Black McMaster students reflect on the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020

This article is a part of the Sil Time Capsule, a series that reflects on 2020 with the aim to draw attention to the ways in which it has affected our community as well as the wider world.

In the summer of 2020, sparked by the death of George Floyd, there was a resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement. Protests spread across the United States and the world. Businesses and individuals, both with and without a history of supporting Black communities, began posting messages of solidarity on social media and pledged to do better.

In just over a month, it will be a year since George Floyd was murdered. In addition to the killings, we have also seen how Black folks have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19. For Black folks around the world, this year has been exhausting and retraumatizing.

It’s been exhausting and retraumatizing to learn of more killings and what little action has taken place. It’s been exhausting and retraumatizing for our organizers and protesters, who have been met with police violence. It’s been exhausting and retraumatizing to field questions and concern from those in our lives who have never before cared about our Blackness.

It’s been exhausting and retraumatizing for Black students. All year, Black students, alumni, staff and faculty have been observing McMaster University's response to the resurgence and continuing to advocate for safe spaces and meaningful action.

So as this academic year comes to a close, it was important for me as a Black woman at McMaster to use one of my last articles at the Silhouette to discuss how Black students have been dealing with this tumultuous year.

C/O Camiah

Student activism in summer 2020

On May 25, 2020, in Minnesota, George Floyd was killed while in police custody, for which now-former police officer Derek Chauvin currently is standing on trial, charged with murder and manslaughter. The news and video of Floyd’s murder flooded traditional news and social media. In the days and weeks that followed, protesters took to the streets across the United States and the world.

While this wasn’t the first time a Black person had been unjustly killed, for many, Black and non-Black alike, the summer of 2020 felt different. There are many factors that influenced the increased response, chief among them the pandemic. Black folks, who have been disproportionately affected, were fed up with government neglect while non-Black people quarantining at home had no choice but to pay attention.

“People rioting and actually protesting and doing stuff like that was the reason people started talking about it more, because, essentially you had something for white people to debate about and to fight about . . . [T]hat eventually just made a chain of events so people were being like, “Why are black people rioting?” Okay, well, why are black people rioting and then people were actually looking at it,” said Aaron Parry, a fourth-year student and promotions executive on the Black Students’ Association.

“People rioting and actually protesting and doing stuff like that was the reason people started talking about it more, because, essentially you had something for white people to debate about and to fight about . . . ”

Aaron Parry, a fourth-year student and promotions executive on the Black Students’ Association

Black McMaster students were among those protesting both online and offline last summer, continuing the work that many have been doing for years. For instance, on June 17, 2020, McMaster student organizers held a protest to demand the removal of the special constables on campus and the dismissal of Director of Security and Parking Services Glenn De Caire, who has a history of supporting the highly controversial practice of carding. Students have been advocating for De Caire’s removal since 2016.

Black students also spent the summer further educating themselves and having difficult conversations with friends, peers and others in their life.

“I actually did summer school in June, July . . . Since I'm in political science, race [is] a topic, especially during this course. I feel like I tried, as a Black person, to educate some of my fellow peers about what we experience,” explained fourth-year student and Women and Gender Equity Network Research Coordinator, Shae Owen.

Online, many students responded to McMaster’s statements on Floyd’s death and anti-Black racism at the university with demands that they fire De Caire. Students were quick to point out that McMaster’s statements did little to address Black students’ concerns and calls for action.

Both current and former students took to social media to share their experiences of racism at McMaster. Canadian football player and former McMaster student, Fabion Foote, tweeted about the systemic racism he experienced at McMaster, which was met with support from other Black McMaster students, alumni and faculty.

However, while students were generally glad to see increased awareness, many worried that it was performative or fleeting.

“Doing nothing is no longer acceptable. However, reposting on social media is classified as hardly doing anything, because it lacks your personal tone and influence,” wrote the Silhouette Production Editor and Black Students Association Photographer Sybil Simpson in a June 2020 Silhouette article.

