Amplifying Black Voices
I am dedicating this space to Olivier LeJeune (1621-1654), a young man who was the first documented child from Madagascar, and who was captured at the age of seven years old by a British Commander David named Kirke (1628) during an invasion of New France. Oliver was taken to Quebec where he was sold to a Quebec resident. There he was stripped of his identity; forced him to live as a domestic servant to a freeman until his death. Oliver was educated in a school run by the Jesuits and was later Baptized and was given the last name of the Jesuit priest. There is no information about his family or home life prior to his capture. As well, there is only limited information about his culture or his family other than he is African. What is concerning is that there is no record of his family, his birthplace or culture. Oliver inherited the traits of his slavemaster.
Toronto is a vibrant city made up of a variety of cultures, including Caribbean and African immigrants.
Growing up, we had pride in community, education and family. Parents would reinforce the heritage by taking their children on trips “back home” to learn about the culture. We read books about Malcolm X, Black Panthers, Marcus Garvey, Audre Lorde, James Baldwin, Richard Pierpoint and the music reflected concerns we had in the community or fun times hanging out with friends. We had Griots, spoken word artists that shared stories of African Folklore, our heroes and freedom fighters. Women were held to the highest esteem as life bearers, the first teachers; fathers provided knowledge, support and consistency. We reached out to our Kinship for support.
The artists in the community supported dance, cultural arts and the music that reflected the messages of “fighting the power” and celebrating blackness! They worked at the Community Centers. We went on trips to learn about African history and culture. There were a couple of agencies I can recall that were black focused. My friends talked about attending Marcus Garvey Center, the JCA, after school programs, Emancipation Day and other cultural organizations that supported the black youth’s social and emotional development.
Amanda Paris, CBC Journalist, wrote that “Black artists and activists in Canada have a long history of speaking truth to power and calling out anti-Black racism, from its most overt forms to its most passive micro-aggressions. But their acts of bravery reveal a history of institutionally enforced silencing, erasure, defamation and suppression”(Amanda Parris · CBC Arts · Posted: Jun 08, 2020).
Black people express their Identity through art, dance, music and spoken word. We are naturally creative people. This might be new to some CYCS. because Black history isn’t taught in schools. In order to understand who we are as people, you would have to read about our Black history and literature.
My final placement before graduating from College exemplified a lot of the positive things I grew up seeing in the community. The Senior staff represented the diversity of the city. Both of my Supervisors were from the Caribbean. They consulted on many things including my goals and what I wanted to see for the CYC field. They shared how they came into the field, their approach to dealing with situations and how they established relationships with challenging clients. We discussed the CYC practice and how Caribbean parenting style was influential in their interventions as a Practitioner. The Psychologist I worked with was also from the Caribbean and he understood the complexities of immigration and having to adjust to living in Canada
The staff were from all over the World. The Psychiatrist from Africa. I read my first CYC International journal from a colleague who was from South Africa. It was a great place to learn. I wanted to write about the interventions I learned from my cultural lens however there was minimal literature on African parenting styles and therapeutic interventions. I would ask how are we working with Black families and children without evidence-based literature?
As I continued in the field, I would address the lack of Black literature and erasure of Black voices in the field. There was a disconnect during supervision. The Supervisors had limited knowledge about African Culture and family systems. Sometimes being Black in the workplace was stressful. I continued working and entering space where there is minimal representation of Blackness; maybe during Black history month, if there was a Black staff providing the information. There’s no consistency. Not everyone feels comfortable discussing race. I’ve encountered racism; been triggered by microaggressions by other professionals who have no understanding of Black people and their contributions to Canada. In order to support Black families, you have to understand Black culture and community; that is Cultural competency.
Cultural competence is a professional issue. According to the Child and Youth Care Certification Board’s (CYCCB) Professional Competencies, one of the Professional Domains relates to Cultural and Human Diversity.
According to the CYCCB, the foundational knowledge under this domain states:
“The professional practitioner is well versed in current research and theory related to cultural and human diversity including the eight major factors which set groups apart from one another, and which give individuals and groups elements of identity: age, class, race, ethnicity, levels of ability, language, spiritual belief systems, educational achievement, and gender differences.(https://cyccb.org/competencies, retrieved August 2nd,2020)”
The lack of awareness of our cultural values and communities lead to assumptions and anti-black interventions based on stereotypes that affect the re-unification of Black families. The ‘racial blindness’ of applying interventions that aren’t Black focused does nothing to enhance the Black child’s self-esteem.
I am noticing that more discussions about cultural competency working with Black youth will lead to transformative change. I am optimistic that spaces will be created to continue those conversations.
As I reflect on the deaths of George Floyd and the countless other Black individuals that have died violently at the hands of Police, I have reached out to colleagues; some were supportive while others remained silent.
What is the reason for silence? Is it easier to denounce terrorism in France and Barcelona than talk about race, Black lives and Black youth? This type of silence makes me question Humanity; Are Black lives valued? Black lives matter! In order to be an Ally, you need to be informed about the history of African people, in all areas inclusive of family, Community Education, and Religion. In order to promote cultural diversity and awareness, Black voices and literature needs to be included in Child Youth Care curriculum.
We need to amplify the voices of Black youth by advocating the importance of Black history. Language and culture needs to be part of the curriculum. CYCs have to consistently celebrate Blackness in all forms, eradicate racial bias and challenge stereotypes about the Black Community. That’s the only way to bring transformative change. If you’re already doing this, continue the conversation, I applaud you and your efforts.
Olivier LeJeune from “The Kids Book of Black Canadian History,” written by Rosemary Sadlier and illustrated by Wang Qijun (Kids Can Press Ltd., 2003, Wang Qijun)