BY: JELANI GRANT
The multi-disciplinary arts and culture organization POR AMOR partnered with PEACE (People Everywhere Actually Coexisting Equally) to hold African history assemblies for students from kindergarten to grade 8.
They received a $15,000 grant from the Ontario Arts Council to deliver assemblies teaching African history and follow up workshops demonstrating African & Caribbean dance, beatboxing, spoken word poetry, and hip-hop writing. They have been on tour since late January providing African history and workshops to youth from kindergarten to grade 8.
POR AMOR co-founder Tanika Riley, stage name Insight, told Toronto Caribbean Newspaper they have been touring across seven school boards to hold assemblies in hopes of changing the significant number of black students who drop out of school. “Black students are dropping out at a high percentage, there are all these things they’ve identified, so this is one of many solutions,” she said. Districts include Durham Catholic District, Durham District, Toronto Catholic District, Toronto District School, Peel District School, Dufferin-Peel Catholic District, and the York Region District.
Despite the positive feedback from teachers, students, and the OAC, Riley says there is still resistance at times. The assemblies received a critique from a parent after the child won a t-shirt at the assembly. “The parent wrote to the principal and superintendent saying “How dare you have a black history thing in March” and was being negative about the assemblies,” she said.
However, this one negative review is hardly representative of the amount of appreciation and excitement schools have shown the program. “80% of schools have given us a 10/10 and one thing that kept being said is how engaging the assemblies are,” Riley said. “We are hopeful that school boards are shifting their views on inclusive education and equity beyond the token month, February, and we have seen that a shift is taking place,” Riley said.
POR AMOR was founded in 2003, when Riley and her friends began open mic shows in Pickering, recently after they all graduated university. After the shows began to grow in popularity, they decided to turn the shows into a fundraiser for them to use their skills in the Dominican Republic. The organization’s name was created through this project to relate to the Spanish-speaking country. Using the money, they moved to the Dominican Republic to provide their services to those in need. When they returned to the GTA, Riley said they were swarmed with requests to restart the performance shows. They began shows again and were giving the funds raised to other projects with similar visions until they decided to create a project of their own, now evolved into the non-profit POR AMOR.
Riley said POR AMOR was first introduced to a member of PEACE, spoken word poet Matthew Jones, aka Testament, after watching him perform at a Boys & Girls Club event. PEACE had already begun holding African History assemblies since 2011 and invited POR AMOR to contribute to the movement in 2015. “We’ve been working together for 15 years even though it wasn’t through PEACE. We’ve been building communities together and doing arts education for years…these kinds of people who share the same vision you have to keep around you,” Riley said.
This year, they have performed arts-based assemblies for 23 schools reaching approximately 12,500 students and delivered workshops to more than 1,800 students. Their workshops have been presented to approximately 2,400 students of all races and ethnicities who learned more about African culture, principals and legacy, and the many contributions of black people to the world now. “It’s leadership, it’s about anti-bullying, teaching people that they have a purpose that they have to find,” she said.