An eclectic group of celebrities provided powerful testimonials to their moms and other important women in their lives at a Black History Month event at the Toronto Public Library last week.
Historica Canada and TD Bank hosted the event that recognized the heroism and resilience of Black women. As part of the celebratory occasion, Historica Canada launched a “Heritage Minute” tribute to Halifax beauty shop owner Viola Desmond who, in 1946, refused to sit in a New Glasgow theatre balcony section designated for Blacks.
Instead, she sat on the ground floor reserved for White patrons. She had gone to the Roseland theatre to pass time while her car was being repaired.
After being forcibly removed from the theatre and arrested, Desmond was found guilty of not paying the one cent difference in tax on the balcony ticket from the main floor theatre ticket and fined $20 and $6 in theatre court costs.
When efforts to overturn the conviction at higher levels of court failed, Desmond closed the business, moved to Montreal and enrolled in a business college. She eventually settled in New York where she died in 1965 at age 51.
Six years ago, The Nova Scotia government officially apologized and pardoned Desmond.
Vancouver-based actress Kandyse McClure, who told Desmond’s story in the 60-second short film, paid glowing tribute to her mother, Lizanne Foster, who is an educator in Surrey, British Columbia and a Huffington Post blogger.
“When I think of a Black woman who inspires me, it’s very easy,” said McClure who grew up with her mom in apartheid South Africa before coming to Canada as refugees. “It’s always my mother who is the smartest, greatest and kindest woman I know. She has the deepest, warmest and widest heart and the noblest character of anyone I have ever met. In South Africa, I remember her with a bull horn standing on the steps of parliament, being in the news and speaking out on the rights of students, teachers, the marginalized and the disenfranchised.”
For award-winning playwright and comedian Trey Anthony, her mother – Angela Senior – who drove a 14-wheel truck from Toronto to Florida because she couldn’t afford movers, and maternal grandmother Enid Coley were her first role models.
Leaving her four children behind in Jamaica, Coley travelled by sea for 18 days to England where she worked 12-hour shifts six nights a week cleaning London trains.
“Whenever I feel tired, I conjure up my grandma, weary, tired and still getting up,” said Anthony, the first Black Canadian woman to write and produce a television show – Da Kink in My Hair – for a major prime time Canadian station. “I cannot be tired, yet I am often tired of asking permission to be a woman in this industry who often feels unheard and unseen, tired of going to another diversity conference and nothing much changes, tired of seeing another All-White theatre season and TV show and tired that this world doesn’t reflect me and other women like me. I am too young to feel this tired.”
Senior dropped out of school at age 17 after conceiving Anthony whose grandmother passed away two years ago.
“They will not be written down in history, but what I will do tonight is honour them by saying their names,” Anthony, who co-wrote the hit plays ‘I Am Not a Dinner Mint’ and ‘The Crap Women Swallow to Stay in a Relationship’, added. “I walk through doors because of them.”
Independent recording artist Jully Black said her mother – Agatha Gordon who migrated from Jamaica in 1965 and single-handedly raised nine children while working at General Motors for several years – was her first teacher of kindness and compassion.
Though divorced from her husband a decade after they met, Black said Gordon always encouraged her to reach out to her dad and love him.
“I am celebrating mom because she taught me forgiveness and how not to drink the poison,” said the 38-year-old award-winning rhythm and blues singer and actress who was cast in ‘Da Kink in My Hair’ which won four National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People’s (NAACP) Theatre Awards and was nominated for four Toronto Theatre Dora awards.
Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) artistic director Cameron Bailey shared with the audience a photograph of his mother who migrated from Barbados to London in the early 1960s and was nurse at North York General hospital for over three decades.
“She taught me discipline and hard work,” he said.
Luciene Bailey, who turns 80 this year, raised Cameron and his sister – Maxine Bailey who is TIFF’s vice-president of Advancement – without a father.
“Maxine has the loudest laugh I have ever heard in my life and she is an inspiration to me,” he added.
Bailey also paid tribute to film-making pioneers Claire Prieto, Karen King, Christine Brown and the late Jennifer Hodge de Silva.
“They opened space and began to put our images on screen,” he said.
Also on the panel were Congo-born Canadian Football League safety Cauchy Muamba, dub poet and mono-dramatist dbi. young anitafrika, Toronto District School Board trustee Tiffany Ford who was raised by a single mother who returned to school at age 67 to complete her high school diploma and provincial minister Mitzie Hunter.
“My mother, Yvonne Hunter, set standards for her children which I am yet to attain,” said Hunter. “Every time I achieve something, she tells me I can do more.”
By RON FANFAIR