Local Black History Makers
LAURA MAE LINDO IS A POLITICIAN
Laura Mae Lindo represents the electoral district of Kitchener Centre as a member of the Ontario New Democratic Party. She is the niece of former Ontario MPP and Speaker Alvin Curling. Prior to her election, she worked as Director of Diversity and Equity at Wilfrid Laurier University. She has three children, and holds a PhD in Education from York University.
Lindo currently serves as a Member of the Standing Committee on Regulations and Private Bills, and as Critic for Citizenship and Immigration Services and Critic for Anti-Racism.
She is part of Ontario's first-ever Black Caucus, alongside colleagues Rima Berns-McGown, Faisal Hassan, Jill Andrew and Kevin Yarde.
The article below was published before her election:
Laura Mae Lindo
As a mother of a 2.5 year-old Black boy, I cannot help but worry about what the future will hold for him too if we do not learn to take seriously the fear that many Black communities grapple with each day.
It was May 2015 and I had just come back home to Kitchener after an amazing conference held by the Canadian Association for the Prevention of Discrimination and Harassment in Higher Education (CAPDHHE), featuring a keynote address by the one and only Angela Davis. It was the power of her words and the strength of her convictions that moved me most. She had spent a lifetime fighting for Black communities to be truly free – to build a world where Black lives truly mattered (although this movement had been one of another name when she first began her grassroots organizing).
When I arrived home, a flurry of excitement greeted me. Having been away from my husband and three kids for four days to attend the conference, I was overflowing with ideas and learning and teachings that I wanted to share. Throwing my luggage down, I quickly pulled out my computer, and searched YouTube for videos of Angela Davis speeches. It was not long before my family was as excited as I was. One daughter asked to watch Malcolm X and another asked to see the Rosa Parks movie. That night we stayed up late, watching both and reflecting on what it meant to be Black in the world… to be Black in Canada… to be Black in Ontario.
That week, one of my daughters shared her excitement about watching Malcolm X as a family during circle time at her school.
She was told that stories like that didn't belong in the classroom.
She was told that racism no longer existed.
She was told that talking about racism was hateful and that the classroom was a place of love.
For three days my daughter kept this experience to herself. When she finally disclosed to me what had happened, she was absolutely crushed.
"Why doesn't my teacher like me," she asked, tears streaming down her cheeks. She told me that she was proud of being Black, and that she wanted others to know that people like Malcolm X worked hard to end racism.
So what had gone wrong? Why had my daughter been shut down in the classroom?
And with that, my journey began to find out what was at root of the decision to exclude my daughter's experiences of being Black from the day-to-day classroom discussions.
I spoke with the teacher, the Vice Principal and the Principal. My academic background helped me to navigate this difficult dialogue. With a PhD in Education, I was able to speak to the school about more than just my daughter. I spoke with them about pedagogy and the need to use classroom spaces to encourage open and honest discussions about different lived experiences among the students. I voiced my understanding that some educators were scared of facilitating these open discussions, but suggested that the impact of the approach taken to shy away from questions about race and racism was far too harmful to not commit ourselves to learning how to step into our discomfort and use our power as an educator in the classroom to talk about racism.
As a mother of a two-and-a-half-year-old Black boy, I cannot help but worry about what the future will hold for him too if we do not learn to take seriously the fear that many Black communities grapple with each day. Will he experience the fear of being presumed guilty when he walks home from grabbing Skittles from the store? Will he be presumed guilty when he's driving his car? When he's trying to protect a client at work? When he's trying to cross the street? When he's trying to read a book after a long day at work? Who will be there to help him if we remain unwilling to talk openly about the nature of anti-Black racism?
I believe that our government can serve as a model of what these conversations can look like. I also believe that we can do better… that we must do better. Our lives and the lives of our children and our children's children depend on it.
So, on June 22, I sought and won the nomination to be the next NDP candidate for Kitchener Centre. I chose the NDP because they are the only party to consistently name the oppressive forces that bind us. They have given me new tools to work with, and I am truly grateful to them for their courageous work. In this new arena, I can use my voice to address racism or sexism (or any other "-ism" or "phobia") not only by showing how it operates in our current system, but also by working with others to build a truly inclusive community – one where no matter our race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity or abilities, we can truly call home.
Laura Mae Lindo is an educator who has a broad vision of where "education" can happen. For that reason, she is taking a leap of faith, and entering the political arena in order to continue her journey to continue to envision and build a more inclusive world, one community at a time.
