• LIVE 8: The long walk to injustice

    Note: (June 30th 2005): Somali-Canadian rapper K''naan, DMC (of Run-DMC) and the African Guitar Summit crew have joined the lineup of artists for Live 8 in Barrie in July 2nd.

    Well, here we go again...

    20 years after Live Aid, Bob Geldof brings us his latest “Save Africa project”: Live 8.

    Live 8 is a series of concerts to be held in London, Rome, Philadelphia, Paris, Berlin and Toronto to generate awareness to the problem of Third World debt in general and the plight of Africa in particular. These concerts will be held just days before the meeting of the G8 leaders in Scotland. Hence the name: Live 8.

    Many big names of the music industry are scheduled to perform including Jay-Z and P. Diddy in Philadelphia, Angelique Kidjo, U2, R.E.M and Lauryn Hill in London.

    The Canadian concert will take place at Molson Park in Barrie on July 2nd and will feature among many others, The Tragically Hip, Gordon Lightfoot, Sam Roberts, Tom Cochrane and The Barenaked Ladies. As you’ve noticed, no black or brown faces in that lineup; that for an event that the organizers hope will ultimately benefit the African continent. Perhaps no African-Canadian artists were contacted. Perhaps none were available. Who knows. Their absence is certainly peculiar.

     Live 8, in the words of Geldof “isn''t about charity, it''s about justice.", “These concerts are the start point for The Long Walk To Justice, the one way we can all make our voices heard in unison.”

    Right.

    One is almost tempted to ask: Wasn’t that what Live Aid was also meant to do 20 years ago? Has there been an improvement in the overall economic standing of the African continent as a direct result of that event?

    Africa doesn’t need aid as a solution to its problems. For the most part, African countries are rich, both in resources and in the capacity of their populations. In the words of Naomi Klein writing in The Nation Magazine recently, “Sub-Saharan Africa, the poorest place on earth, is also its most profitable investment destination. Africa is poor because its investors and its creditors are so unspeakably rich.”

    What Africa requires is some fairness in trade and economic relationships and a modicum of recognition of the wrongs of the past that still haunt it.

    I wrote an article on this subject three years ago providing the historical context for the current state of the continent and the reasons it finds itself in debt to the West today. I will simply refer you to it for background. (See The Problem With Aid)

    Live 8 is a nice gesture in a recent series of nice gestures with regards to aid and debt relief: Tony Blair’s 10-year, $25 billion British plan to double aid to the poorest African nations and The G8 Finance Ministers recent cancellation of about $40 billion in debt owed by the world’s 18 poorest nations, 15 of then in Africa.

    Ultimately, Live 8 will not change the status quo for the following reasons:

    I-It is centered on the spectacle.

    II-It fails to properly convey to the public the intricate web of consultants, contracts and borrowing rules that keep Africa poor.

    Music fans going to Park Place in Barrie on July 2nd will not be told for instance about an organization called The Paris club (www.clubdeparis.org): a consortium of mostly Western creditors that receives billions of dollars a year from African countries in debt repayment, close to 37% of national revenues from an already impoverished country like The Democratic Republic of Congo. That same organization forbids debtors from negotiating as groups of countries (to get a better interest rate or repayment plan on their loans) while the lenders retain that privilege.

    The Paris Club and many other lending entities such as Export Credit Agencies (EDC here in Canada) also exclusively provide loans in Canadian, US dollars or Euros, leaving the African countries liable for close to twice their original loan amounts when their currencies are devalued. My own native country of Cameroon ended up in this situation after the devaluation of the CFA Franc in January 1994.

    III-It fails to highlight the hypocrisy of the aid packages (coming on the heels of centuries of slavery, and colonization) that even at a lowly target of .7% of the rich countries GDP, has only been met so far by a few countries such as Sweden and Norway since it was instituted.

    IV-It does not detail the Western world’s trade and other economic policies that greatly contribute to impoverishing Africa. From the neo-liberal recommendations of the IMF and the World Bank (privatization, dropping of tariffs on Western-manufactured goods, opening-up of African economies to foreign ownership, etc…) to the continuous subsidies provided to Western farmers, to the calculated robbery done through the support of corrupt leaders and crony deals (J.D. Mobutu and the Belgian diamond companies in Congo, Sani Abacha and Shell in Nigeria, Omar Bongo and France’s ElfTotalFina in Gabon, to name a few) .

    V-It finally absolves us here in the West of any direct wrongdoing in the current plight of Africa and the Third World in general. The whole thing after all is presented as a sympathy show: we the rich, showing that we are not the selfish, shallow, materialistic individuals that our spending habits display to the rest of the world.

     So if Sam Roberts or Gordon Lightfoot on stage is your idea of a great show, drive up to Barrie on July 2nd, but remember to bring a good book along just in case. Why not Noreena Hertz’s The Debt Threat: How debt is destroying the developing world?

  • Gun Talk

    By now everyone has heard and talked about the gun violence going on in the greater Toronto area. Some in my circle of friends take it to the extreme and avoid places where violence might break out. On the news, the gunmen are presented as vile, heartless people with no respect for themselves or others. The questions for us black people are: what can we do about it? Why guns? Why now? Why so many?

    In Toronto this year, as of August 31st, there were 49 homicides, with 33 of them caused by guns. In 2004 there were 64 homicides with 27 of them involving guns.

    The killing is not only done at night, but in broad daylight with people around and in some cases it is done execution style. That means the gunmen really want the person flat out dead and are prepared to kill regardless of the presence of witnesses. Makes one wonder what kind of problem could have warranted someone’s death in such a public way? Since when is killing someone in cold blood with no thought of the family of the deceased left behind acceptable? Malcolm X said: "we black men have a hard enough time in our own struggle for justice, and already have enough enemies as it is, to make the drastic mistake of attacking each other and adding more weight to an already unbearable load."

    A friend of mine who is a bouncer in Toronto area night clubs claims that the gun problem has been a major issue for a long time. He has turned away a lot of gun-carrying patrons. According to him, in some areas a lot of people carry knives, handguns and even mini Uzi’s as if they were as innocent as a wallet. I’ve heard people say that guns are an integral part of the gunmen; they are always on them and it’s not recommended to get them mad by taking their guns away because they will get another and be less inclined to give it up next time. Guns in the streets are apparently a status symbol, being compared to a nice car, something to be shown off, a badge of honor. I’m not sure where the glamour comes from, but if you’re carrying a gun there must be a reason other than style. I can only guess, but guns solve problems, since either the person shooting or the victim will be immobilized and the warning or harm to them and everyone else will be heard loud and clear.

    A major reason for gun use that may fit in the status symbol theory seems to be their association with the distribution of drugs. According to a document called “The Relationship between Illegal Drugs and Firearms” by lawyer Eugene Oscapella,

    “Firearms are in fact a major means for regulating the illegal trade in drugs, including
    protective shipments of drugs, intimidating customers or competitors, enforcing debts,
    resolving disputes, eliminating competition and killing or injuring informants.”

    So it’s simple economics it seems: gang versus gang, a big fight over territory since the objective is to move as much product as possible to make the most money. If the demand is high and the supply is low, drug dealers don’t want a competitor who will drive down prices and also take a piece of their business. The obvious solution therefore is to limit competition. And that’s where guns come in. It works both ways. All of the various competitors need guns to protect themselves and also to be able to put pressure on others. Guns therefore have many uses, it seems: they can protect, they can threaten and hey can kill if necessary. Eugene Oscappela also states that “the illegal drug trade increases the demand for illegal and legal firearms, and these firearms may be used in ways that threaten even those who are not connected to the trade.” If drugs are a major reason for gun crimes, shouldn’t we be looking at how drugs are getting in, since the drugs don’t just end up in the black communities randomly? We know they come from many parts of the world and end up in the hands of Black youth. We should be looking into how drugs get in Canada, who brings them in, how they wind up in the communities and that may hopefully lead us to why guns are needed in the first place.

    The government has a plan to put more police officers in “gun plagued areas” to curb gun violence along with pushing for legislation for longer sentences for gun crimes. This may solve part of the problem. According to Federal Justice Minister Irwin Cotler, “there needs to be an integrated approach by all levels of government and police to stopping crime, such as offering pre-trial diversion for youth and more social and job programs for people in low-income and violent areas”. This may also address part of the problem, but more is needed by first admitting that there is big problem with gun violence and discussing it in schools.

    The Government has introduced a Healthy Living strand within the Health and Physical Education Curriculum for the youth in schools from grades 1, through to the end of high school. This program introduces illegal drugs and violence from grade 3 when kids should be able to“define the term drug and identify a variety of legal and illegal drugs”, this then leads to education on violence and drug use prevention. I myself don’t remember talking about guns, drugs and violence in an open forum through all my years of education in Ontario, so this seems to be a good start. I know some people will say the parents are the ones responsible for this education, but in many instances they don’t do it and so why shouldn’t the state do it? Along with these types of programs, economic thinking is also needed since statistics indicate that high unemployment rates for the youth in the black communities usually leads to high crime rates as well. So there should be programs that actually place youth in jobs along with ways of keeping them in high school since “without education, you''re not going anywhere in this world.” as Malcolm X says.

