Yesterday I had the pleasure and privilege of attending the annual black history celebration at Etobicoke School for the Arts (https://www.esainfo.ca). Aside from celebrating our future movie producer and director Emmanuel, I went eager to see what the youth’s take on the black experience in Toronto (and the world really given their diverse backgrounds). I was not disappointed!!
Again, I must plug Emmanuel and say if you don’t know him now, you will soon because the boy has talent oozing out of his every pore and the sky is truly his only limit.
I just had a momentary brain freeze and writer’s block at attempting to explain how the show made me feel. There are a lot of talented kids, especially as ESA is one of the top Arts schools in the region or perhaps the country; that is not up to to debate. However, the presentations yesterday felt raw and vulnerable and completely devoid of the infusion of drama that one may expect from arts students.
They spoke candidly about their struggle to occupy spaces that their peers perhaps take for granted: their feeling of “otherness”, their need to control their true emotions for fear of alienating their peers, the struggles of those that identify as LGBTQI & also black to gain acceptance not only by their communities but especially outside of it. I was especially moved by a skit about a girl struggling with a decision to bleach their darker skin so as to fit in- complete with advise from beyond by Harriet Tubman (she was not depicted as much of a pacifist that woman 😊), Claudette Clovin, Betty Shabazz and Martin Luther King JR. The actors were hilarious but the issues that the young woman was struggling with were no laughing matter. One comment they made about the teasing by students about where is “X” when the lights go out reminded me of my own daughter struggling with such cruelty during her late primary school years. The skit about why black kids sit together or isolate themselves in the lunch room was very touching in it’s honesty because it did not provide a concrete answer, as there truly is none, but it explained why even black adults gravitate towards each other in work places and elsewhere- safety in numbers.
The dance performances were amazing but also filled with heart- for once I did not raise any eye-brows over shaking booties and curse words as they all seemed to serve a greater purpose than the hyper-sexualization that hip hop and other such dance forms are often relegated to.
I could write two books just giving my take on that show and justifying all the times my tears fell freely down my cheeks; but the overarching feeling that I’d be trying to express is my sadness. Sadness that these children, born and raised here (sometimes 2nd and 3rd generation) still don’t feel settled in their own home. Sadness that even at that age, and perhaps more so given social media’s influence, they have to fight to be seen as ‘equal to’, ‘worthy of’, and ‘deserving of’ whatever the good Lord Himself put them on earth to do. My 11 years old daughter was quite emotional after watching the show not because the issues that were addressed were foreign to her but because she could put a name on some of the feelings and actions she’s experienced before. She’s 11 years old- at her age I thought I was binge-reading Nancy Drew and Sweet Valley High and planning to take over the world as a teenage sleuth ☹
Because I am an eternal optimist, I will chose to end this post with the positives that I took from it; primarily the underlying message demanding kindness and understanding from within and outside of their communities. These kids are confronting their reality head on and seeking and successfully finding allies who hopefully do not lose that sense of open mindedness and for lack of a better word “colour blindness” as they grow up. They spoke honestly, sometimes pointing their fingers directly at themselves over areas that they could do more to change the narrative- something that may be controversial to those who only see racism in terms of the perpetrator versus the victim and completely miss the middle ground- that of people who are just ignorant and could use a little education and nudging. There is hope yet- and for the sake of their lovely souls and humanity I pray that it comes to fruition and these kids can truly feel “Canadian” – no hyphen necessary.
What a way to celebrate Black History Month- thank you ESA (and you go Manu!!!: 😊) Grid Table 3 A