Teneile Warren is an African Cultures Competency Navigator and Equity and Inclusion Educator. Her work centres around the advancement of racialized communities with a particular focus on African, Caribbean and Black immigrant communities. She lives by and works from an anti-racist and anti-oppression framework. In her current role at Community Justice Initiatives, Teneile coordinates the Stride Fresh Start Foundations program that seeks to eliminate barriers to meaningful employment for women with criminalised backgrounds. She also supports the Restorative Schools’ project that’s focus is fostering a restorative school practice in the Waterloo Region. Teneile has developed training workshops in Conflict Mediation for African Diaspora communities, Language Privilege, Identity and Oppression in White Education Systems, Conflict Coaching for Black Parents etc.
Beyond her professional work, Teneile is a Produced Playwright, Published Poet and Award-winning Chef. As an artist, she has observed that food and art are often misappropriated and improperly used as tools of community inclusion. Her writing and food are social commentary pieces that intersect with her own identities. Her creative writing and theatre practices are applied to her work. Teneile is a Black, Lesbian, Jamaican Immigrant to Turtle Island. Teneile is a contributing writer and editorial assistant for ByBlacks.com, a member of the Black Brilliance Advisory Board to the WRDSB, the City of Kitchener’s Taskforce on Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, and the editorial team for Textile Magazine. She holds a BA (Honours) in Media and Communications from the University of the West Indies and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Guelph.
She resides in Kitchener with her wife, Rebecca and their three fur babies. They are eagerly awaiting the arrival of the first human baby to the family.
Erased No More: This Project Is Documenting Canada's Black Indigenous History
“African diasporic people have been exploring the oceans long before Europeans and as such, Indigenous and Black people interacted long before European contact. Indigenous and African diasporic peoples exchanged in trade. They exchanged goods, cultures, and customs. We know this from the archeological record that can connect Egypt and other parts of the African continent to South America, and North America. We need to know and understand our history, from our perspective and not from a limited white-settler perspective,” says Ciann Wilson, Assistant Professor in Community Psychology at Wilfrid Laurier University and Principal Investigator for the Proclaiming Our Roots project. “When we leave our education of ourselves and our past to the deeply entrenched lies and revisionist history colonists tell and re-tell, we are bound to the limits of their version of our humanity and our possible futures,” says Ciann.
The Proclaiming Our Roots project is intended to include the history of mixed Indigenous and Black people into the larger dialogue of Indigenous history and contemporary reality in the Canadian nation-state. Two of the project leads, Ciann Wilson and Denise Baldwin, had many conversations about the relationship between, and similarities of Black and Indigenous communities before joining forces for this project. Denise Baldwin, who is a Black-Anishinaabe Kwe citizen from the Chippewa's of Nawash First Nation in Ontario knew that the conversation about Black-Indigenous people deserved a public platform in national discourse in Canada. Having both worked in support of Black and Indigenous communities for over twenty years combined, Denise and Ciann identified a pattern of the silencing and lack of acknowledgment of Black-Indigenous Canadian history.
"The inspiration for this project was Indigenous-Black people not having a place in the larger Canadian consciousness and national dialogue of indigeneity in Canada. We wanted to create that space, and we wanted to use arts-based processes to engage folks and use artspace approaches to do the work," says Ciann.
The Proclaiming Our Roots project is a digital oral history archive that creates space for the personal videos stories which depict the stories of Canadian Black- Indigenous people and their history. The participants are from all over Canada, with diverse Indigenous (i.e. First Nations, Inuit, and Metis) and African-diasporic (i.e. continental African, Caribbean, and Black-Canadian) backgrounds and identities.
Denise Baldwin also created a digital story in the project.
In her digital story, Denise recounts her family history as a story to her son, sharing that she is the youngest of nine children, born just outside of a reserve in Ontario. Denise says she lived most of her life in a small white town. Her parents met and married in 1957 in Toronto. Denise’s mom is Indigenous, and of Metis ancestry and left the reserve when she was ten years old. Denise’s’ father lived on his own in Toronto from the age of fourteen. Denise’s father is a fifth-generation Black Canadian, with roots from the United States and the continent of Africa. Denise’s great grandparents escaped slavery in the U.S and found refuge on Canadian soil.
Ciann notes that “We (people Indigenous to North America, and/or Africa) have always been telling our stories through the arts. Now we are using the technology available to us, to do what we have always done. Culture evolves and adapts, and what is innate to us will always find a place in our society. Our ability to adapt, while still holding onto the stories of our past, the stories that make us who we are, is integral to how we have managed to survive despite all of the attempts to exterminate us through colonial violence.”
