Volume 91, Issue 73

Friday, February 6, 1998



Fostering black culture

By Natalie Henry
Gazette Staff

He has been called the voice of black Canadians and despite the responsibility and status this label exudes, the journalist and author of six acclaimed books believes he has not achieved success.

Cecil Foster came to Canada from Barbados at the age of 24 and after two decades, one marriage and three sons has become the policy advisor for the Ministry of Citizenship, Culture and Recreation, not to mention a role model for black Canadians.

"I haven't attained success – I've attained recognition," Foster says. "I do not have many dreams left to attain. I do not equate success in terms of money. I support my kids, I make a decent living and have a big shelf of books.

"I help people improve their status, talk to people and tell them to continue to aspire and inspire others. My job isn't finished."

One of the ways Foster says he celebrates Black History Month is by writing – which explains the release this month of his new book: Slammin' Tar. "This means to run fast or walk quickly with tar or pitch at the bottom of your feet. In Barbados it means to run hastily," he explains.

"The book looks at farm life of immigration workers – men up from the Caribbean who spend the summer as agricultural workers. It looks at life and the role of black men in society going into a new millennium," Foster adds.

The role of black men and women in society are examined and the book discusses situations where oppression might arise, the author explains. It gets people to question what is ahead for black people in Western Civilization – how they are put in prisons that are farms for 'mental thought' – places where people might oppress themselves rather than question their situation.

In looking to the future for blacks, Foster says: "My hope is for some of us to continue to dream, strive and challenge. We are only limited by our own ability to work hard. We must figure out new ways to do things, smarter and different things and continue dreaming – the old story of Jesse Jackson and Martin Luther King Jr."

The mentioning of these black American household names calls into question the existence of black Canadian role models for misrepresented black youth and the uniqueness of black Canadian heritage.

Foster said he does not hold the view that black Canadians are in the shadow of their American counterparts. "Although we share with African-Americans the universal of being black, the history of slavery the treatment we get because of our skin colour, the Canadian black population is unique.

"Canadian blacks are like none other in the world. Our culture and the way we try to survive and integrate into society are unique challenges. This is why I argue that we need to change the name of the Caribana Cultural Committee to the Canadian Cultural Committee," he says.

Caribana is an annual two-week long summer event held in Toronto with Caribbean music, food, culture and volunteers dancing in elaborate costume. The Caribana Cultural Committee has organized the 'jump up' for over three decades and, more recently, has been supported by collecting corporate sponsorship.

"It's a very beautiful festival although the beauty has not been tapped to its full potential," Foster says. "It's like one step forward and one step back. Three decades ago it was primarily a friends club. We must discard that structure and make it not only a cultural but business event."

The fate of Caribana has been threatened because of a lack of financial stability. The cultural committee has made futile efforts with the current provincial government to receive financial support.

The begging and whining for money must end, he concludes. "We need to go beyond the private club mentality. It's a gift from the black community to Canada. The key thing to do would be to change the name – basically the roots are from Trinidad, Barbados, Dominica, etc. However, the polish we put, the veneer we put – is Canadian.

"It's a Canadian festival, no longer a replica of the Carnival in Trinidad – the festival is uniquely Canadian. Our experience is unique."

To Contact The Focus Department: gazfocus@julian.uwo.ca

Copyright The Gazette 1998