  • On The Strength: CKLN''s DJ OSUM talks to AfroToronto.com

    DJ O.S.U.M is the co-host of On The Strength, a weekly radio program that airs on Thursday Nights from 2AM to 6AM on Ryerson University ’s CKLN 88.1 FM. The show’s official description on the CKLN website states that it is dedicated to “The pursuit of mastering the art of Hip Hop in the ongoing battle against the evil forces of mainstream corporate industry.”

    I sat down with O.S.U.M to get the lowdown.

    AfroToronto.com: What does O.S.U.M stand for ?

    O.S.U.M: It''s an acronym for Old School Underground Music and it''s pronounced awesome. It''s a play on words because a lot of people use that word awesome in their vocab and when I tell them I DJ or they hear me play they say oh that''s awesome. and I''m like yeah that''s my name. But it''s less a reference to the music as it is more so about the style. Parties back in the day were no holds barred in terms of music, electro, rock pop, latin, hip-hop, soul, whatever, it was all good. So I try and stick to the roots of party rockin by mixing it all up in terms of playing whatever sounds good.

    AfroToronto.com: How did you get into the deejay game?

    O.S.U.M: First off I would not describe this as "the deejay game" I think that lightens the dedication, time,money and love that a vast majority are committed to. Some may view it as a game but for me and a lot of my friends who are deejays, it''s a part of who we are and the things we do in our daily operations. But to answer your question, it was around the summer of like 89-90. (…) I spent like 3 weeks visiting my aunt with my mom to Whitby . There''s not much to do in Whitby now never mind back then, so when my uncle was at work he would let me play his records on his DJ equipment.

    AfroToronto.com: Were you into music already?

    O.S.U.M: I was already into a lot of different music through the influence of my dad who when my parents were together it was often a ritual on Saturday mornings. Cartoons, the stereo (usually echoing Al Jarreau, Bob Marley or some Arrow) and pancakes before going out to play in the park with friends. So because I was isolated in Whitby (Hey a good name for a mixtape) I just would practice all day mixing and listening to his records. Some of the big ones I remember at the time were Stevie V, Dirty Cash. Indeep, Last Night a Dj Saved My life and Bell BivDevoe was just coming out with Poison. So I have my mom, dad, and uncle to thank for it mostly.

    AfroToronto.com: What about Hip Hop?

    O.S.U.M: I was a late bloomer in the Hip-Hop scene so when I got back to Calgary, some of my friends who were already into deejaying at the time put me onto the likes of Twin Hype, UTFO, BDP and more. I really liked the remixes that were coming out at the time. They were basically extended versions of the existing with mad samples and breaks to make them more hype than the original. I remember a lot of Coldcut remixes.

    Download DJ OSUM.....Sample MP3s

    AfroToronto.com: In regards to the scene, what are some of your likes and dislikes?

    O.S.U.M: I hate how expensive records can be sometimes (…). Technology is killing the art in the sense that now DJs don''t have to buy records anymore. And I don''t blame the people who are going that way or starting that way in the sense that why buy a record for $10 -$12 when you can download an mp3 for $1.99 or even free and play that same way. Even more so than the fact that it cuts out so much of the ground work that a lotta dudes spent half their life on. It''s killing the industry. Distribution companies, graphic designers, street promotion teams and more. A lot of people are gonna feel the burn of technology. On the flipside, I like playing music, that is relatively unheard of but moves the crowd regardless. Having that rare cut or new tune that is undeniable is worth the groundwork it took to find it or work it into the mix when you see the people bop their heads and butts.

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    AfroToronto.com: Whom would you cite as being influential in your development as a DJ?

    O.S.U.M: Of course we all have to pay respects to founding fathers of the dj/hip-hop culture. Namely, Kool Herc, Bambataa, Grandwizard Theodore, Cash Money and all them. I got really into the DMC videos in the early 90''s and that exposed me to a new way of looking at myself as a DJ. Although I never went the turntablist route I am definitely inspired by dudes like invisible Skratch Piklz, X-ecutioners and Beat Junkies. But I feel it''s the people in within reach who are most influential. All my peoples of course, specifically that would be Al Testa, Dj Pump,Dean Clarke, Drew Atlas (who I used to do the Groove with back on cjsw), Richard Sixto(Mr. Supercalfrajasexy), DJ Southpaw(lefties unite), my man 187, Scootz, Son of S.O.U.L, Fatski(the big & boisterous), yourself(gazza)and of course My Uncle Nigel. I listen to a lot of mixtapes and radio so shout out to all those dj''s as well because I feel in order to be a good performer you gotta take time to listen to what''s goin on around you. Y''know, keep your ear to the ground.

    AfroToronto.com: Any trends we should look out for?

    O.S.U.M: As sad as it is to say. A significant decrease in vinyl. It''s already started with the likes of Serato Scratch, cd j''s and ipods a lot of dj''s are opting to not to buy vinyl namely due to the weight and space of heavy crates plus the cost of vinyl vs as mp3 download. Of course I don''t think it will ever die but it will go through another period of sufferation.

    AfroToronto.com: In parting any words of wisdom ?

    O.S.U.M: As redundant as it may sound, do it for the love. Even the dudes I know who are making money doing this and treat it like a job, still love what they''re doing at the end of the day. Because best believe that you are gonna have to deal with a lot of nonsense along the way so if it''s not really something you enjoy and you have to deal with a lot of bull then add on the fact that money can be scarce at times, you may as well sit yourself behind a desk and at least be glad for a consistent paycheque.

    DJ O.S.U.M will be deejaying at the Soulweekender on Sunday Oct 23 at the Trane Studio ( 964 Bathurst St . ) – 10 pm. For more info send an email to: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

    For more on DJ O.S.U.M, please visit his website: www.ckln.fm/~onthestrength/

  • BBPA Town Hall meeting tackles gun violence

    The Black Business & Professional Association’s monthly gathering drew more than its usual crowd yesterday at the Holiday Inn on King Street. The original venue at Metro Hall had to be abandoned given the huge number of community members who indicated their desire to attend this meeting. And they came from all areas of the city; old and young, professionals and others to discuss the issue of the moment in Toronto: Gun Violence.


    So far this year there have been 37 homicides caused by guns in the city. The issue has been debated in many town hall meetings involving decision-makers and citizens. The Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General was even forced to recently issue a series of measures meant to quell the current violence and deter would-be offenders. They include more judges on the benches, more police officers on the streets and more promises of youth programs funding.

    So it is with fervent anticipation that the huge crowd crammed in the Regency Ballroom waited for the discussion to commence. The names on the panel promised a lively exchange and they did not disappoint. One after the other, they used the four minutes the moderator Karlene Nation of CTV assigned them to weight-in on the causes of the violence, the historical background, the ramifications and the required changes.

    Monty Kwinter, Ontario Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services outlined the different types of criminals, indicating that there are some who have crossed to the side of hard-core criminals.

    Mary-Ann Chambers, Minister Children and Youth Services provided an array of statistics on the number of children in the welfare system and in mental care, in order to underline the complex nature of the issue of gun violence and its relationship to proper family environments.
    “There are parents that need to be mentored as much as there are kids who need to be mentored!” she said, adding that “our kids are predominantly law abiding and do not deserve to be stereotyped.”

    Gyasi Ferdinand, a survivor of the temptations of street life spoke of his experience as a former drug dealer in Regent Park and his brush with death presented in the documentary film “Cheating Death” (shown after the discussion and scheduled to air on TVO in October). He emphasized the need for physical discipline as done in his native Trinidad, in the process quoting Bible verses and expounding on the absence of religion in schools while “they give kids condoms,” he added.

    Other panelists included Audette Shephard, Chairperson of United Mothers Against Violence Everywhere (UMOVE) and mother of the late Justin Sheppard, a victim of Toronto gun violence, Mike Frederico Staff superintendent of the Toronto Police Services, Donald McLeod a lawyer, Professor Scot Wortley of the University of Toronto Criminology Centre and Zanana Akande a former principal in the Toronto District School board who emphasized the shortcomings of the education system with respect to minorities.

    But perhaps the most memorable four minutes of the evening belonged to Community Worker Kevin Francis who spoke passionately of his own experience with hopelessness and poverty and of the need for all to support the youth and steer them in the right direction at a young age. In some neighbourhoods, he said “it’s easier to get a gun than a pack of cigarettes”. In the end he came to tears as he simply demanded that we all: “support our kids; please don’t give up on them!”

    The Q&A session that followed the panel discussion brought out both the exuberance of the optimists and the cynicism and rage of many in the community who voiced concern over the lack of funding for youth-oriented programs, the over-funding of “mainstream programs”, the shrinking ranks of Black people in the voting booths and the perennial scapegoat: television.

    “Let’s get BET out of Toronto,” one of the audience members shouted over the microphone as applause filled the room.

