diversity, I'm just sayin'.

Take A Knee

This summer, I worked with a group of teenage ESL students. I remember the first time I taught them our national anthem.

Everyone was ok with what we were doing, except one young woman. I’ll call her Emma.

After we sang “O Canada,”  I had the students work through an anthem-related activity. Once we were done, I couldn’t help but notice that Emma looked downright uncomfortable. While her classmates did other tasks, I took the empty seat beside her. We had a quiet conversation.

Emma was adamant. “An anthem is like a vow…” Technically, I knew she was right. However deep down, a part of me was stunned. Emma went on: she wasn’t from Canada, and didn’t want to disrespect her own country.

I dropped the issue. Days later, though, I had students do an activity that brought our anthem to mind. Once again, Emma was uncomfortable. And I was confused. Her reaction was unlike any that I’d encountered before. As far as I was concerned, Emma didn’t have to take the anthem as anything beyond what it appeared to be: A song.

One day after class, I approached my TA. I told him about Emma. His response?

He wasn’t going to stand in the way of anyone who didn’t want to sing “O Canada”.

Did I mention that my TA was Indigenous?

Instantly, I empathized. In the wake of his reply, it’s almost hilarious how quickly my attitude changed.

Looking back I can’t help but be intrigued. Two different perspectives can reveal so much about the meaning of a piece of music.

For one person, an anthem is a promise–when you sing it, you are declaring your devotion to a country. If you sing the anthem of a country that isn’t yours, you are being disrespectful.

For the other, an anthem can be a symbol of oppression. The first time I was present when a Native student didn’t stand for “O Canada”, I was curious. But I didn’t feel offended.

On one hand, I’m proud to be Canadian. Yet I’m not so proud that I don’t see my nation’s flaws. I understand why our past and present moves some of us to take a stand. Negative reactions to NFL players’ peaceful activism have been very telling.

Why should people be expected to entertain others at the expense of their humanity?

Yes, a national anthem is a song. But it’s more than that. It IS a vow–an expression of devotion and pride. And yet, to those who face injustice, its notes might not sound so sweet.

No one should feel obligated to be comfortable with a system that doesn’t value them. If you have strength and courage enough to protest against injustice, I salute you.

Photo source.

Standard
self care

Your mind matters.

yourmindmatterswilliamstitt

This is Mental Illness Awareness Week (#MIAW2016). I can’t speak about how this week gained its notoriety. However, what I wanted to do is speak a bit about therapy. I’ve attended sessions before. Chances are, I may go again. There’s an awful stigma surrounding it that has to change. I’ve heard people make ignorant comments about it. I also know that others have loved ones who are downright abusive when they dare discuss their weaknesses. Either way, this subject resonates with me.

I want people to think: When you mock people who choose to go to therapy, you’re not demonstrating how resilient you are. You’re showing me that you don’t understand how human beings function. You’re demonstrating your insensitivity.

Just for the record: NO, a person doesn’t have to have a serious illness like schizophrenia to see a therapist. No, her decision to seek help doesn’t mean that she’s an idiot. Nothing is wrong with someone trying to find solutions to their problems by talking to somebody. People have the right to get help when they need it.

In sessions with a good therapist, there’s a sense of freedom. You should feel safe. Ideally you’ll be sharing your thoughts with someone who’s unbiased and willing to listen to your problems. In return, this person will offer you guidance. They won’t try to dictate solutions to your challenges, but help you recognize them. (I know that opinions on therapeutic outcomes vary, but these are mine.)

Let’s talk some more about reactions to mental health intervention. What would you say if a friend tells you she wants to go to counselling? If she decides to share her reasons, I hope you listen. Be open minded. A person who recognizes that they need this kind of help isn’t a fool. They’re vulnerable and brave.

On the other hand, what if someone close to you suggests that you’re the one who needs counselling? I know that you might be surprised at first. You might even be angry. But if this person truly cares about you, I hope that you won’t dismiss them or be judgemental. People who know us well can have an uncanny habit of noticing things that we may overlook. Perhaps your friends have seen changes in you. Maybe you haven’t been yourself in a while.

