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Sharing the story of Black Scholarship on campus

Reflecting on the launch of the Black Studies Guide and its demonstration of solidarity and allyship
By: Marielle Boutin
April 17, 2023

The recent launch of the Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching’s new Black Studies Guide was more than just an event, it was an example of what can be done for all communities at TMU. It was about celebrating Black flourishing, scholarship, and activism by weaving together poetry, art, and community.

“This was a beautiful demonstration of solidarity and allyship,” says Renee Ferguson, Educational Developer at the Centre and facilitator for the launch of the resource hub. “The work came about from the commitment of an entire group”.

A group of people sitting in the Centre watching something on the television

According to Ferguson, there were many long conversations about the story that the planning committee wanted to share about the Black scholarship initiatives on campus, while also keeping in mind the notion that Black Studies has not always been given by universities and higher education institutions, but instead demanded by the people.

“This has always been a sharp critique of the traditions of the universities, a recognition of what has not been for us and so the fact that we are at a place where we have academics creating and thinking here is a gift. We wanted to gather this in one place.”

Renee Ferguson, Educational Developer, Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching

This idea of shared abundance and curation has been carefully woven into the development of the Black Studies Guide from its inception, with the intention of creating a space where faculty, instructors and students alike can use the gathered works and titles for both their individual and collective studies, teaching and learning.

The event was introduced by Dr. Grace-Camille Munroe, Program Manager for the Presidential Implementation Committee to Confront Anti-Black Racism, who shared moving stories that grounded the gathering in celebration, an honouring of ancestors, and reflections on the importance of the Black Studies Guide as part of Black Flourishing at TMU. She also highlighted the importance of allyship, stating “this is what can be achieved when we build a relationship guided by equity, understanding, and a sense of inclusion. These are exciting times at TMU, and I’m glad to be here to witness it.”

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Dr. Munroe then introduced Crystal Mark, Education, Awareness and Outreach Consultant from the Office of the Vice-President, Equity and Community Inclusion (OVPECI), to share a Land Acknowledgement that was rooted in a deep respect and honouring of the land we are on and of the First Peoples who have been here since time immemorial. She connected her reflections about land and relationships with the histories of the genocidal violence towards Indigenous peoples and also towards Black people who were enslaved and forced to cross the Atlantic Ocean.

Crystal then spoke about the enrichment and knowledge-keeping that comes along with Black Studies, looking ahead to the future generations that will be equipped with this knowledge. She further emphasized this point with a reading of her poem, Kin, which she says “was written for my children, and it talks about the responsibility that I'm gifting to them, and the hope that I have for their future.”

Renee Ferguson introduced guest speaker Syrus Marcus Ware, sharing a personal story about how the two had met on the U of T campus while she was working at what was then called the Women’s Centre on Spadina. The two were planning to attend the Quebec City Protests against the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). 

“Syrus was always confident in who they were. They never needed to change or code switch. This was Syrus. You accepted Syrus, and you loved Syrus for who they were. Not only that, Syrus loved us for who we were, and made it completely okay for us to come to campus in this big school, in our awkwardness, our shyness, our messiness. Syrus created that space for us, which is so important on a campus when there's very few of you, and you're all congregated in the same little space. So I am forever grateful for Syrus's work and watching them come through as not only an activist, but an elder in our community.” - Renee Ferguson

Syrus took to the screen, joining the group virtually from Calgary, where they were giving a Distinguished Lecture at Mount Royal University.

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Syrus spoke about his work and practice, speaking about the inspiration he’s drawn from the work of Tony Abbott, saying “one of the things she said was that the role of the artist from an oppressed or marginalized community was to make the revolution irresistible”.

Ware shared some of his work such as his Activist Portrait Series displaying activists at “12 feet tall, 6 feet wide, huge, large, and in charge,” as he says.  

He spoke about his passion for speculative fiction, citing his love for Star Trek before turning the audience’s attention to a project for CBC Gem that he was invited to be a part of called 21 Black Futures, which put together 21 Black directors, playwrights, and actors to create new works, thinking about the future of Blackness.

Written in 2020, Syrus’ film, Emmett, told the story of love that exists beyond boundaries and followed a disabled hero who has survived a virus that has ravaged all human life. 

“It was a way of reimagining a future. Imagining different possibilities”.

Syrus shared another project, a video called Ancestors, Do You Read Us? (Dispatches from the Future), which asked what would happen if our great-grandchildren found a way to communicate with us in the past, and how this connects with the importance of creating vibrant ways for communities to share, celebrate, and amplify the wisdom and flourishing of Black Scholarship.

Dr. Yvonne Simpson, Curriculum Development Consultant with CELT, provided closing remarks that brilliantly wove together the wisdom and poetry of the whole event, providing a beautiful way for people to honour the abundance and celebration of the gathering and the Black Studies Guide. 

“I am here to thank all the participants whether you are in the virtual space, or here in the real space. Together with our leaders, we have created this magnificent space, where indeed it becomes possible for us to articulate the reality that there is Black knowledge that is worthy of being created, nurtured, and taken care of. I thank my colleagues who started this idea. Thank you to everyone, and continue to contribute to black knowledge. Let it grow, let it thrive so we can survive and drive this well into our flourishing future.”

Attendees enjoyed lunch from DVOURR Catering, operated by chef Camille Mayers, who provided the event with delicious plates such as jerk mushroom sliders, salt fish fritters, honey jerk wings and fried plantain skewers. 

Throughout the event, participants in the Centre space as well as online were able to tap into their own experiences by taking part in a shared poetry activity, built around the idea of fostering community.

As the event concluded, participants were encouraged to explore the new Guide and provide feedback with the aim of uncovering more resources that can be shared with the TMU community. Organizers and collaborators alike expressed their gratitude and excitement to see what lies ahead for the future of the Black Studies Guide and how the university community engages with it.