    For all the nice words and sentiments, one was still left wondering whether they would translate to concrete undertakings. No plan of future action was adopted, no resolutions were voted on and no upcoming meetings on the subject were planned. The event itself, taking place in a downtown hotel, away from the “troubled neigbourhoods” most affected by the violence, failed to bring out the young people and parents who would have greatly benefited from the advice being offered. Lawyer Donald McLeod put it best: “we keep talking about the village, but some of us who make it, run from the village.”

     

    The next BBPA gathering will take place at Metro Hall (55 John Street) on October 19th 2005 and will focus on: "The Media, Friend or foe?"

  • Oh My People: The Last Poets bring The Truth to Harbourfront


    "When the moment hatches in time''s womb there will be no art talk. The only poem you will hear will be the spear point pivoted in the punctured marrow of the villain. Therefore we are the last poets of the world." - Willie Kgositsile

    Their name is taken from the words of South African writer Willie Kgositsile: The Last Poets, carrying the word like a flashlight. Their work is uncompromising and direct, sometimes overly so but always positive.

    The crowd was ready for them at Harbourfront yesterday afternoon, having enjoyed the work of Philadelphia songstress Liz Fields earlier in the day. So when Babatunde’s drum opened the festivities and Umar Bin Hassan, in his usually humourous tone shouted:

    “Niggas is scared of revolution !” The applause could not be contained.

    The Last Poets was formed in Harlem, NY in 1968. Abiodun Oyewole, David Nelson and Gylan Kain were the original members of the group which later evolved to include Umar Bin Hassan, Felipe Luciano, Jalal Nurridin and Suliaman El Hadi.

    Their first albums were released in 1970 and 1971. They included the poems they are most known for: "This is Madness," "When the Revolution Comes," "Gashman" and “Niggers are scared of Revolution” which takes on the slackers and the empty words of many in our communities, the fake revolutionaries who are only too ready to “change their hair from black to red to blond and hope like hell their looks will change.” Or to “kill others just because one didn''t receive the correct change.” Powerful words, especially in light of the three murders that once again tainted the otherwise peaceful celebrations of Caribana and the Irie Music festival this week-end.

    The afternoon’s performance was punctuated by the poem “America is a terrorist” which Oyewole joked he might as well perform here because he would be arrested for doing so elsewhere.
    Going through the list of his country''s crimes, he spoke of the destruction of the Florida town of Rosewood, the burning of Black churches in Alabama in the 1960s, the infiltration and eventual extermination of the Black Panther party and the modern day wars on abstract nouns. “Where were you Condelezza?” Oyewole asked as Babatunde’s drumbeat caressed the words and Bin Hassan mumbled “Terrorist! Terrorist!” in the background. In the crowd many fists were raised and laughter ensued as many grasped the irony of the statement; Condelezza Rice, born in the Alabama of the 1950s, now a peddler of ideology for the Empire.

    The Last Poets also spoke about the state of Hip-Hop and its impact on the youth of the world which they witnessed having just returned from a trip to South Africa. “Hip-Hop is a great vehicle but right now we got some crazy drivers,” Oyewole observed. Asked about it after the show, Bin Hassan took comfort in the work of “some conscious brothers who are doing good things: Kanye West, Common and Dead Prez.” Tracks like Be and Real People from the latest Common CD indeed pay tribute to the great ones who laid the tracks so his train of thought could ride through.

    But as I left Harboufront, the words “Unity, Unity” (from the Last Poets’ My Peoplepublished in1996) kept coming back to me as reminders of the unfinished work:

    “Unity! Unity!
    so that the sun will follow
    our foot steps in the day
    so that the moon will glow
    in our living rooms at night
    so that food, clothing, and shelter
    will be free
    because we are born free
    to have the world as our playground
    My people.”

    available at www.amazon.com


    A restatement or maybe a reference to Bob Marley''s rallying cry from the song Africa Unite.

    “It''s later, later than you think
    Unite for the benefit of your people
    Unite for the Africans abroad
    Unite for the Africans a yard”

    And that was 25 years ago.


    Eloi Minka is one of the founders of AfroToronto.com

  • Shocking the system

    Councillor Michael Thompson Sets the Record Straight with AfroToronto.com''s Eloi Minka

    "Part of the rationale,” Michael Thompson said on the phone from his City Hall office, was to “shock the system” out of its comfort on the issue of gun violence. The rookie Toronto city councillor for Scarborough Centre caused both consternation and rage last week when he suggested that police target young black males in high-crime areas as a way of curbing the rising gun-crimes in the city.

    Many in the political circles quickly distanced themselves from the remarks. Mayor David Miller stated through a spokesman that “it is not a crime in this city to be a young black man” and Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty said "I don''t think it is sound public policy." On the streets of Toronto, many community leaders, activists and citizens were fuming. Deputy Police Chief Keith Forde who is Black called the idea “a giant leap backward.”

    So how could the only Black councilor at City Hall, an educated man with a background similar to many of the youth affected both by the gun violence and the poverty that almost always underlies it advocate such a policy?

    “The need to keep this issue [gun violence] front and centre was critical in my view.” Thompson said in a tone surprisingly conciliatory.

    “There was a lot of talk” and very little in terms of concrete actions. And given the rising number of deaths and the seeming inability of the police to propose or implement clear solutions, something had to be done in Thompson’s view.

    “So it was in closing to reporters that I said maybe we ought to target young black males,” he added putting a particular emphasis on the “ought to”.

     
    Related Links:

    Michael Thompson''s City Hall bio

    "A repugnant divisive suggestion" by The Toronto Star''s Royson James

    But what about the legality of the proposal? After all, Article 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms clearly states that: “Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.” And Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair also recognizing that fact indicated that his force was not “going to engage in what I believe to be the totally inappropriate, unjust and illegal practice of targeting young men on the basis of their race.”

    “I have not looked at Article 15 of the Charter,” Thompson responded this time sounding irritated by the question. “Ideas are such. They are ideas. I just put something out there for people.” The answer in addition to revealing a lack of understanding of the legal underpinnings of the Canadian federation (won after many decades of battles and compromises) also displays a propensity for sensationalism.

    But part of the difficulty in understanding the reasons that prompted Michael Thompson’s ludicrous proposal lies in his very ordinary background.

    Thompson was born in Jamaica and came to Canada at the age of 11. His first ten years in this country were spent in subsidized housing in Scarborough. Thompson went on to earn a degree in economics at Concordia University in Montreal and joined Corporate Canada. He later started various businesses before winning the city councillor post in November 2003. In his days at City Hall he has taken many vigorous positions on crime, even challenging Mayor David Miller in a strongly worded letter in July that among other things stated that “whatever steps have been taken on your watch either do not work or are too timid.” He concluded the letter with the question “when are you going to take this situation [rising gun violence] seriously?”

    His positions up to that point won him many friends within the community groups that wanted to highlight the issues of gun violence and Black-on-Black crime. Some still continue to view his comments as a one-time lapse in judgment from an otherwise well-intentioned official. Toronto Police inspector David McLeod for one was quoted as saying "He made an ill-advised, ill-conceived and perhaps an idiotic comment, but he''s not an idiot."

    But when one examines both his personal ambitions highlighted by those who know him best (including his former-boss Liberal MP Lorenzo Berardinetti) and the sensational issues he’s been associated with (such as the keep-the-chief campaign of former police chief Julian Fantino and his demands for a “rodent hotline”) one is forced to conclude that there are perhaps ulterior motives behind these remarks. Many both in the media and within the municipal circles have started to openly speculate about Thompson’s ambition to become Mayor, to which he responds: “that has never come from my office or my mouth. There are groups of individuals here at City Hall that have been spewing that.”

    Whatever the reasons, Michael Thompson recanted his statement late last week but was still not calling it a recant, choosing instead to use the euphemistic phrase: “This is not something [his proposal] that is workable.” One would expect him to perform that workability analysis in the confines of his office before uttering the next set of nonsensical propositions.

    Ultimately what many in the Black communities of Toronto and Canada at large will remember are the words of one of their sons who, perhaps guided by blatant individualism or blinded by naked ambition chose to advocate policies that brought back painful memories of a not too distant past and in the words of Royson James of the Toronto Star, turned him into a “poster boy for the right-wing, tough-on-crime, stop-Jamaican-immigration, sterilize-young-black-women, castrate-black-men brigade.”

    The Black Business and Professional Association is organizing a discussion on the subject of gun violence and community safety at Metro Hall (55 John Street) on September 14th, 2005. Asked about his attendance, Michael Thompson now sounding clearly infuriated responded: “I have talked to many people at the BBPA and I have told them [that I’ll be there], if time permits!”


    Eloi Minka is one of the founders of AfroToronto.com.

