Thursday, July 25, 2019

Recognizing the Next Generation of Caribbean Canadian Leadership

It's Caribana season in Toronto, and each year around this time the cultural conversation in the Caribbean-Canadian community is heightened. It is the season of extreme visibility, performance, entertainment options, and tourism. Politicians and other dignitaries circulate, dance, and celebrate, and calypso music is played during television commercials and on news bits. Of course, some members of the community could care less about Caribana and haven't attended the actual festivities since the 90s. Just as there is celebration, there is also criticism and disdain--to ignore this would be unrealistic. It's a festival of great anticipation, and can also be a time of deep resentment. But it's ours, and love it or hate it, it is a time when Caribbean Canadian culture is on full display, and those of us who care often say quick prayers that everything goes smoothly on the surface because the negative repercussions tend to affect us all.

Early last Saturday morning in Malvern, the Junior Carnival took place. It's one of my favourite events in Toronto because I love to see the children and their families gathered together, walking, dancing, enjoying the summer, and doing it with their culture as the centre of it...with hundreds of others. It's a beautiful sight, and one I never tire of.

This is what it feels like to have a culture that you identify with, in a country where you are limited in numbers, and oftentimes limited in political and economic power. This is why paying attention to Toronto's carnival is a past time that I can not outgrow or shake off. I spend about as much time justifying my passion for Caribbean Carnival as I do working towards my individual contributions to the culture: supporting those who participate, writing articles like this to contribute to public discourse, and managing an online portal for costumes, news, and other visuals on Instagram at @CarnivalSpotlight. Each of the books I have written is deeply rooted in the experience of Caribbean-Canadian characters. This is deliberate.

With age, however, and the passage of time, the festival repeatedly takes on new meaning to me. Just as title sponsors and rhetoric surrounding the Toronto Caribbean Carnival changes, so do my personal sentiments. This year in particular, I am focused on leadership in the community and the ways in which Caribbean culture is shared and projected in our Canadian environment.

As my generation of Canadians of Caribbean descent now enter middle age (I was born in 1978), we are naturally forced to analyze the role we as individuals play in how our culture is maintained in Canada. We know what the experience was like for the generation before us to move to Canada from their native islands, separate from their families, and build careers and a foundation here in Canada. We have inherited enough of their Caribbean traditions...enough to realize that the generation that follows may be too far removed from them. While we can remember the "old fashioned" Caribbean values and traditions because we were raised with them, we can definitely see what happens to the youth that grow up the "Canadian way." It's a different outcome, culturally. It manifests in different ways, and we can see it. In some cases, we can feel it.

It's a complicated dilemma, maintaining culture. Especially in a town that is so multicultural that we can all appreciate foods from numerous parts of the world, listen to the native music of a variety of countries, and it's common place to be surrounded by people of all races...and still feel at "home". Canada proudly boasts about our multicultural society, and as Canadians we are expected to embrace the traditions and customs that we come with...and trust that these practices will be understood, appreciated, and communicated the right way. That being said, as members of the Caribbean-Canadian community we have a role to play, and a responsibility to communicate and share our culture with dignity, with honesty, and in a way that will sustain the values and traditions for generations to come.

There are many in Toronto who are dedicated to building community. Keishia Facey and Jamaal Magloire are two individuals that exhibit leadership qualities that I have enjoyed working with over the years, and who have given me opportunities to support their Caribbean-Canadian movements, as well as empower me (and others) to contribute and build with them. In a city like Toronto, our paths will continue to cross based on a common love for community celebration.

It's been a big year for Toronto native, Jamaal Magloire. His Toronto Revellers children's Caribbean carnival group just won the coveted Band of the Year title for their Treasure Island presentation this past weekend in the Toronto Caribbean Carnival's Junior Carnival parade. He has planned two sold out fundraising events ("Escape" and "Quench") in support of his charitable organization the Jamaal Magloire Foundation, and oh yeah...the basketball organization that he's a part of, the Toronto Raptors, also won the NBA Championships.

On any given day, you might run into Jamaal at a mall or local West Indian eatery and have the opportunity to congratulate him. He's accessible, despite his countless accolades, and that is one thing that many of us know just by living in Toronto. If he's not at the mas camp (home of his Toronto Revellers Cultural Association) overseeing plans for the year's carnival parade, he's out at community events on behalf of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE) of which he is a Community Ambassador, or perhaps he's making appearances at basketball programs, the annual "Duck Off" where local chefs compete to see who prepares the best curry duck in town, or you might catch him coaching at the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas, or working out at the Raptors' OVO training facility.