In the end, your mind matters.

It’s a part of you. It affects the way that you function every second of every day of your life. If you doubt what I’m saying, consider this well-worn analogy: Why is it so easy to seek medical attention if we break a bone? Meanwhile, if we feel a sadness or anger that doesn’t leave, some of us are told to do nothing, or think we’re supposed to just magically push it away.

Lastly, I think we should also pay attention to what I call behaviour blocks. (I don’t know what the proper term is.) I’ve seen situations where Person A’s attitude may affects the way he interacts with Person B. Person B may think Person A is being unreasonable. Maybe he is or isn’t. But please. Don’t be so committed to being right that you won’t listen to another person when they try to point out how they feel around you. Be open to intervention—especially if it will change your relationship for the better.

We are more than mere flesh and bone. Our thoughts really, truly have the power to hurt or heal ourselves–and others.    

Photo by William Stitt on Unsplash.

Standard
self care

Self-care? Self aware.

Well, guys, I’ve finally made a decision. I’m gonna start talking with you a bit about my struggles with self-care. Over the years I’ve come to realize that it’s something I truly need.

A recent edition of Chivon John’s #sidehustlechat focused on this subject. She asked us an important question: “Self-care has a different meaning for everyone. What is your definition of self-care?” I offered up a short, vague idea of what it meant to me. I even had the cojones to talk about taking “true” care of myself. And in return she asked


trueselfcareq

After that, Chivon and another chat participant (Hey, HecticDad!) encouraged me to share my thoughts. I’ve wanted to do so before, but hesitated. Now, I don’t know what’s come over me lately, but here we are.

“Self-care” is a pretty well-worn buzzword. I can’t tell you what to do about your journey. But what I can do is share why I’m investing in mine.

First there’s the matter of self-preservation. The fact is, women in my family age well. I’m at the halfway point in my life, and I feel as though I’m in bloom. Also, I’m in the process of rebooting my existence. I need energy and strength so that I can live through what’s ahead.

Speaking of “what’s ahead”, I’d also like to help build a better world. I’ve been talking about going back to work in education. If ever there was a career that demanded all of you as a human being, it’s teaching. I took horrible care of myself during my first go ‘round. I can’t afford to do that again. It’s bad for me—and my students.

Lastly, directly tied into improving the world, there’s the idea of service. Whether you’re teaching, cooking, singing, parenting—you name it—you can’t serve others effectively if you’re in pieces.

Overall, I’m learning that the greatest key to success lies in honouring my God-given self—body, mind, and soul.

I’m no guru. I’m just a regular woman. And I’ll admit it. I have fewer obligations than most: I’m single and I have no children. However I know that people with a variety of responsibilities can benefit from investing in themselves. I’ve heard them preach it, and I believe it! The more I work at self-care, the more I look forward to seeing what happens.

What are you doing to take care of yourself?

Standard
education station

So I Think I Can Teach.

Still. In spite of everything. In spite of being an overly-sensitive dreamer.

It’s been a couple of years since I’ve worked for  my local school board. In that time I swore I was done with working in education for good. If only I’d known that this week my Little Demon Chickens would have come home to roost.

I remember when I first graduated from teachers’ college in 2005. I was naive. I was also incredibly in love with education as a profession. I applied repeatedly to various school boards but to no avail.

Over the years, teaching broke my heart again and again. I began in the realm of substitute teaching. Although qualified at the Intermediate/Senior level, I never really felt equipped to deal with jaded teenagers—I simply didn’t think I wasn’t strong enough. There was the odd unprofessional colleague who was nasty enough to put me off of my game. And worst of all, in spite of the hope I had after working on one brief contract, I couldn’t secure a permanent position.

The possibility of working overseas beckoned to me. In fact, it still does. But I kept telling myself that I wanted to to work at home. That hasn’t changed.

