In Celebration of: Black Toronto in 2020

One thing, out of the many, that I love about my mother is the fact that she emphasizes seeing the good in people, practicing patience, and showing kindness to others. I’ve been witness to my mother’s kindness, and in turn, it has helped me be a better person in life, or at least it’s helped me ensure that I do my best every day to be a better person in life. Like her, like myself, we’re not without our flaws, but that’s what makes us human – it’s so cliché, but it’s absolutely true. Human decency & kindness are what will make the world a bearable place, if we happen to want that for each other, and I think it’s important to celebrate ourselves, whether or not we’re friends, cordial, or complete strangers. When you observe kindness, and you witness good deeds done by others, onto others, it’s imperative to show that acknowledgment, because it feels good to see people win, no matter how they register in size & regardless of affiliation.

            David Dennis Jr. wrote a heartwarming article that focused squarely on finding joy in a year of peril & despair. It inspired me to write this one, because F.U.B.U by Solange, a Universal Negro Spiritual, emphasizes that this shit is for us, and no one celebrates us, like we do, nor should we wait to be celebrated by others. I’m an observant of the things that go on in Toronto Twitter, and unfortunately, that label draws more negative meaning than positive, although there are positives that exist, but don’t shine as brightly as they should, and I wanted to highlight some, to the best of my ability. I’m not doing this for money, I’m not doing this for self-assurance to make me look like a good person; Masai Ujiri said “believe in this city, believe in yourselves,” in September of 2018, as a response as to why NBA players don’t want to come to Toronto, and try to dismiss the inferiority complex in which we’ve held onto like a security blanket, for far too long (obviously with good reasoning). There are things to celebrate in our community that need to be archived and passed down to the next generation, like how generations of Black folks had done in their own tribes & communities.

            The Pandemic threw off everyone, as we were forced inside to figure out what we were going to do with our days, our jobs, our incomes, and most important, with our overall health. A Global Pandemic (or any other P-word you’d like to use in substitution) is a rare occurrence, so how would we navigate through it? Instagram Live became a saving grace, because DJ D-Nice was the catalyst of the music live-streaming events, and the explosive ripple effect was felt to the point where it shifted the way we’ve had to find our joy this year. No parties, no fetes, no major events in the City of Toronto – it’s unheard of. We didn’t even get to play mas for Caribana, an event that Black folks look forward to every year. It was all trash, but we had to adapt.

            Rebeka Dawn (@RebekaDawn), who has been an Angel brought to life for bringing parties to life in the city for the past 5 years, was supposed to throw her famed That Slow Jam Party in March before the Pandemic forced it to be cancelled. In turn, they became virtual, with DJs Jester (@ThisIsJester), and Lissa Monet (@heylissamonet) spinning our favourites, while blowing up the Instagram comments with hilarious sexually entrenched dialogue, “Leave-in Conditioner,” and “Hazmat Lingerie” are fan favourites – thanks Martika (@mamateeks). We had lost a beloved member of our little family, Lex, and it was emotional to hear DMX music play, because that’s what she’d been known for going off to, with all her heart. We made sure to keep her name alive, in any digital venue we were in. Other Toronto based DJs, Flexx Got Next (@FlexxGotNext) & the legend Dr. Jay aka Soca Prince (@socaprince), brought their vibes to the IG & Twitch screens, and they were very integral to keeping the vibes alive while our sanities were being tested on a daily basis.

            Houseparty was an app that came at the best time, connecting a lot of us with each other, that we hadn’t seen in a long time. And in a time of disarray and life-changing events, it was important to me especially, and it’s great that other people had been able to sit down and talk to people for hours. And that branched out in ways that were unprecedented, especially in the Black Toronto Twitter. Family Meeting came about in a way that looked like it was going to be setup for complete failure from the jump, because that’s the first reaction when it comes to anything in relation to getting Black folks from Toronto in one room, but because there had been a decade’s worth of emotional turmoil, pettiness, and beef among many of our mutual connections, thankfully the team at The Voice of Community provided an outlet, which was coordinated by TVoC’s CN, Mae, and Sherry Dacosta (@sherrydacosta), who, while still being a frontline worker, has been a very outspoken & important voice during this year, especially when it came to the ‘Justice for Regis’ movement, which was brought about from the death of Regis Korchinski-Pacquet. The initial Family Meeting was surrounded by controversy with old tweets revolving colourism from Black Men towards Black Women resurfacing, and needless to say, it was nerve-wracking to start, but with almost 5 hours of conversation which was highlighted by an outpouring of emotions suppressed for years on end, was really relieving to witness. Unpacking is usually reserved for therapy, and in no other time would 100 people (thanks to Zoom’s capacity limit for the free versions) be in the same room at the same time to talk about their past negative experiences with people who they’ve said terrible things to, and even physically fought. It was really a sight to see, and even Sherry leading on an oath that from that moment forward, everyone who was in the room would be accountable; to strive to be better people to themselves and to others, it looked promising. There were only 2 other instances of the Family Meeting, and other outlets did pop up here and there, and although it was short-lived, the ripple effects were made, because old beefs were squashed in private (some public), and you saw healing really start to take shape.

