Music Tells Story of Black History

Community Partnerships and Engagement Unit
Black music, from the songs of the Underground Railroad to the birth of the Canadian urban scene, was celebrated at the Jamaican Canadian Association (JCA) as part of the annual Toronto Police Black History Month celebration.

The celebration, which was hosted in partnership with the JCA and CAFCAN (Caribbean African Canadian Social Services), featured performances by young Black artists as well as honours for the founding fathers and mothers of the Canadian music scene.

Chief Mark Saunders, who was presented with a Ghanaian ebony carving from JCA Vice-Chair Alton Brooks & CAFCAN Executive Director Floydeen Charles-Fridal, said Black History Month is intended to inspire young people.

“It really is an opportunity to ask how have we contributed to our communities. When you learn more about Black history, you have a better understanding, you can see it, you can believe in it, you can be it – that’s what it’s all about,” Saunders said. “The message to our next generation is how we got here. There were hard journeys that were taken to be where we are, that’s what defines us, the journey we have taken and the knowledge and wisdom we have shared with the next generation to make that next generation better.”

Chief Saunders said the birth of the urban music scene, including the work of the MC for the night, Farley Flex, exemplifies the spirit that is necessary to make change – noting he never gave up when doors were closed in front of him.

“The will to withstand the challenges that are put in front of you – some because of who you are, some because how you look – recognizing your role is to break through and recognize there are people in this room who are champions who went through the same journey to get where they are,” Saunders said.

A woman handing a man a wood sculpture
Floydeen Charles-Fridal and Alton Brooks present an ebony carving to Chief Mark Saunders Photo: Kevin Masterman

Toronto Police Services Board Chair Jim Hart said the power and the passion of music is part of the Black community’s great legacy.

“We are moved by the deep and stirring story this music tells, and through it, we educate our young people about the struggle for freedom and civil rights. Surrounded by the energy and spirit of so many inspirational youth tonight, this is a wonderful opportunity to both honour past contributions and to look forward to the future,” said Hart. “It also reminds us of the ever-important relationship between the police service and the public – and, particularly our youth. This crucial partnership must be fostered and it must be celebrated.”

The event, which was organized by the Community Partnerships and Engagement Unit, has been celebrated since 1994.

John O’Dell, former Co-Chair of the Black Consultative Committee, said the theme of the night,Behind Every Song There is a Story, is a chance to examine the past and present through music.

“It forces us to reflect on our own past, our ancestry, our heritage. It forces us to live and re-live stories that have been told, stories of struggle, stories of oppression, stories of successes and stories of triumph. Throughout history and time we have used natural instruments that were created to tell our stories. It allows us to travel through time and perhaps live through our ancestors eyes. It also allows to reflect on our own lives today as we think about how we prepare for tomorrow and our children’s future. Let us keep in mind that you ought to be the change you see in the world,” O’Dell said. “As we listen them with open hearts and ears let’s figure out a way to work together and make all our experiences a positive one.”

A woman and man hold a frame
Vivian Barclay-Read accepts an achievement award from Farley Flex
Hands clapping in front of a saxophone
Humber College Jazz performers entertained with Black Canadian music throughout the evening

Music legends, from those on stage to others who played a pivotal role behind the scenes, were honoured, including:

• Jazz artist Tiki Mercury-Clarke

• Music publishing executive Vivian Barclay-Read

• Marketing & promotion executive Denise Jones

• Blues & Jazz artist Salome Bey

• Jazz artist Oscar Peterson

• FLOW 93.5 founder Denham Jolly

• Rapper & producer Maestro Fresh Wes Williams

The Humber College Jazz band, Niambi Stewart, and DJ Love Jones provided performances throughout the night to celebrate Black Canadian music.

A boy and girl in tracksuits
DJ Love Jones performs Let Your Backbone Slide Photo: Kevin Masterman

CAFCAN Executive Director Floydeen Charles-Fridal, who also acted as a MC for the evening, said celebrations like this one are important in forging community partnerships with police.

“I understand the importance of relationships and community collaboration particularly in these times when we have so many issues in our communities around gun and gang violence,” said Charles-Fridal, noting that investments by government and police partnerships are the starting point for a reduction in crime. “We can’t put band aid solutions for deep wounds… This is not an ethno-specific problem, it’s a Toronto, Ontario and Canadian problem. We understand we’re not outside the issue because we are part of the solution. We need to be part of the same approach with the same commitment – it’s a public health concern and we all need to play a part."

A group of people on a stage in front of an audience
Officers joined on stage in the Waving Flag Song at the end of the evening Photo: Kevin Masterman

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