Nevertheless as I said, I wasn’t getting anywhere. So I left the insecure pastures of substitute work for good in 2013.

I went to Toronto and studied television for a year. After that I returned home, to nothing.

Well…Not exactly nothing.

I’ve done some temp work, and a bit of freelance writing. I’ve recorded a few podcast episodes. Still, I haven’t hustled as hard as I should.

I’m not yet the woman that I want to be.

Something’s been missing.

And so, on the morning of a Wednesday that was already off to a craptastic start, I watched this:

The speaker, Jameelah Gamble, is a professional educator and television host. She works with children who have special needs. Around eleven minutes in, I broke into tears and had an epiphany.

In spite of everything, I still want to teach.

When I first graduated from teachers’ college, I felt unstoppable. My fellow classmates and I were in a cohort devoted to diversity and social justice. We joked about wearing a symbol on our chests like a bunch of educational superheroes.

And then reality hit.

No one told us what the teachers’ job market is really like. For some reason after I left OISE, I thought there’d be a position waiting for me at the end of my pedagogical rainbow. Boy was I wrong.

Back then, nepotism was the name of the game. Teaching jobs were widely advertised, yet the majority of administrators hired educators that they or their colleagues already knew. Never mind a rookie’s skills. If you baked Ms. Stevens’ kids cookies and had your OCT certification, chances are, you were in.

Since then, just as I exited the system, the pendulum swung in the opposite direction. Regulation 274 was created to ensure that teachers were hired due to seniority. Right now I’ll admit I wonder how effective it’s been. (I have the feeling that certain school boards find ways to circumvent this policy.)

Nevertheless, in 2013, leaving teaching felt like the next logical step in my life. What point was there in trying to participate in a profession where I clearly wasn’t wanted?

And yet, in spite of all of this, Ms. Gamble brought me back to the single reason that I thought I could be a teacher.

Love.

I love helping people learn—regardless of age. I want them to have faith in themselves, no matter what their circumstances may be. It breaks my heart to see humans lose hope. I may not be a parent, but I had hoped to influence the next generation for the better one way, or another.

Meanwhile, I know why I walked away. I’ve been wrestling with the words to explain the ways that I was challenged. It’s been a long time since I first tried to teach, but I think my soul is ready. Stay tuned.

Standard
Books

Idea: BlackGirlMagic Syllabus

I’m in a season of self-appreciation. As a part of my self-care routine, I know that I need to take care of my mind. And as a Black, female writer, I believe one of the greatest gifts I can give myself is a commitment to reading more books that are by or about* Black women. One night last week it hit me: I need to start a #BlackGirlMagic Syllabus.

blackgirlmagicsyllabus
I’m sure this isn’t an original idea. Tons of people read authors who share their background all the time. But as I get closer to myself, I know this is something that I need to keep up. The words of other Black women soothe my spirit.
This little idea of mine almost makes me wonder. Is there a mode of therapy out there called Healing Through Literature?
What sort of books speak to your soul?
*When it comes to diverse books, I know a writer’s approach is critical. Right now I’m reading Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older—an author that I trust.
Standard
Books, losing my religion

Books: Brazen

brazen-cover-sept-12-2016I remember when I first read Brazen. After an evening out, my copy was at home waiting for me. Earlier, I’d gone to Paris Lectures–an event where I’d shared some of my dreams in front of a hometown crowd. Since then, I’ve paid close attention to my struggle to keep my aspirations alive.

Overall, Brazen focuses on the impact that self-doubt can have on us as we pursue our goals. It takes faith to beat a doubtful spirit: Our passions are a gift. We need to cultivate them.

In Brazen, the author explores the connection between our dreams and the ways that we view and receive God in our lives.

This book may not be for everyone. Fundamentalists probably won’t like the author’s easygoing tone, or the fact that she mentions yoga. They may even hate that her book is interactive, complete with exercises involving a Brazen Board (the author’s version of a vision board) at the end of each chapter.

