BY: JELANI GRANT
The Black Veterans Affairs Council held their gala at the Toronto Plaza Hotel, fundraising to build a Black Veteran Memorial Garden in Toronto.
The dinner is also committing funds to growing and enhancing the black veteran’s database, expand research, and improve resources for veterans entering transition.
BVAC Representative Kerry Ann Thomas hosted the dinner and summit. Thomas led a discussion between veterans Dean Turner and Emille Bryant for the summit, and also hosted the gala.
During the summit, veterans and guests with military connections swapped stories and insight into their own experiences. Before the two vets addressed the audience, guests were finding connections either by discussing serving or what it was like having loved ones who served. A guest, who asked not to be named, spoke about her connection to the tragic murder-suicide committed by Lionel Desmond in Upper Big Tracadie, N.S saying that her cousins and aunts are still struggling to cope with their loss. A challenge often found among veterans transitioning is coping with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. A 2015 study by Employment and Social Development Canada, estimates 2,250 former soldiers use shelters on a regular basis, mental health issues being a common reason cited by veterans.
Recognizable names at the Gala were Church of God Sabbath Keeping Scarborough Praise and Worship Leader Abigail Edwards, L.E.A.P Branding Founder Dewitt Lee, and opening prayer by Grant AME Pastor Canute Davis and entertainment by the Grant AME Church Band.
Keynote speaker Bryant is the author of the self-development book Start With A Sparkle and created Awaken to Brazen Creativity, a course that takes students through lessons that amplifies their innovations, motivations, and self-development. Bryant shared parts of his lessons, reaffirming his belief that lives aren’t lived in straight paths. “We might want to go A-B-C-D-E, and life says you can start at ‘A’ but here’s ‘R’, ‘Q’, ‘W’, ‘purple’, ‘7’, ‘D’, and now you don’t want to even get to ‘E’,” he said.
A part of this course includes Bryant encouraging his students to “find their North Star” with what they want to achieve. This way of thinking ensures that no matter where how their choices impact their life; they will be able to move in the right direction to become closer to their goals. Bryant commended his time serving as the portion of his life, which was the most eye-opening to the things he was capable of. “The military allowed me to have the right structure, [bringing out the best in me], even when I didn’t want it to,” he said.
Veteran Dean Turner was a part of the 2nd Infantry of a peacekeeping mission in Croatia in 1992. Turner recalled his introduction to the military, inspired by his desire to become a music star. He gave advice to those considering entering the military as well as tips for transitioning back to citizenship. “I show up on time, I always dress properly, I have respect for other people. These are things you learn while you’re in the military and you always do your best to make sure you do the right job,” he said.
Turner said there are lessons learned in the military that cannot be found anywhere else.
According to Statistics Canada, the veteran population was close to 700,000 in 2014, including those who served in World War II, the Korean War, Primary Reserves and Regular Forces. Through each of these battles, black Canadians contributed significantly such as the Black Battalions in World War I. commitment to their country while facing the many challenges that came with being black.
Following the abolishment of slavery in Canada, black Canadians would serve in the Royal Navy, the Upper Canada Rebellion of 1837, the South African War of 1899 -1902, the First World War, and the other wars previously mentioned. For a number of decades, black Canadians would find a way to positively impact their country and communities until the Second World War, when they were accepted into regular units, fighting alongside white soldiers in Europe and back home.
In the current age of Canadian military, black Canadians continue to serve Canada. Since 2002, more than 150 Canadian Forces members have died in Afghanistan. Regardless of where or how a Canadian served, their dedication and work deserves to be recognized and compensated once they are ready to transition back to being a citizen.
The Black Veterans Affairs Council is recognized as stakeholders by Veteran Affairs Canada and is called upon by them for access related to black veterans.
Pledges can still be made towards the Black Veterans GoFundMe on Thomas’ page, with a goal of $25,000.