Failing Grade 13 was a blessing in disguise for Robert Small. To motivate him and get him to do better, his father ordered him to watch Rev. Jesse Jackson address the National Democratic convention in Atlanta in 1988.
“It was the first time that I had seen a Black person live on TV speaking before such a large audience and he spoke so well and eloquently,” Small said in his keynote address at the Peel United Cultural Partners (PUCP) 11th annual Black History Month concert and awards last Saturday in Brampton. “I knew that man had more than a college education and that day I decided I was going to go to university.”
Small graduated from the University of Windsor with a Sociology degree and Criminology certificate and was in his second year pursuing Law studies when he suffered serious injuries while walking on a downtown Toronto street.
Unable to complete his studies, Small used the inspiration he received from Jackson a few years earlier to create posters featuring Black role models.
Faced with repaying his parents the money they loaned him to create some black and white prints, he used his creativity to produce his first Black History Month poster 18 years ago. The name was changed to the Black History Month Legacy poster in 2000.
The annual posters feature Black pioneers and trailblazers and other major contributors who are making a resounding impact in myriad fields on Canada’s landscape. School boards and community organizations purchase the historical tools to share the achievements with their students and young people.
The first poster in 1995 featured Underground Railroad conductor, Harriet Tubman; Canada’s first Black police officer, Peter Butler 111; the country’s first Black lawyer, Delos Davis; actress and volunteer worker, Kay Livingstone, who founded the National Congress of Black Women in 1973; Rev. Capt. William White, who was the only Black chaplain in the British Army during the first World War and Mary Ann Shadd, who was the first female newspaper editor and the first Black female lawyer in North America.
Small said selections for the posters are made based on gender, region and accomplishments.
“Some are obvious while suggestions are made to me and I come up with names on my own,” said the former YMCA Black Achievers program director and former manager with the Ministry of Youth and Children Services’ youth outreach program.
This year’s poster, which was displayed at the PUCP event last Saturday, includes Black Cultural Centre of Nova Scotia chief curator and artistic director, Dr. Henry Bishop; raconteur and businesswoman, Itah Sadu; university professors, Dr. Agnes Calliste and Dr. George Dei; and Collective of Black Artists (COBA) co-founder, BaKari Lindsay.
“This year, the emphasis was on those who are preserving our history,” said Small.
As part of the celebrations, the PUCP presents a Community Award to an individual who is making significant contributions in the community.
This year’s winner was Julie Spence who created the Spelling Bee of Canada 25 years ago to promote learning, develop self-esteem and encourage the adoption of positive life skills among young people. Over 45,000 young people from across the province have participated in the competition.
“The work we do at Spelling Bee of Canada and with the promotion of literacy is important and it’s great that it’s being recognized with this award,” Spence said.
Eight years ago, educator Moreen Guishard started a Black History Month essay competition. Prizes are presented to the top three students at the PUCP Black History Month event.
“We all have a purpose in life and this is mine to give back something to my community in honour of my family,” said Guishard. “It will assist our children to aspire in achieving their academic goals. As a community, we must continue to support each other.”
The essay award winners were Grade 11 student Na’Shantea Miller, 11-year-old Ashley Cole who attends Beryl Ford Public School and Mount Royal Public School student, Tyresha Edwards.
By RON FANFAIR