While reading Brazen, I frequently stopped to underline passages. I enjoyed scrawling page numbers at the back of the book, knowing that I would look at them later on. The author offers her readers many rare gems. For instance: One of Brazen’s chapters contains a good, solid word about clutter and self-care. I’d never thought about those two issues related quite in the way the author explained them. Quite honestly, those pages alone would have made Brazen worth its price if I hadn’t gotten my copy for free.

As far as I’m concerned, Brazen’s author did her job. In this life, you need to be Brazen and honest about what you want. The best way to do that is by being your most authentic, God-given self.

Disclosure: Brazen has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.

 

Standard
self care

Open?

Open?

How open are you to life’s possibilities? I mean really, truly open.

As I write this, I realize I haven’t been. I thought I was earlier this year. A few months ago, I finally convinced myself that it would be in my best interest to accept my circumstances. (Currently, things aren’t quite as they should be…Or is it, as I think they ought to be?) Meanwhile, I realize that deep down I haven’t been willing to let go.

These days I’m trying to cultivate my ability to both accept what is and remain hopeful about the future. And even then, beyond my desires, I know that there is more. There is that which I can’t see–what God has in store for me.

For instance, to this day I think that my ultimate work/life destination is Toronto. Then I saw this in Lilly Singh’s Instagram.

Being a well-rounded individual is admirable. It means you have many skills, adapt well to situations & your shape resembles a pizza. What’s not to love? But it’s naive to think that you are a well-rounded person if you’ve only ever experienced the world from your house, with your family and in your city. What you know is very little compared to all that is actually out there in different places, occupied by different people, who are submersed in a completely different culture. I believe that wisdom is a passport full of stamps. Every single time I’ve traveled, I’ve been both astonished and embarrassed by my own ignorance, but I’ve also realized it’s not completely my fault! I’ve been taught certain things throughout my life that I’ve labeled as “normal” and so have you. Traveling is the best way to discover that “normal” is subjective and everything you think is the standard, is actually just an opinion. For example, did you know it’s illegal to sell gum in Singapore? Did you know in the Rastafarian religion, make up on girls is considered unattractive? Yeah. Imagine never having to wing your liner because THAT is the hot thing to do. Sign me up. Twice. The world is a classroom and you should make every effort to attend as many classes as possible. I highly encourage you to save up a little every month and put that money towards travelling to new places and learning new things. Let the globe burst your bubble, disrupt your sense of reality & put your learned thought-process to the test. Personally, travelling has helped me be less judgemental, open to new ideas & a really great story teller because who doesn’t want to hear about how awesome the Pad Thai is in Thailand?! No one. The answer is no one. If people don’t want to hear about food, they’re bad friends…and probably robots. Having said that, I’ve decided to travel as much as possible before the manuscript for my book is due. I’ll be writing the rest of my book in Italy, Toronto, Brazil, Kenya and Singapore (while chewing NO gum). You can pre-order my debut book “How To Be a Bawse” right now at LillySinghBook.com or by clicking the link in my bio. Tag 3 friends you want to travel with! #BawseBook

A post shared by Lilly Singh (@iisuperwomanii) on

Her words reminded me of how narrow our vision can become. That’s when I thought

Why Toronto? Why not the world?

A long-lost cousin of mine recently asked me,”Do you travel?”

Those words sparked my imagination. The truth is that I haven’t travelled. Or at least, not as much as I think I should have.

But this is not a post about my adventures. It’s about tasting and seeing what life has to offer.

Possibilities are everywhere, and they’re endless.

Understanding this can be tricky. While I enjoy being specific in my desires, I realize that sometimes in doing so, I risk limiting myself. I need to be ready to embrace what comes, regardless of where it’s from, or where it leads.

What about you?

 

Photo by Finn Hackshaw

Standard
Caribbean Culture, diversity, Film, Profiles

Coming Soon!: CaribbeanTales International Film Festival

Caribana may have finished, but in Toronto, the celebration of Caribbean culture isn’t over. The city is home to CaribbeanTales, an organization devoted to sharing stories from people of the Caribbean diaspora. The CaribbeanTales International Film Festival begins in September, and runs from the 7th to the 17th of the month.