  • THE PHILOSOPHER OF THE HIP HOP GENERATION: Author Bakari Kitwana talks to AfroToronto.com

    Why do white kids love Hip Hop? Many have asked the question; perhaps not openly for fear of being labeled or being attacked by the political correctness machine or the proponents of a blind “We-are-the-world” attitude. Toronto after all is forever described as a culturally diverse city and inclusiveness if you listened to the politicians, flows in our blood as Canadians. So discussing one segment of the population’s strong interest in an art form rooted in another’s culture is a clear taboo.

    In the U.S., the question has generated a lot of discussion, primarily since the advent of Eminen who was viewed as a lyrical genius rescuing the art form by some, while others saw in him the flag bearer of an invasion that would soon make Hip Hop go the way of Rock ‘n Roll and other musical genres.

     

    Bakari Kitwana is a former Executive Editor at The Source and the author of The Hip Hop Generation, a book that is used in many Hip Hop courses at many colleges across the U.S. He has also lectured extensively on Hip Hop and Black youth culture. His work has been published in the Village Voice, The Source, The New York Times, The Boston Globe and The Nation. His new book is appropriately titled: “Why White Kids Love Hip Hop: wankstas, wiggers, wannabes and the new reality of race in America .”

    Bakari Kitwana spoke to AfroToronto.com from his home base in Westlake, Ohio .

    AfroToronto.com: Why did you deem it necessary to tackle this subject of white kids and Hip Hop?

    Bakari Kitwana: It’s important for various reasons. One, you have these racial dynamics that have been part of the American scene for a long time and are still unresolved. And because you have this growing audience for Hip Hop, it’s given the history of American race relations an opportunity that is almost impossible to ignore: this white audience with this black musical form, what does that mean? It begs the question: is it cultural appropriation? What is it? I just thought it would be a compelling conversation.

    AfroToronto.com: In the book, as part of the reasons you raise for the interest of White kids in Hip Hop, you mention that in the early days, in the 80’s it was a rebellion, almost an association with a social movement. These days that does not seem to be the case. Most kids seem to be simple consumers of mainstream culture. Do you view that as a positive thing?

     

    Bakari Kitwana:I think it’s complicated. I think it’s too easy to make the assumption that people are simply listening to music as entertainment and that’s it. One of the things I talk about in the book is economics as a major variable. Because of the way globalization is evolving, it’s not just black people who are left behind, it’s poor people, regardless of race who are left behind. Here in America you have white kids who feel left out of mainstream American life. They feel that American society isn’t offering them options as it once did.So if you see young people engaging in Hip Hop in Palestine or in South Africa, in Bolivia or in Cuba, it’s young people who are dealing with economic issues and see Hip Hop as a way of providing an alternative to the answers being provided by mainstream societal governments.

    AfroToronto.com: In terms of Hip Hop becoming mainstream, why do you think that the songs or the artists that have more of a political message, that have more in-depth songs do not see the light of day while the 50-Cent and others like him continue to dominate the charts?

    Bakari Kitwana: That’s a good question. I think an audience has been nurtured for it. Part of what these artists are selling is the American dream. I think America has been very successful at selling to people the idea of consumerism, this idea of identifying with products. But I do think that there is a political critique that comes with 50-Cent. If you listen to the CD, “Get Rich or die Tryin’” he talks about it. He also does in his new book, From Pieces to Weight.I mean this is a guy who dropped out of high school because he could make

    author and cultural critic Bakari Kitwana

     

    ... more money selling drugs. He wanted material things that his grand parents couldn’t buy him. Also here in America you have an education system that is not working too well for most people. So what’s the point of staying in school when you can get the same job at Wal-Mart with a Grade 7 education that you can with a High School diploma and even if you graduate High School, without money, you can’t go to college anyway. So a lot of people are identifying with 50-cent on that level. He’s a folk hero.  He’s a person who has defied the odds. He’s the embodiment of the American dream and the American dream is to have a lot of money. This is the success of American indoctrination, to make people associate success with wealth.

    AfroToronto.com: In the book, you talk about Hip Hop being a subset of Black American youth culture. What about the idea of people associating 50-Cent and other artists like him with Black American youth? Internationally that does not necessarily present the most positive of images. What is your take on that aspect of it?

    Bakari Kitwana: I think it’s complicated. And that’s why a book like this one is important. There are no simple answers; the answers are always very layered. This is the power of Hip Hop. This is why it’s being taught in college campuses [across the U.S. ] But I think it’s problematic that many people are getting their image of what Black Americans are from these videos. Donald Bogle wrote a book called Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies & Bucks: An Interpretive History of Blacks in American Filmswhich talked about the negative images of African-Americans in cinema. Ithink to a certain extent it’s the same thing that these videos are doing. But also at the same time you also get a lot more. The same way 50-Cent or Jay-Z represents a stereotype, they also represent what I call a Hip Hop Generation Sensibility in terms of their analysis.

    AfroToronto.com: In what sense?

    Bakari Kitwana: Well, look at the response from Hurricane Katrina. I mean Puffy and Jay-Z came out and donated $1 million dollars. Where was the response of the older generation? That’s what I am talking about in terms of the different ways of looking at the world. The dirty laundry is definitely put out there but I think it’s a different way of looking at the problems that are plaguing African Americans and poor people. This is a generation that is saying life is full of contradictions but we are going to deal with the contradictions while the older generation simply refuses to recognize the contradictions.

    AfroToronto.com: What is your position on the perennial debate around Hip Hop being a subset of Black culture?

    Bakari Kitwana: My position is that Hip Hop emerged out of the South Bronx from people coming from different places in the Caribbean, Trinidad, Jamaica and so on. So right there, you have an international orientation from the beginning. But I think the emergence from the South Bronx is an important element; one because it is the belly of the beast. That’s a critical component. But in terms of the language and the culture, for me it’s Black English!  I mean, I understand globalization bringing all these people together in the South Bronx as a driving impetus to the creation of Hip Hop. Without the business institutions of white America , Hip Hop would not exist. But these were business people [like Rick Rubin, co-founder of Def Jam] who were engaging in Hip Hop for the purpose of making money. But in terms of the culture as it existed in the South Bronx and was extended to Queens and other parts of the city, that was Black people.

    AfroToronto.com: What is necessary in your view for Hip Hop not to go the way of Rock ‘n Roll?

    Bakari Kitwana: I think we need a healthy conversation around race and Hip Hop. Right now I have a tour that I’ve planned for 15 cities. This is an extension of the work that we did with the National Hip Hop Political Convention, which I felt needed to be more multi-racial. We have a Native American, we have Raquel Rivera who is Puerto-Rican [author of New York Ricans from the Hip Hop Zone], we also have Billy Wimsatt [author of Bomb the Suburbs], Adam Mansback who wrote Angry Black White Boy and more. We want to give people a language to dissect race in Hip Hop. That’s what the tour is about and that’s what the book is about.



    "
    Why White Kids Love Hip Hop" is available in bookstores around the city and online at www.amazon.ca.


    Eloi Minka is one of the founders of AfroToronto.com.

  • Ba Cissoko: The modern griot

    The sound on the other end of the line is similar to the flamenco notes you’d hear at the Lula Lounge if you happened to be there on a night when a good Spanish or South American band was playing.

    “They’ve started rehearsing already,” Ba Cissoko says on the phone from Marseille where he’s now based.

    They are Sekou Kouyaté, Ibrahimah Bah and Kourou Kouyaté the other members of his musical group; all from the West African country of Guinea.

    Ba Cissoko is the eldest, the “grand-frère”, the creator of a unique new sound that has dazzled many in Africa and Europe for more than 15 years.


    What makes their music unique is not only the use of the Kora, (that traditional Mandingo instrument made of a large calabash cut in half and covered with cow skin) but its use along with many modern instruments. His style was labeled “Kora Rock” by Afrik.com a Paris-based web magazine. And he gladly accepts the label.

    "Musical fusion is very important to us although it got us in trouble with the master M’bary Kouyaté.”

    He is referring to his musical mentor who took him on and introduced him to the marvels of the Kora. M’bary Kouyaté was then the director of the National Ballet of Guinea, a descendant of griots and a man known throughout the capital city of Conakry for his amazing grasp of the musical traditions of his people.

    “He thought me everything. Everything a griot must know he thought me.”

    So the master was a little unhappy when he heard the songs of Ba Cissoko’s first album Sabolan released in 2004.

    “He didn’t like the fact that we modernized the Kora,” Cissoko says. But that desire to blend the traditional rhythms with more pop-sounding tunes is what attracts the young crowds.

    World Music it is called these days. The leaders of that style in the African continent being Youssou N’dour, Angelique Kidjo, Salif Keita and Mory Kanté.

    Ba relishes the adulation, while recognizing the importance of the old ways.

    “You have to respect traditions. They’ve lasted for a reason. When we are in Conakry, master Kouyaté always makes sure we get invited to a wedding or a celebration where we can play more traditional Kora and witness the way things were done in the days of our ancestors.”

    Ba Cissoko is hard at work on his new album Adiouna (The World in peul) on the heels of his recent nomination for a RFI Musique du Monde Award. This one unlike the first will include more collaborations with other artists including possibly Neneh Cherry who last shone on the song “Seven Seconds” with Youssou N’dour.