            ‘Accountability’ & ‘Community’ were frequently used words this year in the digital atmosphere, and it’ll never be perfect, because we’re all flawed people, but to see positive reinforcement from Black folks from our small tribe, that was a big change. Dijah SB (@DijahSB), who’s been a figure in Toronto Twitter, not only for their hilarious and often polarizing commentary, but also their consistency in putting out music, people rallied around them to raise $2500 in support of finishing their album. That was a joyful moment because Dijah was hesitant to post a GoFundMe link, out of anxiety of being perceived as ‘beg,’ given the fact that being a musical artist is often associated with being 100% self-made (which is the furthest thing from the truth). A lot of people stepped up and made it happen. And when ‘2020 the Album was completed, we saw the rise of Dijah that is still continuing today. It’s inspiring to see people that you’ve known for years, start to branch out into their own and blossom into the greatness that they’ve always known they had. It didn’t stop there, because there were so many examples.

            Vonny Lorde (@LASTNAMELORDE) has been a photographer in the city for many years, being a staple at Apartment 200, and countless amounts of parties imaginable, with her high-octane energy capturing the essence of Toronto culture for Black & Brown people in Toronto, with our withering party scene being demolished, condo-by-condo. Her photo book series Film For Fun has been critical to preserving that culture, for many to witness in years to come, and when she ‘tried a ting’ and dropped a GoFundMe link because she wanted to open a studio for Black youth to use for Videography & Photography, we rallied. She raised $10,000 in a matter of a week, and as we kept hitting the refresh button to see the numbers climb, it was like playing ‘The Price is Right,’ yelling at the screen for the person you’re rooting for to get their prize. That was a joyous moment that I don’t think many of us will ever forget, because it was an example of what we can do when we truly throw support into the people we value, because of what they want to do for their community. She, and partner DQ, went on to open their studio, Exposure.

            Sharine Taylor (@shharine), who’s a multi-media treasure in her own right, has been active in doing the work for her constant coverage of not only what goes on in Jamaica, but lays down the groundwork at home for imploring that we honour the folks who came before us, in this city that is determined to erase Black history & cultural preservation from its (stolen) land. Her documentary Tallawah Abroad has been doing great on the film festival circuit, as the short doc explores the struggles for Little Jamaica residents & businesses, from the ongoing construction of Eglinton Ave. West, which has absolutely been magnified with COVID-19. Whether its by curation, mediation, or publication, Sharine has been a staple in the fabric of Black Toronto, and its that leadership that needs to be championed, although she’s just one example out of many who are doing great things to ensure that the culture stays alive and thriving, by any means.

            Podcasts exploded onto the Toronto scene more this year as well, because what else is there to do when you’re at home? You talk. I started one as a means of extension of my therapy, and it served to be beneficial, but it’s the podcasts that took off from first-timers that really set the precedence of what’s to come in the future. The continued growth of Extra Gravy & Not With The Hype have been amazing to see, as they collected great guests to their archives and expanded their brands. Dishes & Dimes, The Relentless Diaries, Pounding Fufu, Nympho Diaries, Views From Venus, OTM, Laughter & Chaos, We Need To Talk, Concessions Stand, Return of the Mak, This is not a Drake podcast, 3rd Intermission, and Millennials 2 Millionaries are all podcasts that come with their own tastes & perspectives, whether you agree with them or not. The variety that they serve, all coming from the GTA, is something worth noting. This is a city that had OTA Live as its first really unofficial podcast on Flow 93.5 back in the day, and when GYALCAST made an impact, which brought about shows like itstooreal and Talk Up, it was really in the cards that a podcast boom would happen, and happen it did. Regardless of where you stand with people, and how you feel about folks and your annoyance that everyone and their mother seemed to have started a podcast this year, it’s been beneficial for many, and that’ worth celebrating.