CTFF-Logo-LARGE

A few days ago I spoke with its founder, Frances-Anne Solomon. Ms. Solomon is an award-winning filmmaker of Caribbean heritage. A writer, producer and director in film, TV, Radio and New Media, her career includes a 13-year tenure in England with the BBC as a Television Drama Producer and Executive Producer. In 2000, she returned to Toronto where she continued to create her own projects, and in 2001 she successfully launch the first CaribbeanTales project.

Today, CaribbeanTales has grown into the CaribbeanTales Media Group — companies that produce, market and sell Caribbean-themed audio-visual content across the globe.

FrancesAnne-JohnReid

Frances-Anne Solomon and John Reid of Flow, CaribbeanTales’ leading partner.

Frances-Anne Solomon’s passion for telling Caribbean people’s stories is palpable. Listen to her speech from the launch of this year’s Festival.

 

Ms. Solomon’s words left me feeling energized, and eager to preserve my cultural roots.

Our chat began with her revealing what sparked her interest in film, as well as the story of CaribbeanTales.

When I was growing up in Trinidad there were no stories about me anywhere. We learned about the kings and queens of England and history, and we learned about Shakespeare and Jane Eyre…I had to become an adult before I learned about slavery. It was only much later that I realized that we resisted slavery—that we had this incredible journey as Caribbean people coming from all over the world, and it really transformed my life.

I remember learning this from a therapist: If you see yourself as a victim or you don’t have a sense of the beginning of the story, then that determines the ending. Whether there’s a happy ending or a tragic ending has a lot to do with how the narrative is perceived.

I became passionately interested in storytelling and I was drawn to film. Then I worked at the BBC for many years. I got to see how the developed world could have an organization that created, produced, marketed, and sold to a rapt audience its own stories about themselves. I saw how that created national pride and individual pride—a concept of empire and power. I really felt that we in the Caribbean needed to have those sort of narratives, and mechanisms for the transmission of those narratives folded into our culture.

In 2001 after I left the BBC I started CaribbeanTales with that goal of creating an organization that would create, produce, market, and sell Caribbean stories, of Caribbean people—Caribbean narratives of all kind.

Originally we were making programs, and in 2006 we started the festival because programs we were making were not getting seen.

In 2010 we started CaribbeanTales Worldwide Distribution. I realized it wasn’t enough to make films and show films, it was also necessary to be able to sell them, so that we as filmmakers and storytellers could have sustainable careers.

Then in 2013, we started our online platform: CaribbeanTales TV. We also have an incubator program which is a hub of development and production.

Now the whole project has is beginning to take off, and that’s very exciting.

 

Twenty-sixteen marks the festival’s 11th year. How has your vision for CaribbeanTales evolved?

My journey has been very much one of an individual—from being a story-teller, and a filmmaker to being someone who is interested in creating and changing the world—to provide a kind of essential service for people in our region, so that our stories would have a way to be made, distributed, seen, exchanged, and monetized, in a sustainable way. That has been an evolution for me from being an artist—somebody who has a passion to tell and see stories that touch me.

I think being part of a global movement, our stories matter. And that is not just personal—it’s political, it’s economic, it’s logistic. And it’s ultimately transformational.

 

What’s on its horizon for Caribbean tales?

More.

I think the global climate has changed, with the advent of the Black Lives Matter movement. It’s very inspiring to see young people taking up the torch that our ancestors in the Black Power movement from the 60s and 70s and the Civil Rights movement have carried—picking that up and kind of saying “Enough now, we need equal rights. This is a human rights issue…”

That has changed the narrative.

Also, #OscarsSoWhite has really thrown a light on the lack of representation of women and people of colour in the global landscape. That has a resonance in terms of us telling stories in the third world so that the narrative is different. There are opportunities now that I feel are ripe for the picking; we’re very excited for the future.