    Another possible inclusion is the British-Columbia-based Alpha Yaya Diallo who encouraged Ba Cissoko to visit Canada.

    Catch Ba Cissoko in his first Canadian performance on the CIBC Stage at Harbourfront on July 2nd at 9:30 pm. For details call 416.973.4000

    Eloi Minka & Melvin Bakandika are two of the founders of AfroToronto.com.

  • Your vote counts!

    By depriving us of suffrage, you affirm our incapacity to form an intelligent judgment respecting public men and public measures; you declare before the world that we are unfit to exercise the elective franchise, and by this means lead us to undervalue ourselves, to put a low estimate upon ourselves, and to feel that we have no possibilities like other men.

    Frederick Douglass

    I got into a discussion with a Jamaican woman at work recently on the subject of voting. She confessed that she is one of those non-voting blacks. She gave me this example: If there are six political parties up for election and none of the six parties care about black people and their issues, why should we bother voting because it’s always been the same and it will always be the same. She added that she wouldn’t vote until a black person willing to seriously tackle the issues affecting the black community is on the ballot. At the Black Business Professional Association (BBPA) town hall meeting on gun violence a few weeks ago, one of the audience members mentioned that their organization wanted to meet with the different levels of government to discuss the issue of gun violence, but they all declined.

    I wondered if among other things, these politicians were thinking “why should I bother to do anything for blacks since they are only a minority of the population and many in the black community don’t vote anyway?"

    If as a people we don’t vote, how can we expect our problems to be heard?

    The Reverend. Al Sharpton says: “we must begin to demand something for our vote” and I agree. The numbers from last year’s federal election show that the lower income ridings seemed to bring less voter turnout. In areas such as Etobicoke North, Scarborough-Rouge River, York South and York West where more than 15,000 black people live, the voter turnout was around 50%. Compare that to ridings such as Toronto Centre, Pickering-Scarborough East, Toronto-Danforth and Trinity-Spadina that all had over a 60% turnout.

    When it comes to any level of our government it’s obvious we must help them, for them to help us. I’ve heard some say that it seems highly unfair, since as citizens of this country everyone should have a say in what happens whether you vote or not. The reality however is that only voting creates a voice for our community. And according to many activists including Alexis McGill, Executive Director of Citizen Change, (a U.S. non-profit organization created to educate, motivate and empower young voters) “It’s important that we have leverage in our community to sustain new policies”. Choosing not to vote means your voice will not be heard because you’re saying to the government, “I don’t care who wins!” So why should the government care about your needs? Through our vote we have a say in what happens in our country and we can hold politicians liable for the promises that are not kept.

    The black community must reach out and understand that as one cohesive unit we can bring about change to lower income neighbourhoods. Voting power will hold the government responsible for being slow to react to key issues such as gun violence.

    According to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms “Every citizen of Canada has the right to vote in an election of members of the House of Commons or of a legislative assembly and to be qualified for membership therein.”

    We are not second class citizens. We have the same rights as everyone else and we need to be heard. If you don’t feel that the current politicians care about you or issues that are important to you, then get involved in politics or encourage someone else you know to get involved. We should also be aware of the issues driving the election. We should hold the elected officials accountable for their words and promises. Malcolm X said “There are poor nations in the UN; yet those poor nations can get together with their voting power and keep the rich nations from making a move. They have one nation — one vote, everyone has an equal vote. And when those brothers from Asia, and Africa and the darker parts of this earth get together, their voting power is sufficient to hold Sam in check. Or Russia in check. Or some other section of the earth in check. So the ballot is most important.”

  • Success Behind The Man - Spotlight on Dwayne Morgan

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    Dwayne Morgan is no longer lost in translation...at least amongst Francophones. The Spoken word artist is excited about his latest career accomplishment, his first bilingual book Le Making Of d’un homme.  Since 1993, the multiple award recipient has been a driving force within the spoken word community. The Founder of Up From the Roots Entertainment has produced over 100 events, including long running shows When Brothers Speak, When Sisters Speak, and the Toronto International Poetry Slam. He has performed for the Governor General of Canada, Michelle Jean, and internationally performs over 150 shows a year. Yet to only define Dwayne as a connoisseur of the spoken word artform is misleading. Try adding motivational speaker, educator, author, and photography to his ever growing artistic repertoire. Recently, AfroToronto.com had a chance to speak with the humble modern day renaissance man to reflect on his successful career accomplishments.

    AT: How have you become such a prominent player in the spoken word scene?

    DM: “There are people who wait for things to happen. I’ve made a career out of making things happen. Instead of waiting for someone to invite me to perform, I started putting on my own shows. I began traveling to different places, meeting different artists, inviting those artists to Toronto, and building bridges across borders. I’ve always been about giving opportunities, and creating new platforms for other artists.  I believe when you’re the person who gives you automatically succeed.”

    AT: Through spoken word, you critically examine human relationships, social politics, media etc.  How do you keep a fresh outlook after so many years?

    DM: “I’m actually a very shy person when I’m not on stage. Being quiet, sitting in silence observing, allows me to gain perspective and I use that perspective in the material I create. After 16 years I still manage to make it work. I am more popular today than I’ve ever been. I still love writing and telling stories that people can relate to.”

    AT: Signature shows like When Brothers/Sisters Speak, are in their 10th year of production consistently attracting large audiences with sold out shows. What is the secret to your success?

    DM: “I’ve taken the time to learn what makes a successful producer even for a show like When Brothers Speak… I had received an email about a big poetry event in Philadelphia. I knew nothing about the event but there was something about the email. I borrowed my mom’s van, went down there and actually performed at the event. I met all of these other artists. I thought it would be great for Toronto to see these artists since there was no other way to know they exist. That’s how ‘When Brother’s Speak’ started. I paid for the trip out of my own pocket. I’ve never been afraid to invest to generate things for the future.

    I also try to have a personal element by listening to my audience. For shows like ‘When Brothers or “When Sisters Speak’, where it’s up to 600 people at a show, I still take time to personally express appreciation to people for coming out. I ask ''who did you like from the show?’ or ‘how did you feel about the event?’ …I want people to feel a communal vibe. Having this orientation allows me to have successful longevity.”

    AT: As a performer, what is your most memorable experience to date?

    DM: “Performance wise, I think being able to share the stage with Alicia Keys... I had never been in front of that many people.

    I also enjoy traveling, seeing different cultures… Especially my first time going to certain places in Germany, Budapest and what it feels like, not being able to communicate with people yet, knowing it was the ability to communicate that brought me to those places in the first place… I don’t take it for granted.”

    AT: Through your travels, how do you find the African Canadian voice differs from other voices of the Diaspora?

    DM: “The voice of African Canadians is very different especially in comparison to African Americans. It’s [much] more diverse. If you’re Black in America that’s pretty much all you remember -America. In Canada we remember, Jamaica, Trinidad, Ethiopia etc. The African Canadian community here is extremely diverse…because of that there are a lot of different perspectives. The material we write out of Toronto is actually very similar to London, England because their population is very diverse as well with people from Africa and the Caribbean.”


    AT: Tell us about your public work in the Toronto community?

    DM: “I do a lot of public speaking and work with the school board. At York University I was speaking with teachers in the Teachers College program about how spoken word and hip hop culture can be used in the classroom. I’ve been at a lot of schools trying to talk to young people, not necessarily to become poets, or gravitate towards spoken word, but to encourage them to find anything they’re passionate about and use that to create the life they want to live. I use myself as an example as someone who has never had a ‘full time job’ and gets to live the life that they want to live.”

    AT: Last March you had your first photography exhibit ‘The Sum of Her Parts’ inspired by one of your poems. Why did you decide to pick up photography?

    DM: “I always had an eye for photography. In the Fall of 2005, I picked a camera and started teaching myself. People always liked the ‘Sum of her Parts’ poem so I found a way to visually conceptualize the poem through photography. Photography is still something I’m learning but as an event planner, poet, and now with photography, I’m in a situation where I can mix these art mediums.”

    AT: How did you become involved with the Six Ah Wi Art Collective?

    DM: “The chair of that art collective saw my work in a gallery and asked who the artist was? –He discovered it was me… -“the poetry guy!” So he called me and let me know about the collective. I’m still pretty new and raw in terms of visual art but I thought it would be to my advantage to work with these visual artists and learn some new skills. We’re working towards producing some exhibitions between now and 2015.”

    AT: You’re a published author; you’ve garnered various awards… What personality traits have helped you gain so many accomplishments?

    DM: “First off I’m a workaholic. I work hard and believe in what I do. This is what I have been given in life. All of us have been given different talents; we just have to make what we can with them. My parents still joke about me getting a real job. It just happened that poetry came about and I decided to take it and see what I could build with it.”

    AT: Can you tell us more about your recent big announcement?

