Though he has been gone for four years, civil rights activist Dudley Laws’ legacy will endure for decades to come.
His strength of character, courage and unyielding commitment to social justice were recalled at the annual Dudley Laws Day fundraising brunch last Sunday at the Jamaica Canadian Association’s (JCA) center.
Laws, who died in March 2011, would have celebrated his 81st birthday today.
In the keynote address, entrepreneur and activist Denham Jolly – who along with Laws and 16 other community members founded the Black Action Defence Committee (BADC) in 1988 in the aftermath of the police shooting of Lester Donaldson – reminded the audience that Laws dedicated his entire life to advocating for justice and equality.
“He was the social, moral and legal compass, never afraid to speak truth to power no matter what the consequences may have been,” said Jolly.
A welder and machinery apprentice in Jamaica, Laws migrated to England in 1955 where he worked as a welder, attended Kensington College, founded the Brixton Neighbourhood Association and was a member of the West Indian Standing Conference.
After 10 years in England where his activism emerged, he came to Toronto in 1965 and joined the JCA the following year and the United Negro Improvement Association in 1968. He also co-founded the Black Inmates & Friends and organized busloads of community members to visit penitentiaries.
With Laws at the helm, BADC’s advocacy led to the formation of the province’s Special Investigations Unit which is the civilian agency responsible for investigating circumstances involving police and civilians that have resulted in a death, serious injury or sexual assault allegations.
“Dudley’s work did not go unnoticed or unappreciated,” said Jolly. “He put his name and face out there, speaking at events and leading marches. Dudley Laws spoke for me and the people. He was a leader who accommodated all views from Peter Rosenthal to Valarie Steele, from Dari Meade to Charles Roach, from Jean Augustine to the views of Ed Clarke, from Colin Kerr to Zanana Akande, from Rick Salutin to Avvy Go, from Lennox Farrell to Akua Benjamin. Yes, he spoke with the voice of the people. We must not allow his memory to pass on. We must be vigilant and preserve the memory of this great martyr.”