Late activist Dudley Laws, a tireless advocate for justice and the voiceless, deserves to be posthumously recognized by the Jamaican government for his courage and enormous contributions.
Dr. Trevor Munroe, a leading public scholar and executive director of Jamaica’s National Integrity Action Limited, made the suggestion during his keynote address at the Black Action Defence Committee’s (BADC) 25th annual celebration and awards last Saturday night.
Embodying the warrior spirit of selfless service, Laws passed away two years ago leaving an uncompromising legacy of activism. He was a BADC co-founder.
“The time has come for one who stood up for what is right and for justice against trials and tribulations to be honoured by the land of his birth,” Munroe said to much applause.
After spending a decade in England where his activism emerged, Laws came to Toronto in 1966 and joined the Jamaican Canadian Association the following year and the United Negro Improvement Association in 1968 where he met lawyer and BADC co-founder Charles Roach who passed away last year.
The Rhodes Scholar said Caribbean people and governments need to pay more attention to the lives and work, the trials and tribulations and the struggles and achievements of Caribbean people in the Diaspora.
“You do more than pay attention to us and you help us in many ways,” he said. “Our relationship ought to be a two-way street and not just one where we look for remittances, scholarships for our students and medical and other assistance.
“We show too little concern and have too little information about the efforts you are making here and the struggles of organizations like BADC. Part of my mission on returning home is to seek to correct that so that we pay more attention to what you are doing and to give you the support that you need even as you support us back home.”
Though Laws was associated with many organizations in the city, some of which he helped establish, BADC was extremely close to his heart. He was among 17 community members that started the association in 1988 in response to the police shooting of Lester Donaldson and other Black males in the city.
Munroe noted that police-community relations in the city have improved in the last 25 years mainly because of BADC and its activists’ untiring work.
“Who would have guessed that after the police shooting of Lester Donaldson and after the protest demonstrations and community mobilization, there would be a message from the Toronto Police Service in BADC’s 25th anniversary program applauding the outstanding work and dedication to the community and a pledge from that police service, largely because of your struggles, to partner with you in the struggle for justice and equality,” he added.
“This reminds us, does it not, that those who struggle for justice and equality must never forget that even in the darkest moments and the darkest hours, the dawn of progress shall one day come. Dudley Laws, in the 1980s, would hardly have guessed that Toronto Police would have three Black deputy chiefs…So I say to you, in those darkest moments of struggle and in the hours of greatest advocacy, never give up because sooner more than later, right will triumph over wrong and justice will triumph over injustice. Tonight, I hail the struggles of BADC and express boundless confidence as your mission evolves, as it must, that you will overcome.”
Founding member Lennox Farrell said BADC emerged out of despair and determination at a time when there was anti-Black racism in the city and a wave of police shootings.
“BADC represents for me not only what we did, but also our families,” said Farrell. “Many of them suffered also, including my wife who was arrested and charged for shoplifting. The only reason why she does not have a criminal record is because she was at a banquet with some 80 people, including a priest and a bartender who remembered her…BADC also represents a federation of Caribbean and African people as members of these communities became BADC members.”
A retired school teacher, Farrell paid tribute to Laws and Roach.
“Dudley represented fortitude and Charlie strategy,” he said. “I never saw any of them angry except against injustice. They were a formidable duo.”
Co-founder Dari Meade said BADC continues to be relevant at a time when movements are falling apart.
“There is a real need for a group like BADC that helped in the creation and production of Black consciousness and rights,” he said from Dominica where he’s on sabbatical. “BADC has always been cutting edge and daring on matters that a lot of people cannot speak on or dare not to speak on. So, for me, BADC was real instrumental in my development and it helped me to clarify my purpose in Toronto and, of course, globally.”
To mark its silver jubilee, BADC presented several awards.
A Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to Lillie Johnson whose sustained passion as a sickle cell advocate resulted in the province’s Ministry of Health and Long Term Care including sickle cell disease on the list of 28 genetic diseases for universal newborn screening in 2005.
Johnson came to Canada in 1960 to work for the Canadian Red Cross, which was looking for nurses for Ontario outposts. She was assigned to Red Lake which is nearly 100 kilometres from the Manitoba border. On arriving in Toronto, she was able to exchange that posting for one at St. Joseph’s Hospital.
The first Black director of public health for Leeds, Grenville & Lanark District, Johnson spent time at The Hospital for Sick Children where she pursued paediatric studies for her provincial registered nurses accreditation and also took a summer course in genetics that exposed her to sickle cell disease and its effects.
After retiring in 1988, she volunteered with Canadian University Service Overseas (CUSO) in Jamaica, providing treatment and health information to residents in poor and disadvantaged communities. She later served on the CUSO advisory committee when she came back to Canada.
Johnson, who is 91, was unable to attend the event.
Entrepreneur, philanthropist and BADC founding member Denham Jolly was the recipient of the President’s Award. The Dudley Laws Memorial Community Service Award was presented to long-standing community advocate Winston LaRose and Paulette Clarke-Domize received the Charles Roach Memorial Empowerment Award for providing mentorship and support for Black inmates in federal prisons.
Toronto District School Board teacher Thando Hyman-Aman was recognized with the Dudley Laws Mentorship Award. Her parents O’Brien and Numvoyo Hyman are BADC founding members.
“I grew up with this organization,” said Hyman-Aman who was the Africentric Alternative School’s first principal. “My parents took me to rallies, meetings and funerals and I learned many things including the cultural practice of how to support families in mourning. BADC was cutting edge for its time and its membership included innovative thinkers who understood how critical it was to advocate on behalf of our community.”
Hyman-Aman’s daughter – Azana Aman – wowed the audience with two musical renditions.
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.