The Jane-Finch Caribana Children’s Carnival: building hope

By Lennox Farrell Wednesday July 17 2013 in Opinion
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I came. I saw. I concurred (anon). I am referring to Jane-Finch, a community that is all you can imagine about what is wholesome and then some. Their Caribana Children’s Carnival is worth the visiting, the participating the encouraging; the building of community.


Think wisps of clouds, in solitude, airbrushing against a sun-baked expanse of turquoise skies embracing children; children posing with more artistry, variety and expectations than hoped for.


Think onlookers crowding balconies and windows, seven stories up. Think street-level tracking backing-up, stopped not only by the police – the same bike-dancing cop at it again, doing wheelies, showing off – but also by the sheer spectacle and enthusiasm of our bouquets of children.


Think volunteers who, meeting our children, always encourage and uplift them. Think the Parson sisters, Althea and Relinda. Think Cynthia Nurse, her two daughters, Karen and Lisa and their children in costume. Think Malaicka and Steve, young organizers at all hours. Think Russell Charter, limping from knee surgery. Think Joan Alexander, on crutches and love, travelling by bus. Think Horace Thorne, Leslie Forbes, Mary Scoon, Marcia Walters, Dr. Maurice and Charlotte Bygrave. Think Amah Harris, composure and details. Think Alicia Sealey, poise and avoirdupois. Think Monica Pollard, powering and empowering.


Think that man of artistry: quintessential and perennial…Martin Scott-Pascall. Encouraging by example; his smile, glowing ear to ear as he takes photos with one hand; guides children into line with the other; dancing them into sheer glee, intoxicating onlookers.


Think Anthony Perruzza, Toronto City Councillor and his assistant, Matias: opening doors, guaranteeing permits, TTC arrangements and advising on essential minutae. Think Judy Sgro, the only federal politician at this first carnival and there decades later. Think the police.


Think a 9:1 female to male ratio, while our men and boys are away as parents and participants. And our women and girls overwhelmingly standing in the gap.


And think the volunteers, some in official T-shirts. Think Kathleen Daniel, always on time, and ensuring that victuals are available, nutritious, tasty (and enough to carry home). Think Henry ‘Cosmos’ Gomez, who as former Chair had taken fire, friendly and un. Think Nia Singh, personable, youthful, multi-tasking and current Chair of the Caribana Flags and Colours.


Think yourself, a community stalwart, like some of the local lawyers, teachers, merchants, residents and others, also coming to volunteer now for 2014. Think bringing your children and grandchildren, as participants. Think the official organizers providing needed info comprehensively and being ready, on time and on the ball to welcome, excite and involve more volunteers.


Because it will take all of our activators, not our fence-sitters and finger-pointers, to regain our carnival. And do so, not for corporate Toronto, but for our community to welcome participants in 2015 to the PanAm Games here. Recall that these PanAm Games historically precede the Olympics; that at the last one, the person who captured the world admiration was a Black Caribbean athlete: Usain Bolt!


No other community and festival has the historic stature, commercial appeal, and cultural authenticity as does our Black community and Caribana carnival. Remember that the idea for staging the PanAm Games came not from Canada nor America. It didn’t come from any commercial corporate entity – probably now well-intentioned – but associated historically with profits made from Nova Scotia codfish, exchanged for rum, sugar and salt derived from the labour of Black West Indian slaves.


It came, not from the big stick of America’s Monroe Doctrine. It came in defiance of European colonizing interests in the Americas. These PanAm games were among the titanic blows by our hemisphere, determined to exercise our cultural and sports independence even while our political institutions were still colonized.


Thus, which other community in Toronto so needs its image re-branded, and that of its youth stereotyped as trouble-makers? And especially now, a new paradigm affecting Black youth from the Trayvon Martin legal debacle: a Black youth, unarmed and about his business, pursued and murdered by a White man, armed.


The old profiling acronym DYB: Driving While Black, is now replaced by a new one – WWB: Walking While Black, one that could get your killer hailed as a patriot.


Which is why it was encouraging seeing so many folk of other cultures participating as parents and participants: Chinese, East Asian, Mexican, Cameroonian, Haitian. This year, Jamaican flags made Trini see red. Other flags were pepper-pot Guyanese and Canadian. Others were just galore. And it was drummers like the man from Guinea, Amara Kante and a slim ghost, masquerading as a robber mas who stopped traffic, ‘stone cold dead in de market’.


However, it was the children. Growing so quickly, they fixed costumes and transfixed onlookers. It’s amazing what Scotch Tape can do to stop tears. They danced to the music. They played themselves well, while parents and media lined them up again and again for photos. Parents and media performed like another band. One of the masqueraders, orange butterfly wings flapping, remarked with humour that she was being followed…by paparazzi!


Yes, it is for the children and youth all this effort is on display. Looking at them, I wistfully remembered why this carnival and its efforts staging it year after year is so necessary.


I recall my first steps on stage, a Christmas play by Miss Smith from Cipriani Street, Morvant. I’d entered a world of imagination and being larger than myself; one I would never leave. ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas’, was more than poetry. It was life. These experiences as a child were magical.


Children who participate in these carnival arts: drumming, dance, costuming, music, imbibe positive vibes leading to positive activities. Why? Any child who early on has something to uplift them and positive on which to focus, will more than likely turn out right. And if only one boy or girl is secured, they could be another Martin Luther King Jr. and another Rosa Parks.


For example, a parent once asked me for advice on her son being raised without his dad. How might he function as a man and father? Get him a pet – not a dog, more expensive to raise than a child – get a fish. Have him choose it, the bowl, the food. He must feed, clean and care for it. Celebrate its birthday. Have him visit the library to research info on the fish. He’ll become an authority on fish. Focus, focus, focus. Then, videogames might not matter as much. Hopefully, he’d also learn to care for a life-form apart from himself; acculturating him into adulthood, also caring for his family.


In short, we – and you – as Caribana volunteers are communal midwives to a generation of children becoming responsible adults. The process, the parents, the volunteers are the leveraging of communal social wealth and in which a child nurtured will grow with a sense, both of anticipation and of consequence.


In short, the Jane-Finch Caribana Children’s Carnival, emancipation-based, is about building a community called HOPE!


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