jamaica.

I am reading this book for the third time and had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Shepherd on Tuesday, January 11, for a radio program I host at CKLN 88.1 FM. She is a historian who makes history come to life, makes it fun and interesting to read about people who lived long before us.

Her letter to Mary Seacole in chapter 13, “Dear Mrs. Seacole: Groundings with Mary Seacole on Slavery, Gender and Citizenship”, is a delight to read. The letter was read as part of a speech at the Institute of Jamaica’s event to honour Mary Seacole on November 21, 2005, commemorating the bicentenary of Seacole’s birth.

Information from the National Library of Jamaica about Mary Seacole states: despite a letter of introduction to Florence Nightingale, she was not recruited to join the group of nurses going to the Crimea. She spent months in London, trekking from one war office to another, failing to find acceptance. Eventually, she decided to go on her own and cashed in the assets she had and set out to build her own “hotel for invalids” in the Crimea.

In her letter to Mary Seacole, Dr. Shepherd writes in part: “I was surprised that you had only your little maid for a traveling companion; but admired you for defying the gender conventions of the time. Still you were lucky it was then: now, a single black woman roaming all over the world like Digicel and Cable and Wireless, and carrying herbs would certainly have attracted attention including a body scan! As an attractive Jamaican woman, brown or not, you would perhaps, have been mistaken for a drug mule, sniffed by colour-prejudice dogs and have your ample body ‘feel-feel’ up by strange men and women.”

The final sentence of this excerpt from the letter to Mary Seacole probably comes from Dr. Shepherd’s own experience as a “Black Jamaican woman” traveling internationally. In the book’s preface she writes about her traveling experience: “It was particularly wonderful to meet Caribbean people settled in far-flung places and to benefit from the positive image that Jamaica has among some communities abroad, especially in Africa.

Of course, this positive image is not shared by many immigration officers who construct, and act on, stereotypical images of the Black Jamaican woman – as I learned from encounters with some of these officers in Toronto, New Zealand and some countries in Latin America.

As far as some of these immigration officers are concerned, the Black, female, Jamaican intellectual traveling to deliver guest lectures is an unfamiliar, even disturbing, phenomenon! These are only some of the reasons why I Want to Disturb My Neighbour: Lectures on Slavery, Emancipation and Postcolonial Jamaica is a “must read”.

I may read this book again during 2011, however I do have a list of other books I plan to re-read. Here is a list of 15 books that I promise myself I will re-read in the next 12 months: Don’t Play in the Sun: One Woman’s Journey Through the Color Complex by Marita Golden; Black in School: Afrocentric Reform, Urban Youth & the Promise of Hip-Hop by Shawn Ginwright; Yurugu: An African-Centered Critique of European Thought and Behavior by Marimba Ani; Afrocentricity by Molefi Kete Asante; Migrations of the Heart: An Autobiography by Marita Golden; Haiti: The Breached Citadel by Patrick Bellgarde-Smith; Introduction to Black Studies by Maulana Karenga; Guide to Implementing Afrikan-Centred Education by Kwame Kenyatta; Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry by Mildred Taylor; I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou; Kemet, Afrocentricity and Knowledge by Molefi Kete Asante; The Afrocentric Idea by Molefi Kete Asante; No Crystal Stairs by Mairuth Sarsfield; Kemet and the African Worldview: Research, Rescue and Restoration by Maulana Karenga and Jacob H. Carruthers; and How Europe Underdeveloped Africa by Walter Rodney.

I may even try to fit in a re-read of Huckleberry Finn now that Mark Twain’s favourite “n word” (supposedly used 219 times in the book) has been replaced with “slave”.

How successfully are you adhering to your New Year’s resolutions so far? I am doing very well with mine. This is a bit late but better late than never. Happy New Year! Heri za Mwaka Mpya!




Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>