    DM: “I have my sixth book coming out May 14th in Belgium. Maelstrom, the publisher, loved my work. They selected fourteen of my poems and translated them into French. This is the first time my book has been translated to a language other than English. I’m actually in the process of trying to memorize some poems in French so I can perform in French when I go there for the launch. Out of respect I want go there and say I’m performing in their language even if its only one poem. It’s not something I have to do but I want to prove to myself that I can. That’s’ one of the things I like about myself in taking risks and challenging myself.”

    AT: Well Congratulations!

    DM: Thank you very much!

    AT: What has been the most fulfilling part of your journey as an artist?

    DM: A gentleman came up to me and told me I had visited his high school and what I said to him had a profound effect, causing him to change certain things about his life… For me it’s about knowing what I do has made an impact on a young person and what I do has value.

    will not be available in Ontario, however it may be purchased as a limited run collectors item by contacting Dwayne Morgan at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


    For more information about Dwayne please visit www.upfromtheroots.ca

  • Travelling on a budget

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    With the recession in full swing, it’s hard to cut all the things in your life that are considered “luxuries”. One of the first things to go is the travel income, even though many of us enjoy getting out of the city every once and a while, have family that don’t live close by, or just want to experience something new. Don’t fret! Travelling is still available on a budget. Here are a few tips to get the most for your money when looking for vacations.

    Be Flexible

    Are you able to travel outside of peak times? The best travel deals are found when the majority of people are NOT travelling. If you don’t have to travel during holidays, then you’re already ahead of the game.

    If you are looking at flights, the best days to travel are always Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays – most airlines have seat sales for departures on these days.

    Last-Minute Is Good

    The best prices are usually found for last-minute offers, especially for packaged vacations to the Caribbean when departing from Canada. This is the only time that procrastination is a good thing. Many people book their vacation time in advance, but don’t actually book the trip until the week(s) before departing, which can save you hundreds of dollars off the regular price. Many airlines also have web specials online that can feature travel for this or next weekend only.

    Tour Guide vs. On Your Own

    A lot of tour operators provide amazing packages to Asia, Africa and South America but they are often over-priced due to the packaging for you. If you don’t mind booking all the airfare, hotels and tours on your own, then you can potentially save a lot of money. Many tour inclusions are available online – but make sure that they are credible. Legitimate websites have accreditations or at least ensure a secure website when booking (or at least have a telephone number visible on their booking page). If you are not sure, there are many web sites that have reviews on everything related to travel.

    Use Online Travel Agencies

    Online travel agencies such as Expedia and Travelocity are excellent resources to figure out how much it costs to go somewhere. Whenever I’m looking for really great prices on airfare, I go onto Travelocity and use their “Flexible Fares Finder”. It gives a really good indication on when flights depart, what months the fares are on for, and what airline they are on. This tool is especially good to use when booking a flight that is not a typical destination. For example, when I booked my flight to Zambia, I used Travelocity to find out when the best flights were available, especially since I was travelling through the holiday season. I found out that if I left a week earlier, I could get a better deal (again, be flexible!).

    As well, if you have all the flight and price information before you approach a travel agent, it will be less likely that you will be taken advantage of on pricing.

    Other Departure Cities

    Sometimes you can save a lot of money if you drive to another airport, especially if you live near the U.S. border. Being in Toronto, it’s sometimes beneficial to drive to Buffalo to take advantage of the cheaper air taxes in the U.S., even after you consider the extra cost and time of driving. If you are able to get to another departure city that has cheaper fares, or more frequent departures, you are more likely to save money.  The best way to find a travel deal is to stay flexible, and to not let a great deal pass you by. Chances are if you see an offer that is an amazing price, 24 hours from now it will be gone, so make sure you book as soon as you can. In travel, if it’s too good to be true, then you should book it!

  • The mask called envy

    Have you ever been in contact with someone in a school, work or social setting where you’re forced to work with them despite the fact that you may not like them?

    For some inexplicable reason you just can’t stand to be around them. Being of West Indian descent, my parents would say ‘my spirit just can’t take ‘em”.  The fact that you dislike them has nothing to do with the way they look or smell, nor, does it have anything to do with their personality. It is simply an overwhelming feeling of hate and contempt that consumes you until it reaches a point where you no longer remember your initial reason for disliking the person. However, if you do remember the reason it doesn’t even make sense nor is it supported by any form of logic.

    Last month in a business to business class at Ryerson University , our professor presented us with the challenge of working in groups of 12 to complete a case study assignment. The group was picked randomly by selecting a letter between A and D.

    Now, anyone who has worked in groups will understand that this was not going to be an easy task.  Many of us have experienced the problems that can arise, for example, when trying to plan a weekend trip, or night out with a group of friends.

    Although they are your friends, these problems usually arise from the mere fact that everyone has their own opinion. If it is a daunting task for a group of friends to agree and work together, imagine the difficulty of having to collaborate and work with twelve strangers. In this group, we were required to do a case study, analyzing the attributing factors behind a struggling corporation. After acknowledging our group and its members we decided to meet up and discuss the case and how we were going to proceed.  From the start of our meeting, one of my group members instantly elected himself as Team leader; which instantly infuriated me. My initial thought was “who does he think he is?”. “Is this guy aware that I have a 3.4 GPA?” Yes, sometimes my cocky side gets the best of me. As he began explaining his direction I slowly started to tune him out and eventually everything else regarding the project. The meeting lasted for about 15 minutes which was completely guided by the one I now refer to as “The Dictator”. At the end of this rally, the objective was to work on the assigned Case Study individually and then meet to discuss our findings within the next few days. In the time it took me to travel from the school to my house, there was an email waiting for me in my inbox with guidelines on how to proceed with “our individual tasks” according to “The Dictator”.

    Our presentation was done the following week and to my amazement it was one of my better presentations. Although we had our part, ‘The Dictator’ led the team. It wasn’t until a day later that I really started to analyze what it was that I didn’t like about ‘The Dictator’.

    Did I hate that he was confident? Was it because he took the leadership role or that he provided guidelines making sure we met the presentation requirements? Could the reason have been that he was on point and I chose to sit back and observe?

    The truth is I didn’t want that responsibility.  So, why did I hate someone who took the initiative? After some deep soul searching, it came to me that this form of hate and resentment is something I’ve done all my life; which was to mask my envy through perpetrating hate. There are many incidences in my life that are examples of this.  I remember how I used to think that people who went to University wasted their time and that anyone could do it if they wanted to until I got in and realized how hard it is to maintain a 3.0 or higher grade point average. I recall laughing at people who worked 40 hour weeks. I used to think that I would never be the chump that had to slave and put my destiny in the hands of someone else’s dream. This philosophy was shattered when reality settled in and I found myself working three jobs in order to pay for school and keep my brother, mother and myself from getting evicted from our way-overpriced apartment.  
    I used to downplay successful actors and musicians because I felt that I could do what they do but better.  Once again reality settled in after attempting to record a song that took 40 takes.

    In my younger cooler days, my focus was getting the latest Ralph Lauren shirt, this desire to be a trendsetter became my life.  I would walk around with a pompous attitude because my outfit was designer from head to toe and I would laugh at those who wore no name.  Later in life, I found out the joke was on me. While I was accumulating debt, they were purchasing their first homes.

    Looking back, the truth became prevalent, I used to mock, laugh and ridicule those who deep down I actually admired.  Maybe we all need to analyze where our hate comes from, why we ridicule and hold resentment towards others.  In examining my life, I realized I was not the only one with this thought process. It was all around me: my parents, my mom in particular used to laugh at other races such as the Chinese and East-Indians because they would have the whole family pick up limited sale items. In high school some of the ruff neck girls used to laugh at the quite, simple, shy to themselves pretty girls because they weren’t as loud as them.  Even my circle of friends thought you were nothing if you did not have the right brand of clothing.

    I spent a lot of years hating and putting people down for their attributes only now being able to realize it was so much easier to not like someone for their gifts, talents or achievements than appreciating them. If I had taken time to acknowledge their existence and treated them equally, I could have gained so much from them.  There is so much to learn from other people’s experiences and viewpoints.  It’s a shame not to approach people with an open mind. It’s usually those you wouldn’t normally associate with who can bring so much to your life.

    I remember reading a book about the Celestine prophecies. Throughout the series of the Celestine novels, it shows that life is a journey. On that journey or path you will meet people who will have bearing on your life. But you must approach them with an open mind because you never know the importance that stranger may have down the road.  When I think about all the people I encountered in my life who I gave cold a shoulder to or approached with a negative mind, all I see were missed opportunities; closed windows towards a better life. I think we need to put a mirror in front of ourselves before we start hating on each other. Perhaps it is time to stop hiding behind the mask called envy and appreciate the gifts and talents of our brothers and sisters as opposed to beating them down.  Lou Holtz, a legendary college football coach of the twentieth century was once quoted as saying “If you burn your neighbour’s house down, it doesn’t make yours look any better.”  It’s interesting how life comes full circle.  Years ago if someone had said this to me it would have had absolutely no bearing on my life.  Now, I’m writing about it to help others see the destruction envy can have on our lives and society.

