Image: Jimmie Fails, Jonathan Majors, and Danny Glover photographed in an embrace of unity as cast mates from ‘The Last Black Man in San Fransico.’
You see, I have no memories of my childhood with a two-parent home, but my parents were both individually active and present in my life. I grew up in an environment where broken families were the norm. Mothers were usually the sole parent to their children and fathers were absent – negligent, incarcerated, or dead. I, however, was fortunate enough to not be a part of that statistic. And I say fortunate, specifically, because as a young African Canadian girl, now woman, trying to discover herself on a land that refuses to accept their own origins and Indigenous peoples, there aren’t many moments of social privilege that I’ve experienced. “Fortunate” for me would have ideally been a two-parent home, but I learned at a young age to make “fortunate” my two-parent presence, and I think that is when my activism started – with Black men.
I started living with my dad at eleven years old along with my three older brothers, aged 16, 26, and 28. I remember going out with them to do simple tasks like groceries or laundry at the laundry mat, and always having a fear of getting pulled over by the police as it happened quite often and for the weirdest reasons, the most common being suspicion of a stolen vehicle because apparently Black men in luxury can only mean one thing. I remember one of those interactions resulting in arrest. Frustration, anger, defeat, at some point your mind gives up and the worst of you gives in. I remember my dad constantly fighting with my youngest of the three brothers because he didn’t agree with the friends he kept, he always said they would get him in trouble, and honestly, he was right. By the time I was 15 and my then 16-year-old brother turned 20, four of his friends had died due to gang violence. I remember living with my dad physically but seeing and hearing less of him as these deaths and arrests became more frequent. He worked three jobs to provide for his kids, however, the life he so wished his sons could avoid, started seeming inevitable, and he coped by drinking and working and drinking and working.
My activism started at home. I knew at the age of 15 that I wanted to help to repair my community, and that started with my brothers and my dad. I wanted to understand the over-policing of Black men, understand why gangs were so glamourized, understand why pain was internalized yet so familiar, understand the disruption of the Black family through Black men. As a young girl, I always felt like an outsider in this regard because of my gender identity, but as a 21-year-old woman, I’ve come to realize that in actuality, I am an insider. I once read, “the re-training of the race, as well as the groundwork and starting point of its progress upward, must be the black woman” (Cooper, 1892, p. 256) – me, because activism means allyship. It means advocating for causes that affect you directly, but it also means using your privilege to assist in a fight that may not be entirely yours, but doing so because you care, because it resonates with you, or because you feel like it is your responsibility. Activism is love. Activism is progress. Activism is a deconstruction of norms and/or injustice.
Trent University has been an instrumental role in the development and continued construction of myself as an activist. Again, going back to my earlier statement about feeling like I did not have much to be fortunate about as a little girl, I noticed that as I grew up, I sort of allowed that mindset to consume me in that I was looking to everyone but myself to improve the reality that was causing myself and my loved ones so much anguish. Research, a major component in the women and gender studies program drew alcoholism in the Black community back to slavery when drinking competitions that only consisted of Black men was performed for the entertainment of colonizers. Research told me that drugs weft their way into the Black community by government officials who made that trade the easiest and sometimes the only possible way for Black men to provide for their families, creating that prison pipeline. Research taught me that internalized pain was taught because the history and trauma of the demasculinization of Black men birthed their hypermasculine version. I began to understand that my dad and brothers were criminals because they were Black men. I owe my activism to my youth, my identity, my environment, the love for my family and the generation that that will follow after me.