The impact of the program has been transformative for many of the participants, as well as the community. "One participant could not read very well as the Canadian educational system had failed him as it is riddled with racism, marginalization, and oppression for Black and Brown students. The participant had not completed high school, but since participating in the Proclaiming Our Roots project, he was encouraged to go back to school and completed his high school education. Another participant is in the planning stages of founding the first Indigenous- Black reserve in Canada. He can trace his roots back thousands of years. There are these are policy-level changes and shifts happening as the after-effect implications as a result of the will of the people who took part in the Proclaiming Our Roots projects,” says Ciann.
Another topic the project addresses is the definition of Indigenous. The project is aimed at honouring the histories, realities, stories, and experiences of people who are of African diasporic and Indigenous ancestry, and who reside on Turtle Island.
"Some Indigenous people define Turtle Island to include North America, the Caribbean, and Mexico and that is what Proclaiming Our Roots aligns with. Some people only consider North America as Turtle Island. In Canada, there are over five hundred Indigenous nations and fifty-three Indigenous languages. The spectrum of self-identified Indigenous people is vast, but there is intentional differentiation between Indigenous people from the North versus the South, and that is a notion that needs to be unpacked.”
Ciann said she considered the North-South distinction to be geopolitical, which creates another avenue to exclude some Indigenous people over others. "The terminology has deep historical and cultural roots and opposes and challenges narrow definitions of Indigeneity," says Ciann.
“While we are talking about truth and reconciliation for Indigenous people, we have to ask where is the place of Indigenous- Black people, who have a complex history that has been predominantly erased due to anti-black racism that is so prevalent in Canadian society?” asks Ciann.
The next step for the Proclaiming Our Roots project is securing funding for their phase two program. This phase will consist of supporting participants to learn the methodology of creating digital stories so they can carry on the practice within their communities. "It’s a train- the- trainer model that two of the amazing Indigenous-Black Ph.D. students I work with, Ann Marie Beals and Kayla Webber, thought of. We want to facilitate learning the approach of digital storytelling, so the participants are empowered with new transferable skills. Whether we can continue to receive funding or not, people can continue this important work for their self-identities, communities, and upcoming future generations," says Ciann.
Kezia Royer Burkett is a creative freelance writer with a degree in communications and multimedia from McMaster University. When she is not writing she is finding inspiration living life, raising her son and spending time with friends and family.
Priscilla Muzira is a local hero in both Wellington and Waterloo.
The Cambridge resident, originally from Zimbabwe, earned a degree in Sociology at the University of Guelph, then studied Addictions and Community Services at Everest College. While attending Everest, Priscilla volunteered at HIV/AIDS Resources and Community Health (ARCH) in Guelph, and then had a student placement with the agency.
After graduation she was hired to work at both ARCH and the AIDS Committee of Cambridge, Kitchener, Waterloo and Area (ACCKWA), spending one day each week at ARCH and the remaining four days with ACCKWA.
Priscilla is the African and Caribbean Community Coordinator for these agencies. “My role is to support people living with HIV and to reduce the stigma that they experience within and outside of their own communities. I work with community partners and with service users,” she explains.
She finds it surprising – maybe even a little puzzling – that so many people are uneducated about HIV. Much has changed since people first became aware of HIV and AIDS in the 1980s. As Priscilla says: “Now we have good medications and people are living lives of normal length. It’s not a death sentence any more. But it is still taboo in many communities, especially Black communities. Because of that stigma, people feel they can’t talk about their HIV status and can’t get support from their communities.”
Fighting this lack of information is a major part of Priscilla’s work. She works with faith leaders from the Black community, asking for opportunities to talk to their community members. “It’s challenging, because many of them do not want to discuss these issues,” she acknowledges.
As well, Priscilla attends community festivals such as Bring on the Sunshine to talk to people and share information. She distributes condoms to Black business owners and encourages them to give them to their customers, and engages with other Black community organizations.
She also works directly with service users, helping to facilitate support groups for people living with HIV, and a woman’s social group, plus one-to-one meetings with people who need that kind of support.
Despite the challenges, Priscilla will tell you that her work has many rewarding moments. “When I am out speaking in the community, and someone comes to me to ask for more information, or when someone is referred to ACCKWA and we are able to help them get treatment, or when someone calls because they heard I could provide them with condoms – those moments just make my day,” she says.
She adds that sometimes parents fear having their children taken away because of their HIV status, and part of her role is helping them in those situations. “I want people to know that I can be a resource – whether that’s to get condoms, to get information about treatments or for help in dealing with these situations.” In a broader sense, she hopes people will understand that HIV is not something to be scared of, or a reason to shun someone.
“It’s just another chronic disease. It’s manageable. And people with HIV deserve love.”
When she’s not busy at work or out in the community, Priscilla’s favourite thing to do is knit. “I can knit day in and day out,” she says. “I don’t like to go out a lot outside of work because that just seems like a missed opportunity for more knitting.”