Randell Adjei, Ontario’s first Poet Laureate, brought Legacy to life during a joint Black History Month event – Creating Community – hosted by the Ajax Pickering Board of Trade, Clarington Board of Trade, Greater Oshawa Chamber of Commerce and Whitby Chamber of Commerce on Feb. 2.
Randell is a Canadian poet, author, inspirational speaker, arts educator, community leader and founder of R.I.S.E. (Reaching Intelligent Souls Everywhere), one of Toronto’s largest and longest-running youth-led initiatives that provide a safe and inclusive space for youth to express themselves in a positive way using music, poetry, and dance.
He spoke about Legacy at the Ajax Convention Centre, a topic near and dear to his heart.
“Black History Month is recognizing the roots of how we got here and recognizing the legacy of the people who made this possible,” he said.
He noted, too, what a pleasure it was to speak at a Black History Month event in Ajax because the municipality has the highest Black population per capita in all of Canada.
To start his presentation, he recited one of his poems, Flowers, which speaks to Legacy. Then he asked the audience what Legacy meant to them.
“Your legacy can transform this world,” he said. “As we are celebrating our ancestors this month, one day we too will also be someone’s ancestor, and that one day what we are doing here today, how we use our privilege, how we use our gifts, our skills, our talents, is ultimately going to make the next generation that much easier.”
He noted famous Black leaders who have impacted the Black community today, including Carter G. Woodson, who championed Negro History Week in the U.S. It eventually became Black History Month.
He cited former MP Jean Augustine, who advocated for Black History Month in Canada in 1995. She introduced the federal motion declaring February as Black History Month. Other trailblazers who personified Black History Month for Randell were former Lieutenant Governor of Ontario Lincoln Alexander, Viola Desmon, Portia White, and Mary Ann Shadd.
Randell was born in Canada but moved back to Ghana at the age of one. He returned to Canada at six years old and was immediately put into an English as a Second Language (E.S.L.) class because of his accent. His teacher did not take the time to get to know him. He spoke English well. Randell felt insignificant by her treatment of him.
“We talk a lot about being diverse here in Canada, but Canada also does an incredible job of telling us to assimilate, to leave where we come from behind to become Canadian,” he said.
Race itself is a social construct, he explained. It’s something we all participate in every day.
He asked the audience when they were introduced to race.
“We must think of the roots of how we were introduced to it in order to get to this unification and the equity that we’re looking at,” he said.
He recited a quote, “Equality is giving everybody a pair of shoes, but equity is giving everybody a pair of shoes that fit.”
“To find an equitable world, we have to understand what it means to be equitable. We have to take a moment to understand the lived experiences of those being oppressed simply because of the colour of their skin.”
Randell said the Black community needs more than allies. It’s good to be an ally, but it falls short. What allyship says is I stand with you. But you may not live or experience what I have gone through, he explained. He encouraged people to become co-conspirators.
“Being a co-conspirator is being unafraid to call people out when they are out of line. Being a co-conspirator is using your privilege to call it out when you see racism happening. Being a co-conspirator is being unafraid to lose your privilege in the process of supporting and ensuring that we can have a more equitable world,” he said.
He ended his presentation with a poem called Legacy and said, “We can’t talk about Black History Month without talking about Black joy.”
“What I love about being able to navigate the world in the skin that I’m in is our resilience. How we often find a seed of opportunity in every adversity. Just to be here,” he said.