On February 27, the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union hosted the Resilience and Resistance Black History Month Conference at Sidney Smith Hall downtown. The conference featured workshops on self-care, privatization of punishment, and present-day blacktivism. Closing remarks and keynote speeches were given by Nompendulo Mkhatshwa and Yusra Khogali Ali.
A similar Black History Month conference was organized by the SCSU in 2014, on the Scarborough campus.
“Rather than solely organizing Black History Month initiatives with Black Student Associations at the Scarborough campus, we reached out to black student organizers and organizations across all three campuses to create this space collectively,” says Jessica Kirk, VP equity at SCSU.
The conference aimed to provide a space so that members of the community could engage in important conversations about topics such as race, gender, class, sexuality, and power and highlight the resources that exist to support the black community. Through workshops and discussions, Kirk hopes that the conference will provide attendees with the necessary tools and resources to be able to take these conversations back to their communities.
The Medium rounded up the highlights of workshops at the conference.
Kayla Carter, a U of T graduate, held a workshop that provided a space of healing for those who identify as black. She discussed the ways in which internalized anti-blackness manifests within individuals’ lives and how they can address that.
Carter posed the question that if you wouldn’t allow someone to come up to you on the street and say the negative things you say to yourself, then why do you allow yourself to? With this question, Carter emphasized the lack of respect that we sometimes have for ourselves. Carter mentioned examples such as not eating all day due to work or not giving oneself a break from work.
When one student commented on her nonstop studying (even over the summer) and her plans to take a semester off, Carter stressed the importance of taking a break. She said that the people who overwork will eventually find themselves burned out, and that we need breaks from work, studies, and relationships to rejuvenate—we owe that to ourselves.
Carter also touched on the ways to unify the various communities that are of the African diaspora, and how they can work to support one another.
Privatization of punishment
Runako Gregg, a legal advisor from the African Canadian Legal Clinic, talked about the prison industrial complex, structural violence on low income black communities, corporate exploitation of prisons, and carding in his workshop.
He began his talk with a video exploring the prison system in the U.S.
Gregg said that America has five percent of the world’s population, but houses 25 percent of the world’s prisoners.
Referring to criticalresistance.org, Gregg explained that the prison industrial complex is a term used to describe “the overlapping interests of government and industry that use surveillance, policing, and imprisonment as solutions to economic, social, and political problems”. He then mentioned that there are private prisons in the U.S. that are owned by corporations, and that there is an incentive to keep these prisons full of prisoners, since it would cost them to have an empty bed.
Several of the workshop attendees argued that when prisoners are finally released, they still don’t have a way to integrate into society, as a charge and even an arrest will remain on their permanent record forever, making prisons a part of the bigger problem.
Attendees also discussed how black people lack access to resources and face issues in employment, housing, and education. “Education tends to be that conduit to social mobility, but if you’re receiving poor education in a poor community, you won’t be able to climb up the socioeconomic ladder,” said Gregg.
As a result, Gregg said that there is a cyclic occurrence of crime in these communities, which lack resources—especially among youth.
As an example of how bad the situation can get for children, Gregg mentioned a phone call that he once received from a mother seeking help because her three-year-old was expelled from school. Gregg’s anecdote was meant to demonstrate that even the education system does not know how to effectively deal with these issues and during the process of addressing them, the system can actually create more problems.
Gregg also commented on how the media pushes images and ideas of criminality among the black community and create fear. There is a recurring stereotype in media that represents people of colour to have a direct association with “blackness” and criminality. According to Gregg, people of African descent who see the media’s portrayal of black people think that this is the way they should act, this is their role in society, and makes it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Near the end of the discussion, Gregg talked about carding. Carding, in brief, he said, is when a police officer stops someone and takes a profile, even when the person has done nothing wrong. Through the efforts of individuals exposing the injustices involved in the practice, the practice is slowly dwindling.
Alexandra Williams, an organizer with Black Lives Matter Toronto, hosted a workshop on Afrofuturism, where she traced various black movements of activism and resistance from the motherland to the slave ship and in Western society.
According to Williams, BLMTO “connects to all parts of the community who live within various margins and works to tap into the creation of sociopolitical revolutionary actions, without causing discomfort and seclusion”.
Today, there are multiple organizations fighting for black people. Williams stressed that it is important to understand that we are standing on the shoulders of people who already did this work in the past. The protests and movements in the present day are different from movements in the past as today we have social media to connect us.
Williams discussed Afrofuturism and said that at the base of Afrofuturism is resistance and revolution. “Political action is performative,” she said. “This form of action is not only meant to catch the eye of the inattentive state (police officers, politicians, government, etc.), but also to communicate among ourselves.”
Forms of action that the BLMTO engages in include spray painting “I can’t breathe” in Dundas Square; chalking stories at Nathan Philip Square; reciting slogans, hymns, songs, and poetry; making banners and posters; and dancing, to name a few. The death of Andrew Loku, a Sudanese refugee who was killed by Toronto Police, is one issue that BLMTO brought light to by protesting on the streets.
The black history month conference partners included UTMSU, U of T Black Students’ Association, the Racialized Students’ Collective, the UTSC African Students’ Association, and the Association of Part-Time Undergraduate Students.