BY JORDAN MAXWELL
Stacey Dash might not think there’s a need for Black History Month, but in Toronto the Kuumba Festival proved there is no time like the present, despite the FOX TV analyst’s aversion.
“The reason that Black History Month is important is because of the urgency of the moment we’re in right now,” Desmond Cole, activist and journalist, told Toronto Caribbean News in an interview at the Harbourfront Centre.
“People want to challenge the framing of how black people are being talked about. We also need to have these discussions to change the way we are talking about ourselves.”
The central theme, Black Like We, was a prominent topic of discussion during the event as black dignitaries conversed about race, black issues and world politics through spoken word, music, comedy, film and panels.
Cole, a champion for black rights activism and a journalist for the Toronto Star and CANADALAND weekly radio show, led one of the panel discussions and beat back criticism against those, like Dash, who feel that Black History Month is counter-productive.
Featured at the Harbourfront Centre from February 5th to 7th, the Kuumba Festival explored what it means to be black in the 21st century. It was one of the first major events to kick off Black History Month in Toronto.
The featured panel discussion included Cole, Shadya Yasin, a spoken word artist, Sabrina Gopaul, a key organizer at jane-finch.com community newspaper and Randall Adjei, a community activist recently named Torontonian of the Year by CBC’s Metro Morning.
Moderated by Cole, the panel addressed key issues such as carding, black identity, policing and many more.
The panellists have been active in the fight against carding over the last couple years and all have used this platform to raise concerns about the way black people are treated – not only in Toronto, but in Canada at large.
“We have real violence that we are dealing with through the police. This is not something we just imagined, that is revolutionary or something that came out of rebellion,” Cole said. “This is real violence taking place right now. We have to resist that which is coming from the police and I am not scared of saying that.
“We have the right to survive.” The sentiment set the tone for discussions that took place throughout the weekend whether it was music, comedy, poetry and spoken word or dance.
Spoken word performances from Jalal Nuriddin, Malik Al Nasir, Just Jamaal, Ian Keteku, Yusara Khogali and Waleed Abdulhamid addressed our current state of affairs.
Women in hip-hop were also celebrated: Michie Mee, Adria Kain, pHoenix Pagliacci and DJ Mel Boogie to name a few. There were also live painting sessions put on by talented black artists.
The Kuumba Festival also featured great comedic acts from Keesha Brownie, Zabrina Chewannes, Coko and Dapheny, and Amani, who lightened the mood with laughter.
Overall, the event served as an appetizer to the start of Black History Month and its importance to the culture today.
Many, like FOX TV personality Stacey Dash, have spoken against it, but the Kuumba Festival proved to be a boon for black issues and discussion in Toronto.
“This month is an opportunity,” Cole said. “We should be having these kind of discussions every day. Nobody told our ancestors what they were doing was right when fought against racism and slavery. They just had to believe in themselves and what they were doing what was right. The same thing applies today.”
“We might as well follow our hearts and listen to our community, just as they did.”