            Seeing the shift from ‘Blackout Tuesday’ affect the landscape in the world of Media & Sports the way it did, was something none of us saw coming, and the rallying support for figures in the Black Toronto media community was incredible to witness. People were promoted to positions in which they deserved, TV appearances & publications with large platforms were ushering in Black voices to not only have a their moment, but sustained moments. Karissa (@EverytingKariss) led a strong & public charge calling out Aritzia for their hypocritical & discriminatory actions, that gained significant coverage, and created a large ripple effect to affect waves of change in corporate environments. That needs to be celebrated. Bee Quammie (@beequammie) continued to shine bright regardless if it with her Big Comfy Couch Chat on Instagram or article after article with potent & concrete content, Kayla Grey (@Kayla_Grey) was a catalyst in being vocal about her experiences as a Black Woman in Media, while being one of the most talked about figures in Canada, further continuing her ascendance to stardom, and an inspiring figure for many Black girls & women who want to follow in her footsteps – she’s truly a trailblazer. Kayla Greaves (@KaylaAGreaves) continued to flex on us with her InStyle guest features ranging from Issa Rae, Viola Davis (!!), CNN’s Abby Phillip, and Dionne Warwick, just to name a few. She continues to assert herself in a position where it’s impossible to not root for her success. Alicia ‘Ace’ West (@aliciaacewest), Danica Nelson (@danicaSnelson), Kathleen Newman-Bremang (@KathleenNB), Toni Francis (@itstonibtw), Wanna (@WannasWorld), Savanna Hamilton (@savyhamilton), Stephanie Hinds (@stephanie_hinds), Erin Ashley (@ellhah), Tia Gordon (@_tlg), Amanda Parris (@amanda_parris), Kelly Fyffe-Marshall (@directedbykells), Ashley Iris Gill (@ashleyirisgill), Keesha Chung (@keeshachung) and the list goes on and on for the countless examples of Black Womxn who have made significant strides in Media this year, in whatever capacity. Those are some names to know in the present, and for the near & distant future.

            Brandon Gonez (@brandongonez) continued to rise, bringing us much needed laughs on CP24, with what seemed to be a weekly viral occurrence, keeping the public informed on the what’s around the city, and being a genuine soul online, he was a vessel in bringing Black joy to the screens in his most organic way. Sportnet’s Donnovan Bennett (@donnovanbennett) did the same with his beautiful vignettes in relation to being a Black Man in media, while also bringing about his love of sports to the fold and how it’s changed his life. Ryan Chung (@RdotChung) continued to bring joy to the radio waves on G98.7, while also continuing his important show, 100% Canadian, to highlight the ongoing talent that has made ever greater splashes in music, not only in the country, but across the world (as usual). Jabbari Weekes (@JabbariWeekes), Tichaona Tapampwa (@tichaona_), and Phil Witmer (@philwitmer) were able to get their anthology, Next Stop on CBC Gem with the help of another Scarborough great, Amar Wala (@amarwala), because of belief in Black stories in Toronto, highlighted by the star of the series, Vanessa Adams (@STDYMBBN). Issaq Ahmed (@issaqah), Brandon Isaac (@_brandonisaac_), and Isiah Blake (@eyeblake), Ryan Malcolm-Campbell (@WHOISMRKOA) also made great strides in their career developments – again, an endless list.

            I could go on all day about the successes of people that I’ve been able to witness from a digital social distance, because there are so many examples of bright spots, than low-points. Shoot, as I’m writing this right now, another person could have a big win that would need to be catalogued. I didn’t even mention the rise of Doms Lens, the continued greatness of Clairmont The Second (@CTSecond), Savannah Ré’s rise (@SavannahReMusic), RAAHiiM (@Raahiimmusic) stepping into the spotlight, the success of Desmond Cole‘s The Skin We’re In,’ people who opened businesses, saw growth in their personal finances, became Twitch streamers, found their tribe in a multitude of ways – it’s really endless.

The point is to give people their flowers while they can still smell ‘em, and in the city of Toronto, with the focus being on the Black community, that doesn’t really happen outside of our immediate circles, and as someone who is pretty much circle-less, I wanted to take the time out to acknowledge just some of those who have done well for themselves & others in a year that’s been highlighted with doom & gloom. It wasn’t all that, and it shouldn’t always be the focus, when so many people are doing great things; some who I don’t even know, and some who would like their achievements in the shadows. But overall, it’s important to celebrate us, because we’re all we got, and we’re all we need to succeed.

That’s My Word & It STiXX

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