By LENNOX FARRELL
The Jane-Finch Caribana Children’s Carnival is itself a child of history and of hope.
More than survive, it has flourished. Without intending to, it has become the benchmark for authenticity by which to judge children’s carnivals here and elsewhere. Authenticity is measured by Emancipation roots, community involvement and historic locale. It is the only carnival of its kind, conceived as it was, in the same womb where its mother, Caribana, was also conceived: Toronto’s Black community!
What is the history of this children’s carnival? And the community’s hopes for it? This history and these hopes were, and remain at the heart of why it was launched. And when?
It was launched from the struggles of the 1990s. It was launched in tandem with the Eglinton Kiddies Carnival. It was launched by a board decision of the then Caribbean Cultural Committee (the CCC), the owners of the Caribana trademark and carnival. The decision came from one of the recommendations from community input into the CCC’s recently completed five-year strategic plan.
This plan had itself come from two reports released on an economic impact study of Caribana’s revenues on Toronto, Ontario and Canada. One had been commissioned in the mid-1990s to Price Waterhouse. Another had been done by Joe Halstead, then Commissioner with the City. These studies stunned everyone with the multi-million-dollar impact of this festival locally.
To be clear, the findings obtained by Price Waterhouse were staggering. In the words of their representative, Price Waterhouse found the results of the economic impact study to be so high that for the sake of credibility, they chose to release the basement-level figures: half a billion dollars annually! How many billions in 40 years, our gift to Canada? Reverse reparations?
The Jane-Finch Caribana Children’s Carnival was also launched after the CCC’s ownership of Caribana had been bitterly contested and primarily so by mas bandleaders. Owed monies from the depleted coffers of the CCC, it was an opposition that was public, self-serving and mortal. It was also effective, if only because CCC boards were notorious for senseless in-fighting. The bandleaders’ opposition also launched yet another children’s carnival.
The staging area for this in-opposition carnival had been in Scarborough. The location there said as much about who launched it and their class and race aspirations as had Caribana’s launches in Jane-Finch, and in Eglinton West. These two were in the heart of Toronto’s Black communities. By comparison, Scarborough was then closer to the heart of West Indian multiculturalism.
This Scarborough carnival, launched with high-decibel expectations, arrived still-born.
So, there was more than culture specifically at the heart of the launch of a children’s carnival in Jane-Finch. Deep politics were also involved, and in an era that has been the most political in the history of Toronto’s Black community. The results today are more likely a wearied acceptance of, but not long overdue changes to the status quo.
The 1990s had been a period, too, when at home and abroad, Black communities and individuals were the universal moral champions in struggles for justice. Among these were Bishop Tutu and Winnie Mandela; Angela Davis and Rosa Parks.
The Toronto Black community had also been at war with almost every public-sector institution: Education – in which schools were ‘streaming’ Black students into dead-end detentions; Immigration – in which Black mothers were being deported by the van loads; Employment – wherein it was easier for a White youth with a police record and no high-school education to be more employable than a Black youth with no police record and a college diploma.
However, of all the institutions at war with us, none was as universally opposed by Black communities as were the Toronto police. Every Black person in Toronto had at least one police story. Thus, the 1990s saw the rise of the acronym, DWB – Driving While Black; a synonym for profiling. The era saw even worse, for example, the shooting of Black youth by police, and in instances where these were palpably unjust. But to all-White juries, justifiable!
The era saw the formation of other organizations like the Black Action Defence Committee (the BADC). Its iconic leadership, Dudley Laws and Charlie Roach, were at the launch of the children’s carnival in Jane-Finch. So, too, were Jane Finch residents and representatives like Linda Morowei and Winston La Rose. The former, founder of the Jane-Finch Concerned Citizens Organization (JFCCO); the latter, fondly referred to as ‘Mr. Jane-Finch’.
The 1990s had also seen other places being regularly raided by Toronto’s Finest. One such raid had occurred in the Lawrence Heights community centre. Everyone not Black was ordered out. Everyone Black, including staff, male, female, toute monde was forced prostrate to the tiles and frisked. Community opposition was led by Owen Leach, Brother Jack, Sherona Hall, Akua Benjamin, etc.
Among the young men then frisked was one who later changed the Black incarceration landscape of Ontario. He is David Mitchell, founder of the Association of Black Law Enforcers (A.B.L.E.).
These individuals, decisions, organizations and struggles are testimonies to the community’s 1990s needs, efforts and hopes. Many of us had chosen to live there; to raise our families there; to work and run for elected office there.
The Jane-Finch Caribana Children’s Carnival, one of several formed in this era and from these struggles, remains today, a cultural cornerstone to our community’s resilience. Too often we take this for granted; so too do others, for whom our lot in life is struggle, struggle, struggle! Black communities are peopled by very ordinary folk who, caught innocently in dire straits are called upon to ordinarily perform extraordinary feats.
This year’s children’s carnival, staged July 13 in the Jane-Finch community, requires and deserves nothing less than the whole-hearted support, acclaim and participation of all individuals – and their children – who value authentic emancipation-based culture, and who seek an irrevocable humanity for all.