  • Aroni Awards 2007- The inspiration continues

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    The 2nd annual Aroni Awards continued to channel the spirit of Aron Haile with its message of inspiration and hope. Celebrities such as Farley Flex, “Cabbie” Richards, Divine Brown and Jay Martin all came out to support outstanding youth who embody the spirit of Aron in their lives.

    This year, the Aroni’s acknowledged not only the recipients but also the individuals who helped to support their dreams. In fact, each recipient’s success story had many positive influences in their daily lives. Entrepreneurship Award recipient,  Zaki Tafari of the Young Urban Professionals attributes his success in part to finding the right people; individuals on a similar path who were willing to give back to their community. Zaki also credits the responsibility and respect entrusted in him (as a camp counselor) from an early age in keeping him on the right path.

    Arts award winner Luwam Thomas expressed a similar sentiment and goes one step further in crediting the entire Eritrean community as an integral part in her ongoing success.

    In speaking to many of the award winners, they all agreed that a coach, family member or community member’s un-wavering support gave each of them the opportunity to reach out to his/her community in a positive way.

    Event organizer, Mesfun Haile, is encouraged by the community’s response as well as its continued support. He promises to expand the Aroni awards next year. According to Mesfun, “{quotes}the goal is to make the Aroni’s a two day event with a workshop and career fair{/quotes}, to not only recognize successful individuals but to also impact many more lives.”

    Mesfun and his family are concerned about the consistent negative imagery within our community and see the Aroni awards as an effort to balance these images. Organizers hope that the community will continue to support this effort in order to provide more bursaries and hopefully inspire many more for years to come.


    Other Award recipients for the evening included:
    Danny Fee- Sports Award
    Keegan Allen- Inspire Award
    Agapi Gessesse- Bursary Award
    Babakayode Fatoba- Bursary Award
    Fanieal Abraha- Bursary Award
    Danavan Samuels- Community
    Manifesto Organization- Culture


    For more information visit www.aroniawards.com

  • Does rocking a fro make us more socially conscious than others?

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    I recently watched a natural-haired sista vlog about how annoyed she is with the myth that having natural hair makes one more socially conscious than those who opt out of this. She made this video after perusing websites that she felt were unnecessarily critical of women that chemically altered their natural hair texture. Aside from the comedic delivery of her argument, she was truly on to something: does rocking a fro make us more socially conscious than others?

    It was quite a challenge to find a standard definition of what it means to be socially conscious; however Wikipedia defines social consciousness as “consciousness shared within a society.  To be aware of the problems that different societies and communities face on a day-to-day basis.”  Simplified, we can infer that individuals concerned with the societal implications of their actions are deemed socially conscious.  So let’s dissect this term as it relates to natural hair.  To satisfy this definition, persons with natural hair would opt to use certain products (i.e. they may use fair trade, vegan and/or organic products) and their hair care choices would add some value to the community to which they belong.

    While I cannot speak for others, I do not think that wearing my hair natural has increased my level of social consciousness in comparison to when I chemically straightened my hair.  Let’s face it; I did not stop relaxing my hair because I thought the chemicals used were harmful to the environment.  And if my hair and scalp were strong enough to withstand the effects of sodium hydroxide, I would probably still be relaxing.  Since going natural, I do not necessarily seek out products that are organic or vegan and regrettably I am not always successful in my quest for fair trade products.  In the future, I hope that my life moves in a more socially conscious direction, however I cannot say that this desire was borne out of me wearing my hair natural.

    Another statement that the vlogging sista made was that rocking natural hair “is not that serious” and that it does not make one “more black” than the next sista/brotha.  I totally agree that wearing my hair kinky does not make me more black than my relaxed kin, however I’m somewhat on the fence about it not being that serious.  Personally, wearing my hair in its natural state does not make me want to go out and join the Black Panther movement (or its modern day equivalent).  Yet given the historical context of Afro textured hair, I can sympathize and even empathize with naturals that are attempting to make a statement.  We’ve all been guilty of delighting ourselves in a nappy joke or two, thus perpetuating the idea that Afro textured hair is not acceptable.  So it’s understandable that some natural haired sistas/brothas are adamant when it comes to educating others on the beauty of our hair.

    As I’ve stated in a previous article, I did not go natural because I was trying to start or join a movement.  Moreover, I have chosen to remain natural because I have become comfortable with this standard of beauty.  The life of a relaxed individual simply did not work for me, but I do not think I’m above individuals that choose to chemically alter their hair texture.  That said, we should all do what we do, let others do what they do and let’s all just keep it moving.

  • Disney’s Princess Tiana is representing

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    I love Disney. Who doesn’t? And like most little girls, I had visions of marrying royalty and becoming a princess. This, however, did not seem likely as there really weren’t any Black princesses or so I concluded from watching numerous Disney fairytales. Year after year I waited in total anticipation to identify with one of the princesses that were animated in Disney’s newest feature movie. And year after year I became less surprised when the princess was American, Arabian, Native American, Asian and let’s not forget Princess Nala – of feline decent. After a recent visit to Disney’s website, I’m happy to report that 2009’s The Princess and the Frog will be based on a princess of African American decent. Allow me to introduce you all to Princess Tiana.

    The story is set in the French Quarter of New Orleans.  The prince and the princess are cosmically drawn to each other, despite the fact that he is a frog and she is human.  What happens next?  Your guess is as good as mine, but I sure hope it ends with a happily ever after.  Some of the cast members of The Princess and the Frog include: Anika Noni Rose (Princess Tiana), Jennifer Lewis (Mama Odie, The Fairy Godmother), Terrence Howard (James, Tiana’s father) and Oprah Winfrey (Eudora, Tiana’s mother). The best part about this princess is she rocks a fro.

    Ok, not a total afro but she is a fellow curly girl. Told you all that afro textured is making a comeback!

    My belief and hope is that by illustrating a Black female as a princess will aid in instilling healthy self-esteem in young Black girls and educating all Black females about self acceptance.  I hope that doesn’t sound too revolutionary, but many of us started chemically straightening our hair because that was our idea of beauty.  I’m optimistic that this movie will contribute to including kinky/curly-haired individuals in the universal standard of beauty.

    I also think that young and old Black lads alike can benefit from a new visual of what a classically beautiful, natural sister looks like.   I think this is a great story to ‘urbanize’ as there is something that both sisters and brothers can take from it.  So many Black women complain about the quality of men out there, but this movie may give something to consider.  The underlying message of this story, in part, is to look past someone’s exterior and let the beauty of their soul shine through.

    So, I urge all my single ladies – as my homegirl would say – to go out and ‘start kissing frogs’.  And by kissing frogs, I mean getting to know someone who does not instantly meet all the criteria on your wish list (you know we all have one).  Who knows, one of these ‘frogs’ might just be your Prince Charming.

    Wow, I’m sure Walt’s predecessors had no clue this film would hit such a political cord.

  • The ten reasons I love rocking my fro…

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    My natural hair journey has not been without its obstacles, yet I feel empowered whenever I think about all the wonderful things that come along with rocking my fro.

    Disclaimer: These are my personal thoughts and I am in no way trying to solicit natural hair converts.

    1.      I pride myself on my individuality and I no longer feel like I’m being homogenized in the crowd.  True, the popularity of natural hair has grown in recent years, but with the versatility that natural hair brings us naturals are sure to add our own unique flavour to common hairstyles.

    2.      I am learning so much about both my hair and Afro textured hair in general.  Most ethnic hair stylists are fully versed as it relates to chemically straightened hair, natural hair however is quite a different story.  This realization has forced me to educate myself by researching products, ingredients, tools, salons, etc., something that I never did when I chemically straightened my hair.

    3.      My hair is in the healthiest state than it has ever been.  This is due in part to the research that I’ve done and the hair routine that I’ve created.

    4.      I can use cool lingo like cg method, no poo, acv rinse and bunning.  Seriously, I feel like I’ve been given a key to a secret society where all the members speak in code and have behind door meetings on the philosophy of natural hair.  Oops, I’ve already said too much.

    5.      I don’t worry about getting every strand in place anymore.  In fact, the less uniformed my fro looks, the better.

    6.      The compliments I get about my fro are abundant.  Sounds vain, but we all secretly love attention.

    7.      My Saturdays are MY Saturdays.  That’s right, no more sitting in a crowded poorly ventilated salon, getting shuffled from chair to chair, only to find out that your stylist triple booked and therefore your 9am appointment has now turned into a 12pm lunch & doo.  Whether I choose to sleep in on Saturdays or get an early start and the way my day plays out is now ultimately my choice.

    8.      I feel like my style is more authentic.  I’ve always admired, purchased and worn funky (somewhat odd) pieces of clothing, however my fro tends to give my style a more cohesive flow.

    9.      I workout without even thinking about sweating out my perm or press.  It’s a beautiful thing ladies!  When I used to chemically straighten my hair, I had one more excuse not to hit the gym.  Not anymore though.

