“Still I Rise! A Celebration of Humanity,” is a community event created by Trent University Oshawa students to celebrate Black History. During this third year for the popular event, students welcomed hundreds through the doors at the Thornton Road Campus on March 1, 2013. The celebration was born from a grassroots student movement to bring groups together to foster dialogue within the community.
Twenty-five student groups showcased their leading-edge research and coursework in four research clusters in black psychology, sociology, history, and literature. Amongst the many popular exhibits were Leon Presner’s Sociology of Crime; Joshua Reyes on Race in Video Games; Christian Ntawiha and Eli Adansi on The "Dark" Truth in Children's Movies; Maggie Baldson on Slave Narratives; and Nick Konarowski on Black Hockey Players.
More than thirty public and private sector organizations collaborated with exhibits featuring current information on events and developments around the GTA. These informative displays included the Canadian Jamaican Club, the Durham Region Local Diversity and Immigration Partnership Council, the Multicultural Council of Durham, the Black Business and Professional Association, and Cultural Expressions Art Gallery.
While hundreds of attendees flocked to the booths, students took the opportunity to recognize the exceptional contributions of local heroes. Through an awards ceremony, students and community leaders honoured four local heroes for accomplishments that reflect the powerful theme of “Still I Rise,” as embodied in Maya Angelou’s famous poem. Dignitaries presenting awards included Janil Greenaway, consul-general for Antigua and Barbuda; Omar Wisdom, Canadian Jamaican Club executive; Roger Anderson, regional chair, Durham Region; and Pastor Audley Castro of APC Ministries.
The four local heroes honoured were Constable Keith Richards (Durham Regional Police), for championing diversity and being a role model within the community and police services for twenty-three years; septuagenarian author and motivational speaker Errol Gibbs; Rosemary Sadlier for having Black History Month recognised in Canada; and hailing from the troubled Malvern area, the artist-producer and founder of Urbanology magazine, Kid Trudoe Clarke, who encouraged youth, saying “I did it and you can do it, too.”
Student hero-maker Rahsaun Hutchinson chaired the search for these inspirational heroes. “Hundreds of people packed into the gymnasium to recognise the accomplishments of these heroes in surmounting adversity to change our world. Our awards encapsulate the strength of the black diaspora: we have triumphed over millions and millions of challenges throughout the past five centuries and continue to succeed today.”
The student committee made a surprise presentation to their own Trent hero, Dr. Laurie Jacklin, assistant professor of History at Trent Oshawa, who provided guidance and leadership in planning the successful event. "Doctor Laurie put tremendous time and effort into the event so that as students, we could shine," said Pita-Garth Case, student vice-president of the Still I Rise committee.
During Reading the Diaspora, hosted by Trent provost Dr. Gary Boire, prominent black authors shared insights and readings from their recent publications. Honoured guests included renowned visiting scholars Dr. Carl James and Dr. Andrea Davis (York University), and popular author Natasha Henry.
Dr. Alvin Curling delighted the crowd with an inspirational and interactive keynote speech, “Yet We Rise!” The Honourable Tracy MacCharles, Durham Region’s first cabinet minister in more than a decade, commended Dr. Curling for his many “firsts”, as the first African-Caribbean MPP, black cabinet minister, and speaker of the House. Minister MacCharles flew back from an important cabinet meeting to present a citation to Trent Oshawa principal Ken Field, recognising the important event and the tremendous number of Trent and community volunteers who collaborated on the program.
The evening concluded with a cultural celebration of Still I Rise through musical and artistic performances featuring international recording artist Dave McLaughlin, “Princess of the Pan” Joy Lapps, the Chitans Family Quartet, Joziah DeKlerk, Squid Man Stan, Show Stephens, APC Choir with Inside-Out, Friday Night Drummers, and many more.
Student event president Roderic Southwell says, “One of the things about black history is that people tend to talk about the painful history of their ancestors. Our students refocused the discussion and invited the community to join us on our exploration of what we have done well. We encourage everyone to celebrate the achievements of the black diaspora and use them as a model to help resolve any challenges that they may face in their own lives.”
Student Pita-Garth Case concurs and adds, “As future leaders in our community, everyone is invited to join us – regardless of colour, ‘race’, ethnicity, birthplace, and so on – on our on-going journey as we harness our past, rooted in pain, to create a better and more inclusive future for everyone. That’s the Trent difference.”