"I love Toronto, and I love the Caribbean community here in particular," said Magloire. "No matter how far I travel, or where my life's work takes me, I love being at home with my community. I love to celebrate with them, and I get so much from spending my summers with the people I have grown up with here. I try my best to share my experiences, and to create experiences that we can all enjoy together."

Accessibility is an important factor in leadership, because we need to know who it is that we are supporting. We need to know what they believe in, what they represent, who they represent, and most importantly, what the leadership has the potential to do for the community in the future.

Jamaal Magloire has been placed in a position of leadership not only in the NBA, of which he's been employed since 2000 when he first joined the Charlotte Hornets after leaving the University of Kentucky Wildcats (1998 national champions). He is now a familiar face within the Toronto Raptors organization, from his role as team captain during the 2011-2012 season when he was the first Canadian-born player to wear a Raptors jersey, to his current role as a part of the coaching staff, where he works as a Basketball Development Consultant. With almost two decades in the league, he is known as someone who has entered, sustained a career that is longer than the average 4.5 years (Magloire played for 12 years), and currently serves the NBA year round.

(c) Caribbean Vibrations
"I have been blessed, and basketball has been such an important factor in my life and how I am able to give back to the community," said Magloire. "For the majority of my life, basketball has been the root of my activities, and this year in particular it has been really humbling to be able to be a part of this moment in basketball history. Being a Community Ambassador for the Raptors, I've also been able to give back on a larger scale, and I appreciate that."

Outside of the NBA, beginning in 2006, he also ran a successful basketball program the Jamaal Magloire Basketball Association, where many of the participants have now moved onto professional post-graduate careers in law, IT, and sports. Interacting with any one of the young men who went through the teachings of JAMBA, according to program administrator Natalie Richardson, they will tell you how influential Magloire and his staff were in guiding their futures in positive directions: physically and academically.

www.JamaalMagloireFoundation.com
Internationally and on the basketball courts he may be known for his NBA affiliations, but there are many parts of Toronto where Magloire is most appreciated for his contributions to the Caribbean culture. Folks from Miami to Port of Spain know that Magloire is a true advocate of his Trinidadian heritage, and supports the elements of this culture to the fullest. You may catch him beating iron in a back corner of a Scarborough sports bar, supporting a Caribbean music festival in Miami, or even making a quick appearance at Caribbean Carnivals from Atlanta to Boston. If Trinidadian people are there: chances are, Magloire may pass through as well. Regardless.

"I've lived in a few different cities, and spent time in many places, but it's true that there's no place like home," said Magloire. "Sometimes home is right here in Toronto, and sometimes home is in another town...but the beauty about Caribbean people, is that no matter what town you are in, that community will always make you feel at home. That's why it's important that our community stays strong, and rooted in the values we were all raised with."

Junior Revellers Victory Parade
When considering the future of Caribbean Canadian leadership, Magloire comes to mind because he is one of very few Canadians from my generation who has been blessed with a range of influence and access. Of course, there have been many legends before him in the Caribbean community in Canada. From athletes like Lennox Lewis or Donovan Bailey, to artists like Lillian Allen and Clifton Joseph. There are politicians and professionals of all categories that represent our Caribbean community well, and we are thankful for their guidance and individual legacies. We look to them for roadmaps and inspiration, naturally.

It was a natural culmination of livelong passions, talents, and community reverence that guided Keishia Facey to establish her business in Ajax, Ontario. When the Riddim Fit Wellness Centre was created, Keishia was working full time as a community worker in a government organization, putting her years of training in social work and psychology to assist community members. A childhood African-Caribbean dancer, her move to Toronto to attend university provided the perfect platform, resources, and energy that Keishia needed to fulfil her calling.

The people. Keishia has always been about the people, and if you have ever taken one of her Riddim Fit dance fitness classes, visited her Wellness Centre (located at 845 Westney Road South in Ajax), or attended one of her children's dance recitals, then you will understand that it is the community that drives her daily efforts to endorse and celebrate wellness.

"I ran my first classes at the Toronto Revellers mas camp years ago," said Keishia. "And as my program grew, so did my vision. The Riddim Fit Wellness Centre was established, I was able to secure my own place of business, I was able to create a children's program, and host events, and really see a lot of my dreams come to life."

