BY: JELANI GRANT
The Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at Community held their first public black history month event inside the gymnasium of Driftwood Community Centre. Put together by volunteers, the guests, locals, and media listened to community leaders discuss some of the social issues that challenge the black community and potential solutions that can empower disenfranchised youth. The event was held on the first day of March as a statement that black history must continue throughout the year.
Norman DaCosta, a lifelong activist for the Jane and Finch community was the first to speak. He discussed the steps to reaching success as an African-Canadian resident by asking the questions “what are the contributing factors that hinder the African-Canadian mind for success?” and “If there are factors blocking the African-Canadian mind to success?”. He answered this question by discussing historic human events such as the Piltdown Man, discovered by British amateur archaeologist Charles Dawson but later revealed to be a hoax. DaCosta came to the conclusion that families must prioritize education, counseling, and family relations. DaCosta has become a community leader by encouraging youth empowerment at Driftwood Community Centre by holding discussions of African history and race relation issues with youth in the Jane and Finch area.
During his speech, Jeff Martin said, “Each and every one of us has spiritual, mental and physical power…It’s important that we don’t give up our power…and keep pushing forward with that power and move on to become bigger and greater in life”. Martin used the example of two soldiers going into war and becoming amputees. He stated that the use of the more optimistic language of one soldier could lead to a much more achieved and positive life, compared to the soldier who gave up because of his disability. Martin’s organization, Brothas From The 6, is a non-profit organization focusing on empowering black men in particular by showcasing positive examples of black men in Toronto. They celebrate the success of black men who were raised or influenced in the city and the GTA. The initiative supports the youth of the city by giving them tools for success and standing as an example of what hard work and perseverance can lead to.
Naila Lalji is the Volunteer and Programming Coordinator of Ontario Public Interest Research Group York. OPIRG is a student funded, student-run, nonpartisan organization on the York University campus that conducts research, advocacy, organizing, lobbying, as well as educational and media campaigns. During her speech, she mentioned York University’s Real Food Real Jobs, a movement attempting to deliver affordable, healthy, and sustainable food to York University while ensuring that the workers are treated with equal respect and paid reasonable wages. Along with the Fight For $15 and Fairness campaign, Laji also spent three days at the two-week Black Lives Matter occupation of the Toronto Police Headquarters, held last year.
Patrick James is a retired soldier of the Ghana armed forces who now does community work, developing youth leadership. Now a dedicated preacher, James delivers motivational speeches to encourage the development of youth. James said a major key to success is to recognize God as a priority of spiritual awareness, then with education anything can be achieved.
Muzammil Lorenzo Ahmad is completing his second-year missionary training. Ahmad is a member of the black and Muslim demographic and uses his personal experience to uplift his community through social activism and spiritual awareness. Ahmad talked about his journey through the teachings of Islam and the philosophy of the teachings of Islam.
Following speeches from everyone on the panel, there was a brief Q&A session for guests to ask each speaker questions they didn’t have the chance to answer during their speeches. A survey was handed out for all attendees to rate the quality and organization of the night and guests were provided with a jerk chicken dinner with rice and peas, pasta, salad, and desserts.
Though the night’s meal was more closely catered to the black and Caribbean taste buds, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at identify as the only Islamic organization to believe that the long-awaited messiah had come in the person of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian who lived from 1835-1908. Founded in 1889, the group spans over 200 countries with the membership population estimated at more than tens of millions. Ahmad claimed to be the metaphorical second coming of Jesus of Nazareth. The organization believes that God sent Ahmad, like Jesus, to end religious wars, condemn bloodshed and reinstitute morality, justice, and peace. More than a century ago, Ahmad emphatically declared that any aggressive “jihad by the sword” has no place in Islam. Alternatively, he taught his followers to wage a bloodless, intellectual “jihad of the pen” to defend Islam.