Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Basdoee: An Anthology Written For and By Black Canadian Youth

The news reports are buzzing again. There have been multiple murders of black youth under the age of 16 this month in Toronto, and it's bringing issues of identity, support, and responsibility back into the public eye. It hurts. No one wants to see a young person lose their life to violence...but it REALLY hurts us to see one of our young brothers or sisters become another statistic of a problem that's difficult to identify, and even more challenging to solve.

But it's a conversation that needs to be had, so despite the tragedy, I embrace the discussion. I embrace the opportunity for the media, and politicians, and educators, and community members to speak about the circumstances that create violence, and the possibilities of eradicating particular types of activities and stereotypes from the 'black' Canadian experience.

I found a book, through Toronto Public Library's Black History Month recommendations, and it touched my soul. Entitled "Basodee: An Anthology Dedicated to Black Youth," Fiona Raye Clarke did an awesome job writing excerpts, and editing the overall collaborative project with her peers.

This book was written by young Black Canadians essentially FOR young Black Canadians. It is a collection of poetry, short stories, and academic writings on their experience, and giving an "honest portrayal of Canadian-Black relations."

Published in 2012 by General Store Publishing House, Fiona Raye Clarke's goal was to provide an outlet for youth expression, and also to create Black History Month awareness through different forms of writing from Black youth from a variety of ethnic and religious backgrounds, with their own unique perspectives.

The theme was common, however, despite their differences. Understanding. Pride. Progress. Respect. Historical awareness. Preparation. This book resonates with passion and the literary power of communication. The emotions are evident, but the words are carefully presented. This is a product of a conscientious group of Canadian youth, who are using their talents to document their feelings and inspire others.

Fiona Raye Clarke, a University of Toronto graduate (currently pursuing a law degree), has been an active volunteer in Toronto's Black community, as well as a role model for her peers and a dedicated public speaker. Committed to increasing awareness of the the struggles and successes of Black Canadians, she created this book as one of the few collections of its kind.

Starting with a list of key dates in Black Canadian history, from the first African in Canada (Mathieu Da Costa) in 1604, to the announcement of the first Africentric high school in Toronto in 2011, she sets the tone of her book right away: knowing your history, and applying it accordingly.

The foreword was provided by Rosemary Sadlier, the president of the Ontario Black History Society, who has also been dedicated to the exposure of Black History Month materials and enhancing the understanding of the occasion. While both Sadlier and Clarke make it clear that Black History Month is just a small part of the understanding of a wealth of history and knowledge, they both are ensuring that the stories and successes are not lost. They are doing an excellent job keeping the events and accounts of Black Canadian history relevant, accessible, and a part of the contemporary Black Canadian identity and experience.

Clarke chose the word "Basodee,"  from her Trinidadian-native dialect, with a translation "half-conscious and disoriented." Exploring the need for Black Canadian youth to create a sense self, of belonging, and to start a dialogue about experiences (both good and bad), she recognizes issues of police harassment, marginalization in schools, silence in the media, very early in the book. She recognizes why some youth may be disoriented, acknowledges many of the common challenges, and sets the reader up for a journey of exploring the themes and emotions that surround these realities.

Michael Grandsoult's essay on the miseducation of the youth is a factual look at racism in the education system, to academic segregation in Canada, to curriculum disparity, and the subsequent disengagement of youth from schooling.

Clarke continues with her own article on Afrocentrism and marginalization, concluding that the low performance in schools is often directly related to the student's low self esteem, and lack of cultural pride in their educational experience.

In 2008 and 2009 there was plenty media buzz about alternative Africentric schooling through the Toronto District School Board, which was met with mixed reviews in the media and common conversation. With the implementation of the first K-grade 5 school in September of 2009, Clarke--and many others--were proud for this accomplishment, yet acutely aware that this was only one of many strategies that would need to be implemented to see sufficient changes in the youth community and culture at large.

Freddy King and David Delisca offered poetry, Adhimv Stewart offered lyrics, and Somali-Canadian Huda Hassam wrote a letter to herself with reminders like "embrace your contradictions" and "don't apologize for your upbringing," as the book continued on to explore the identity crisis of Black Canadian youth and their coping mechanisms.

Clarke's piece on "How I Became Black" took at look at her particular experience, as she described her journey to self-realization from adolescence to the present time. She explored how one could achieve the internalized "Black" identity as a result of what was referred to as nigrescence, and she also outlined her exposure to various literature, travel, and exploration as she came into her identity.

Issues of transnational identity were also explored, and personalized with an interview with a young lady Bella from Burundi. Clarke followed up with a short story about a school girl in Trinidad named Shelly-Ann who was dealing with her own identity crisis while battling demons of suicide, abuse, and self-hatred.

From poetry, to stories, academic articles, to lyrics, the book stays at an interesting pace by providing so many rich expressions through the words of this group of talented young writers. Phrases like "why does my philosophy deserve any apology" by Danian Walker, and "parts of Toronto were bloated with unfulfilled immigrant dreams" by Tendisai Cornwell were powerful.

Overall, Fiona Raye Clarke did a great job bringing together an eclectic mix of young Black Canadians with strong voices, passionate hearts, and similar goals for progression and understanding. This collection is a great addition to the Black History Month story, with the past and future uniting to make sense of scenarios, and propose intellectual solutions.

It's a step in the right direction of continuing to document our experiences, and share the story of Canada's reality. A great number of cultures--even despite having a similar skin tone--and a great number of challenges, wishes, methods, and goals for inclusiveness and excellence.

Congratulations to Clarke, Tendisai Cromwell, David Delisca, Michael "Mikeraphone" Grandsoult, Bilan Hashi, Huda Hussan, Wendy Hayes, Belkla Galina Ingabire, Freddy King, Yasmine Mathurin, Elias Nabutete, Adhimu "Mindbendfer" Stewart, and Danian Walker for a necessary piece of work.

"Thus, Black Canadians must come together around the commonality of their skin colour and make use of practices such as Black Consciousness to empower themselves in the struggle for racial equality--an ideal that, unfortunately, has not been achieved in the present or past context of multicultural Canada." ~Fiona Raye Clarke

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