Riddim Fit Kids
Her focus: the Caribbean community and women in particular. She has a special place in her heart for the children, and the education system as well. She loves to dance to music of all genres, but prefers to teach in the soulful genres of soca and reggae music. Driven by the sounds of African drumming, the melanin in her growing community of Durham Region, and the opportunities that Riddim Fit has given her thus far, Keishia has recently been celebrated by the annual Durham Caribbean Festival for her work in the area, and rightfully so. Her mission is clear, and has been on an upward trajectory since inception: she is here to ensure that her people are well, and thriving.

"Many people know that I teach fitness classes," said Keishia, who is certified in a range of health specialties. "In addition to fitness piece, I am now working on growing the Wellness aspects of the Centre. We have a lot of great woman, and we are always striving to improve our lives, our bodies, and our minds overall. My hope is that Riddim Fit Wellness Centre can continue to be a great resource for the community, as we each work to maintain a healthy lifestyle balance."

Born and raised in Regina, Saskatchewan, Keishia's family always ensured that her life was richly saturated with the values, traditions, and culture of her parents' Jamaican heritage, and the African-Caribbean diaspora at large. Leaving western Canada at the age of 19 to attend York University, she pursued her Bachelor's degree in the Sociology of Race and Racism, and then went on to also complete a Master's Degree in Public Policy and Administration. Her academic pursuits have always been parallel to her interests in music and movement, and it is just recently that she has been able to set the foundation for all of the elements that Riddim Fit Wellness Centre is composed of.

www.rfwcconsulting.com
The services of Riddim Fit are coordinated to reach all members of the family, to impact their health and wellness in various ways. Starting with school-aged children and the African-Caribbean Dance Education program, which goes straight up to teenage participants, to the dance fitness classes, special Activate fitness classes for seniors, and the RFWC Consulting Services branch of her business. RFWC Consulting specializes in equity/diversity/inclusion training, in addition to research and reporting, policy development, community consultations, and program evaluation.

"The community, and health, and wellness, and programming, it all goes hand in hand," said Keishia. "It's nice to have a space, and a cultural community to belong to whether it's to exercise, to celebrate special occasions, or to learn new practices. The Riddim Fit Wellness Centre has been an amazing tool for me to be able to create and share, and invite others to create and share as well. It's my way of showing love to our community, based in Caribbean traditions and culture, yet embracing our presence in Canada."

In the time that I have known Magloire and Keishia, I have been able to witness the transformation of their organizations, the growth of the communities surrounding them, and the impact that their hard work and planning has made on the Caribbean Canadian youth in particular. Through dance, education, music, and inclusion, they have both created spaces for Caribbean Canadian youth to indulge in the elements of their culture that make us unique, as well as train them in the ways of tradition and expectation that are also important aspects of the culture.

It is important that we communicate, and share the good work that individuals in our community are doing...if we don't, who will? We need to recognize and uplift our peers for the work they do, the sacrifices they make, and the tough decisions and choices that lead them to where they currently stand. It's not easy. It's not easy to lead, and it's not easy to stand above the rest. It's not easy to take criticism, and judgement, to be scrutinized, and held accountable in ways that others may not experience. Leadership is full of challenges, obstacles, and roadblocks. And most of the time, the hardest challenges will come from within the same community you have committed your life to serving.

So as the annual public celebration of Caribbean Canadian culture--the Toronto Carnival festivities--are underway in Toronto, I am always cognisant of the reason for the season, and the people who are putting forth honest efforts to ensure that we are able to celebrate and enjoy one another in ways that are enjoyable for all.

The Caribana is one example, and one particular time of year. The time when the city is the hottest, and the most eyes are turned in our direction. It is the time of year when I check myself, my efforts, my activities, and make sure that the contributions that I personally make to the culture are constructive, are well-intended, and are elements that can be used in the present or future to contribute to the growth and maintenance of the community.

I am thankful for those around me, and even for those I have yet to formally meet, for the time and sacrifices they have made to ensure that our culture is represented and respected. I encourage everyone to uplift and support our Caribbean Canadian brothers and sisters as best as we can, and to check them and challenge then when necessary. We are responsible for one another, and always will be. Whether we are leaders ourselves, or supporters. Volunteers, or business owners. We all have a responsibility to nurture our culture in the right direction, and to protect the elements of Caribbean life and tradition that we have all grown to love.





Written by Stacey Marie Robinson for Kya Publishing's "Urban Toronto Tales" blog.





1 comment:

  1. Thank you Stacey for the acknowledgements and for always being there to support the culture, small businesses and the dreams of countless people. We are grateful for you. I am really honored to be featured in your blog, especially along the likes of Jamaal, who I know is always doing great things in the community. Thank you so very much.

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