 

I understand that this year’s theme is Caribbean Love. Could you please share some of your thoughts on the subject and the ways it’s explored throughout the CaribbeanTales Festival?

This year, we felt that a lot of our history as Caribbean people and people of colour internationally, has been one of brutality, violence, and exploitation. It’s really important for us to acknowledge that at the end of the day it is love that has allowed us to survive and continue to connect with each other. Love, in a way, is the answer. We need to remind each other constantly that through love it is possible to heal, grow, and build.

Under the CaribbeanLove banner, our opening night gala, Diary of a Badman, focuses on women of colour creators.

We always do a focus on Trinidad and Tobago; I come from Trinidad and there’s a lot of amazing work coming out of there now. This year’s evening is called Trinibego to the Bone, about Carnival and different cultural events.

In Migrant Tales, we look at diasporic stories of Caribbean people—those of us who come from the Caribbean and live abroad permanently. A lot of people people call it “immigration” and “migration”, but I like to use the word, “expat”. We do come from somewhere, and that identity is important.

Then we have Love Thy Neighbour, which is a night when we look at a lot of dark history: we look at drug trafficking, abusive behaviour, different mental disorders, even possession—a lot of darker themes. The overall theme of this night is, “How do we look past this? What is the way to show sympathy to the darker elements of society?”

Then we have LGBT Love. It’s been our commitment every year for the past 5 years to throw a light on voices from the LGBT community across the Caribbean. For us, queer rights are human rights.

And then, Revolutionary Love showcases five short films about Black Canadian activists.

We have a strand called #BlackLoveMatters, which is a twist on #BlackLivesMatter, focusing on the power of love to heal Black people. Its focus is on Black love within families, specifically fathers and sons, mothers and children—those love relationships and what they mean to our community.

Animated Love is our animation night. We have a whole feature which is about struggles for emancipation.

Our closing night is Walk Good, which is focusing on a number of Jamaican films and celebrating Jamaican culture—both music and religion.

 

CineFAM, a word from Haitian creole meaning “films by women”, is an initiative designed to support women of colour creators.

In addition to the material from your opening night, you’ve also launched CineFAM. Could you share some of your thoughts on the importance of women as creators within the Black community?

As a woman of colour creator myself, that’s the area that has been the most difficult to get support and build a career because women’s work is invisible, and women, due to sexism are excluded from being creative leaders. We’re not allowed to do that. We can be supportive. We can be the power behind the man, but we cannot stand up and say “I am a woman creator.”

I think fundamentally it has to do with sexism. We don’t get support as creators—women of colour. And it’s that point, where racism and sexism meet, that has totally destroyed our ability to be seen as the incredible creators that we are. Meanwhile, quite often if you look at the work that women are doing in terms of creating community and creating business and creating the world, it’s unbelievable. Women are powerful.

We have some great examples in our community of women who are able to break through, like Ava DuVernay and Amma Asante. There are also women in other areas as well. Incredible role models for us.

I wanted to, first, create awareness of the power of women creators—the extraordinary talent of women of colour creators, and also create a network for women of colour creators. I feel this area is the one place where we don’t get support.

 

If someone could only see one film at the CaribbeanTales festival, what would it be, and why?

I think I’d say 50 years of Black Activism, because it features 5 incredible stories of people in the Canadian landscape who have really made a difference. They’re completely unknown to the wider community, but they’re amazing people. Each one of these films is written and directed by a Black woman, and the executive producer is a Black woman, and the originator of the project—Akua Benjamin, who is an incredible leader—is also a Black woman.

Just on its own, that project stands as a testimony to the power of women as creators, leaders—powerhouses in documenting, in acknowledging, in creating, in producing, in breaking ground, and changing the narrative.

 

How would you like your audience to feel after their experience at the festival?

Inspired, powerful, and connected: Our life, our love, our festival.

 

For further information on the CaribbeanTales International Film Festival, including its scheduled screenings, be sure to visit their web site

Standard