    10.  I can walk, run, skip, jump, dance and even sing in the rain sans the umbrella!  Gone are the days when the rain would dictate my every move.  Now, precipitation just brings a smile to my face because I know that I have been FREED.

  • My HoneyFig experience

    One of the things that I’ve found rather challenging with wearing my hair in its natural style is where to shop for natural/curly girl specific products in Toronto. Sure you can always resort to purchasing things online, but in times like these who wants to deal with the exchange rate, shipping charges and duty? I am a self-confessed product junkie and I do not mind purchasing products online from time to time. However, I’m all about local purchases.  So, when I heard that there was a store that offered a variety of product lines that American naturals rave about, I hopped on the train to check it out.

    HoneyFig is nestled in the trendy North York neighbourhood just south of Sheppard on Yonge Street.  Upon entering the store, my disdain for the bitter weather and the two-minute walk from the station had vanished.  I was there on business and nothing was going to distract me from enjoying my date with my hair.  After Courtney, the naturally fly sales associate, had finished assisting another customer, she greeted me with a smile and asked if I was looking for anything in particular.  I was looking for a Jessicurl product that was currently out of stock, however she was gracious enough to hand me a couple of sample packets.  Score!  I love free stuff!

    I then proceeded to browse through other product lines and to my amazement, I saw Oyin Handmade.  I was so happy that I almost did a cartwheel in the store.  If you’ve ever read the product reviews from naturals you’d totally understand where I was coming from.  Not to mention that I had every intention of purchasing the sample pack online once I was able to get over the hefty shipping fee.  Unfortunately, they were also out of stock of the OHM item that I wanted.  Normally this might have put a damper in my spirits, but I was able to test the tester and choose a comparable item from another product line that I was desperate to try.

    I had previously purchased from HoneyFig.com, but the experience of being able to see, touch and test products before committing to the goods is sobering for a product junkie like myself.  Moreover, Courtney had used a lot of the product lines and she shared her experiences and gave her opinion on what might best work with my hair texture.  Before I left, she took my email down and confirmed that they would send out email blitzes when new stock became available.

    HoneyFig currently stocks Blended Beauty, Carol’s Daughter, Curls, Hamadi, Jane Carter, Jessicurl, Kinky-Curly, Miss Jessie’s, Mixed Chicks, Oyin Handmade and many more lines which can be found on their website (www.honeyfig.com).  I would rate my experience as an 8 out of 10.  Friendly and knowledgeable staff member (check), testers and samples available (check, check), convenient location (check) and leaving with an extra spring in my step (check).  Now do not sleep on this one, HoneyFig knows what’s up!

  • Curly Girl 101: Do you “no poo”?

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    No, no, I’m not being fresh, just wanted to enlighten you all with one of my newly discovered curly girl terms.  Chances are, if you are natural, you’ve heard the terms ‘no poo’ and ‘low poo’.  For those of you who are not following, I’ll catch you up.  No poo is a term that was coined by Lorraine Massey who wrote the book “Curly Girl” – the ultimate curl girl’s handbook – it refers to the act of using conditioners to cleanse the scalp as opposed to using shampoos.  Low poo refers to shampooing less frequently and with gentler ingredients.

    The rationale for eliminating shampoos from a curly girl’s routine is that it’s believed that sulfates which are found in most shampoos can be drying on hair, especially on curly hair which is typically more porous and thus drier than the average straight-haired individual.  So, how does one cleanse their scalp without shampoo, you ask?  Massey suggests that washing with conditioner and friction is sufficient enough to clean the scalp as most conditioners contain a mild sulfacant.  The key to this routine is to avoid products containing silcones.  Generally, silcones will cause a build-up that can only be removed with traditional sulfate-based shampoos.

    When I first learned of this method I had to see what all the hype was about.  I must admit that my hair felt more moisturized, but I still experienced build-up. Currently, I’m on a modified curly girl routine; I conditioner-wash my hair three times a week and I use a mild sulfate-free shampoo once every other week.  I have not totally eliminated silicone products, but the silcones found in the products that I use are water-soluble.

    I highly recommend reading “Curly Girl” for both my fellow naturals and for those of you that are searching for answers to combat dry hair.  Pay attention to the ingredient list on products that you purchase and do your research.  Remember to listen to your hair, as no two heads are alike.

    Wishing you all healthy hair vibes!

  • The Curl Ambassadors

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    A couple months back my sister and I visited The Curl Ambassadors to get their illustrious curly-doo.  Now my general policy is to allow only stylists that have firsthand experience with my hair texture to style my hair.  The thing is my hair is…complicated (for lack of better word) and for me the salon is a place of relaxation.  However this salon came highly recommended and the stylist assured me that she had tons of experience with Afro textured hair.

    The salon is located in the colourful downtown neighbourhood known as the Annex.  Upon entering the salon I immediately felt at ease when I noticed that they stocked Carol’s Daughter; ‘they’re down’ I joking told myself.  My sister was not that easily convinced and I had to persuade her to stay for her appointment by reminding her that it would only cost us $15.  I then agreed to go first so my sister would be able to gage her level of confidence in the stylist.

    As I hopped into the chair by the sink I started quizzing the stylist on her knowledge of black hair care (a bit fresh, but this is my hurrr and I loves it).  I was quite impressed with how much she knew about our hair, about my hair.  After washing my hair I was then moved over to the styling station where she laced my hair with Deva products – a product line that I was unfamiliar with at the time.  I was then placed under the dryer for about 40 minutes.  To finish off my curly-doo my stylist then applied a liberal amount of Carol’s Daughter hair oil.  The end result was…a hot mess.  A crunchy, greasy, hot mess!  My fro was greasy and matted, which in my opinion was not a good look for me.  I can joke about it now, but believe me when I tell you I was seriously not feeling the curly-doo.  Having long stalked the picture gallery on Miss Jessie’s website I was kind of hoping to be hooked up with a two-strand twist or something along those lines.  Granted the Miss Jessie hair doos cost some serious chedda, but my hair had truly seen better days and while in my care.

    In contrast, my sister was pleased to know that it was possible to achieve curl definition without having to manipulate her hair too much.  At the end of our session we were each provided with a ‘curl map’, which detailed all of the products that were used in our hair.  I do not regret this experience as if I had bought these products instead I would be out of about $80 plus I would have four practically full products to add to my already sizeable product cemetery.  Although I will not return for another curly-doo, I certainly will not rule them out when I go on my product hauls.  The Curl Ambassadors currently stock Curls, Carol’s Daughter, Deva, JessiCurl, Kinky-Curly, and Mixed Chicks.

  • The Texture of Good Hair

    A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of watching Chris Rock’s Good Hairat the Toronto International Film Festival.  The idea for this comedic documentary was borne out of a question posed by Rock’s daughter Lola, “daddy how come I don’t have good hair?”  This now infamous question leads Rock to reveal the connection that the mean streets of Compton, LA have with a tranquil Hindu temple half way around the world in India.

    So what is good hair? If you have firsthand knowledge of the black experience, then I’m almost certain that you’re no stranger to this phrase.  It is my understanding that good hair refers to straight, longer than average hair that dances in the wind.  In other words, good hair is not an ideal that the average Black female can achieve without the aide of relaxers or hair extensions.  Folks, I do not agree with this definition, just merely relaying the widely held perception.

    I was admittedly a little apprehensive about how much of the Black female culture Rock was going to expose to the world.  I mean, although I no longer chemically straighten my hair, wear weaves or wigs, I’m still old school and I believe some things are better left unsaid.  Luckily, my fears were silenced within the first five minutes of the movie when I realized the subject was to be handled in a good-humored yet honest way. Several Black celebrities (both male and female) sat down with Rock to dialogue about this often clandestine topic.

    As evidenced by the fact that we annually spend billions – yep, BILLIONS – of dollars on hair-related products and services, it goes without saying that hair is a huge part of black culture.  To better understand Black hair, Rock traveled to various salons in the U.S., both to converse with salon-goers and to observe the process that transforms Black hair into the Black woman’s facsimile of good hair.  Additionally, this journey leads him to unearth somewhat of a “hair Mecca” inside an apparently reputable spiritual edifice.

    As a whole, I think Good Hair is almost complete in exploring the contributing factors that have led Black hair to this point in time.  However, in all of the movie’s thoroughness it failed to address one of the likely reasons a child would question the quality of their hair.  Credible research has been done to confirm that a child’s primary role model in their formative years is their same-sex parent.  As such, we can reasonably deduce that when mothers alter their hair by choosing to chemically straighten or by choosing to wear wigs or hair extensions, it sends a message to their little girls.  This message is one of confusion to impressionable youths if they themselves are not also subjected to a similar transformative hair regimen.  Food for thought y’all!

    Despite the comedic undertone of this film, I was left with the impression that we – the Black community – ultimately have the power and choice to redefine good hair.  We have come a long way with accepting the difference in the hues of the skin.  How nice it would be if we could make similar progress with the acceptance of the texture of our hair.

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