Where Did Black Power Go?
By N Oji Mzilikazi
November 10, 2011
(Originally published in Montreal Community Contact Volume 21, Number 23)
This column was prompted by a public notice in the last issue of this newspaper: the dissolution of the Alfie Roberts Institute organization.
I didn’t know Alfie. All we ever shared was a handshake. Awareness of his contribution to the commonwealth of Blackness and to Montreal made the news rather disconcerting. It left me angry and pensive. Angry with myself, that on my watch, on our watch, “another one” had bitten the dust.
I was angry with nameless and faceless “those”- a concept actually: “those” who ought to know better, and were supposed to make better, but refused to apply the biblical advice and cut off their right hand.
I was angry at “those” who among those that were entrusted with leadership, and those who sought positions and title in the name of Blackness and Community allowed themselves to get so caught up in the appurtenances of office and status, and of course the dollars that swung their way, they forgot the “mission statement.”
Now the body politic is infected. Abdication of responsibility, weak and inefficient leadership, nepotism and cronyism supported decay- rot to fester, and cancerous diseases to eat at the community, bringing us to this point where things cannot hold, and making what “they say” about us look as if true.
And so I asked myself, Where Did Black Power Go? The principles of
Umoja – Unity,
Kujichagulia – Self-determination,
Ujima – Collective Work and Responsibility,
Ujamaa – Cooperative Economics,
Nia – Purpose,
Kuumba – Creativity,
Caribbean immigrants to Montreal in the 60s were the ones who introduced radical Marxist and anti-colonial ideas into Black Montreal. Where is the consciousness of self and the Black/Caribbean/West Indian student activism that once dominated Concordia and McGill universities up until the early 90s?
In 1968 McGill University was the venue for the Congress of Black Writers that brought together Black activists and intellectuals of international renown to Montreal- Trinbagonians C.L.R. James, Stokely Carmichael, and Michael X, Guyanese Walter Rodney and American James Forman among others.
West Indian and Black students at Sir George Williams University, now Concordia University were the cause of the biggest student riot in Canadian history, and the impetus for the 1970 Black Power uprising in Trinidad and Tobago that almost toppled the government.
The core collective of AKA-X (Also Known As X) were university students with Caribbean roots from Concordia and McGill. Outside of their educational initiatives, rap sessions and community events, they were in the forefront of addressing police brutality.
In November 1968 Bobby Seale of the Black Panthers came to Montreal for the Hemispheric Conference to End the War in Vietnam.
Sponsored by the McGill University Debating Society, Dawson’s Black Students Union, the University of Montreal and La League des Femmes, Angela Davis came to Montreal for the 1974 Second National Congress of Black Women. She spoke at McGill University and at the NDG Black Cultural Centre.
Where did doing for self, respecting and protecting women and the vulnerable, building alliances with other ethnic communities, bringing in Black academics and activists – where did Black Power Go?
In the article, “Thinking aloud about Quebec and the Black Community” (Focus Umoja, No 18 May 1977) Dr. Clarence S. Bayne posits, “I do not care where the hell I die as long as I am secure in the feeling that I have not denied myself or sold my kind and their votes for a few material possessions and some fleeting moments of power.” How many of us can say that. Where did Black Power go?
Ever since Indentured Labourers from India or the “Gladstone Coolies” left Calcutta January13, 1838, on the Whitby for Guyana, and the Fatel Razack arrived in Trinidad on May 30, 1845, former African slaves and East Indians have an inter-connected narrative.
Blacks and Indians have slept with each other, married each other, have children with one another, attended each other weddings and funerals, party and celebrate together, yet after 160 plus years of sharing the same space, distrust, tribalism and ethnocentrism continue to colour their relationship- with virulent strains in Trinidad and Guyana.
Lawrence Sitahal, an East Indian once headed the Negro Community Centre in Little Burgundy. Given that the relationship between Afro-Caribbean and Indo-Caribbean peoples in Montreal is tenuous at best, where did that Black Power thrust of unity between two victims of colonialism go?
In the 70s and early 80s Afro Festival offered us a film festival, inter-community track and field, theatre, a jazz fest, Black Arts, music in the park, and the Family Day Picnic at Longue Sault Beach. Where did Black Power go?