Far too many young Blacks are wasting their lives and the sacrifices made by trailblazers such as Donald Moore and Harry Gairey, who worked tirelessly to change Canada’s immigration policy, says historian and curator, Dr. Sheldon Taylor.
“Maybe they are not being killed by a knife or gun, but they are dropping out of school,” he said in his keynote address at the St. James British Methodist Episcopal (BME) Church/Toronto Police 13 Division Black History Month (BHM) celebration last Sunday night. “It’s a shame because there is a library on every street corner and there is a school that they must be accepted into. By dropping out of school, they are undermining their Canadian citizenship and heritage which was fought for.”
The executive director of the Dovercourt Boys & Girls Club, Dr. Taylor brushed aside the notion that Black children are at a disadvantage because they are raised in single-parent households.
Speaking directly to parents and guardians, he urged them to redouble their efforts to ensure young people secure a solid education and become useful citizens.
“I am tired of hearing the excuse they are being raised by a single parent,” said Taylor, a former Heritage Toronto Book Award Jury member. “My mother was a single parent who worked at Eaton’s watch department and with CIBC. That has nothing to do with it. What it has to do with is us not passing our responsibilities on, taking up the torch like the Gaireys and the Moores of this world and the many women who worked so hard to ensure that the education system, the Ontario curriculum for example, was imbued with a sense of fairness and fair play and good citizenship.
“We have a responsibility to return to our past, not just to speak in terms of African Heritage Month and Black History Month and sing ‘Lift Every Voice’ which we should do. We have a responsibility – based on that blueprint – to take it, to improve on it and to pass it on to generations.”
With the support of 13 Division and the BME church, the now-retired Toronto Police officer, Ojo Tewogbade, launched the BHM celebration 16 years ago to recognize professional and community service achievements.
The BME church has a long history in this city.
Established in 1845 as a place of devotion for Blacks who did not feel comfortable worshipping in mainstream churches, members assembled at 94 Chestnut St. for almost 105 years until the congregation could no longer maintain the building.
Granted use to share space with the Afro-Community Church at 460 Shaw St., the two congregations amalgamated a few years later and worshipped under the administration of Revs. Thomas Jackson and Alexander Markham.
After the building at 460 Shaw St. was destroyed by fire in April 1998, members worshipped at various churches until a new home was found in October 2001 at the current location at 1828 Eglinton Ave. West.
“The BME is significant in the life of this nation, province and city,” said Taylor, who has curated eight historical exhibitions. “In the 1840s and 1850s, this church stood for so many things that were real. Let’s forget about the symbolism. It was a refuge for those coming into this country as a result of them wanting freedom which is a very important thing in this world. You only appreciate your freedom if, in fact, there is a threat you are going to lose it.”
Taylor also acknowledged Toronto Police for transforming the organization and making it more reflective of the communities it serves.
“I was a member of the National Black Coalition and in the early 1970s, I joined Arthur Downes and Tom Massiah at the C.O. Bick College to make a presentation on behalf of the Black community,” he said. “One of the things we were talking about was the need for integration in the Service. We wanted to see people who look like us. Not in our wildest dreams did we think we would have three Black deputies.”
Taylor was presented with a special award for his myriad community contributions.
“As a positive role model, you enrich the lives of those in need,” said Janice Searles, who joined her husband, Chester Searles, the BME church’s senior pastor, in making the presentation. “Your invaluable commitment and tireless efforts to various people and organizations throughout the City of Toronto mirrors your commitment to the community you live in. Thanks for reaching out and helping others.”
Tewogbade, who retired last September after 35 years with Toronto Police, remains an integral part of the annual BHM celebration.
“I am glad to see that nothing has changed with his retirement,” said deputy chief Peter Sloly. “He’s still embedded in this community, leading the charge to build relationships. The Oscars are on tonight, but you needed to just PVR that because you are here for the real show (often referred to as the Ojos).”
Deputy chief Mark Saunders, who also attended the event and congratulated the award recipients for their outstanding community service, said Black History Month is relevant.
“When I was in grade school, we weren’t taught Black history,” he said. “If you take reptilian thinking, 90 per cent of the people would not think that people of colour contributed in any historical way because it wasn’t taught. The other 10 per cent, if they even thought about researching it, would still question whether or not we contributed in a positive way. Now what I like about what these opportunities and having Black History Month is that there is no young man or woman that will ever have to wonder if people of colour contributed to this great country.”
This year’s award recipients included Ontario’s Ministry of Finance senior policy advisor, Paul Braithwaite, whose late father, Daniel Braithwaite, single-handedly lobbied to have Little Black Sambo removed from Toronto schools because he felt it perpetuated Black stereotypes; Dr. Gabriel Ogundele, who developed the simulated groundwater electrolyte, currently referred to as NS4; Jamaican-born Rohan Thompson, who last September became the second Black (Jay Hope was the first) Ontario Provincial Police officer to make the rank of superintendent and Toronto Police acting inspector, Pauline Gray.