C/O Estee Janssens

Effects on mental health and academics

While Black students were at the forefront of the activism, many also found the summer and current academic year overwhelming. Students didn’t get to take a break from their everyday lives to grieve, having to continue to work, attend summer school classes and study for tests.

“In Nigeria — this was in October — there were killings of peaceful protesters . . . and that was very close to home. Things don't necessarily slow down. When all of this is happening, it's not like school pauses. You still have deadlines. I used my MSAF for the first time in four years last semester, that's how much I just felt like everything was going on. I had to ask for extensions and I couldn't make deadlines,” explained Toni Makanjuola, a fourth-year student and director of logistics with Black Aspiring Physicians of McMaster.

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For some students, these feelings of being overwhelmed were compounded by the physical and emotional isolation caused by the pandemic. Students who were not able to go home to see family often had to deal with the devastating news on their own.

“There's a lot going on with just COVID by itself. I couldn't see my family because of COVID and I was already planning to see them. I think I mentioned I'm an international student and my parents live abroad and my family's kind of dispersed. So it was definitely a lonely time,” said Makanjuola.

“There's a lot going on with just COVID by itself. I couldn't see my family because of COVID and I was already planning to see them. I think I mentioned I'm an international student and my parents live abroad and my family's kind of dispersed. So it was definitely a lonely time.”

Toni Makanjuola, director of logistics with Black Aspiring Physicians of McMaster

Moreover, Black students expressed how the summer of 2020 changed their relationships. Students reported that they got closer to Black family members and friends as well as non-Black allies. On the other hand, relationships fractured with those in their lives that failed to check-in or speak out.

“I found myself being like, “okay, I can't actually be friends with this person, even if they make a racist joke like here and there.” That’s now too much for me. It wasn't too much before, but now that everything's become more extreme, my barriers have to become more extreme,” said Aaron Parry, a fourth-year student and promotions executive on the Black Students’ Association.

C/O GV Chana

Response to university initiatives

During the summer, McMaster put out several statements, some of which addressed how the university intends to tackle anti-Black racism on campus. While none of these intended actions included firing De Caire as students had demanded, some positive actions included the accelerated hiring of Black faculty, the hiring of an anti-Black racism education coordinator and the announcement of a Black student services office.

“In terms of the hiring, I think that was extremely needed because personally, I'm in my fourth year, and this was like the first year that I've had Black professors and that's because I'm taking history . . . I'm interested in research right so [when I found a potential Black supervisor], I emailed her. I was so excited because I knew she wasn't there before. I got to share a research idea with her. But I don't know that I would have felt as comfortable emailing someone else,” said Makanjuola.

“In terms of the hiring, I think that was extremely needed because personally, I'm in my fourth year, and this was like the first year that I've had Black professors and that's because I'm taking history . . .

TONI MAKANJUOLA, DIRECTOR OF LOGISTICS WITH BLACK ASPIRING PHYSICIANS OF MCMASTER
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However, the fact that many plans were created without the input of Black students begs whether they’ll be helpful at all.

“What little they do give to Black students, it's not even involving Black students that often and then they just kind of surprise us as if it's a gift . . . They design whatever services they think that we want rather than actually actively involving us and actively asking us, “what do you want, what do you need, what are you looking for in a Black Student Services, what do you think will help?”,” explained Parry.

In response to Foote’s tweets, the university organized a Black student-athlete review, which was completed in October and revealed “a culture of systemic anti-Black racism within the department.” However, many students believe the review did not do enough.

Some of those who were involved in the review noted that internal politics played a role in what actually made it into the report and how what was included was worded.

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“[W]e know that they have their agenda and it's not in the interest of Black students most of the time. It was definitely disheartening to know that I was a part of a project that was doing that,” said Parry, who was part of the review’s task force.

Many students wondered why the review was restricted only to athletics when many of the stories told are experienced by Black students across campus. Others were eager to know what comes next.

“[The positive changes] are, however, being done so very slowly and with caution; this is unchartered territory for Mac. However, I’m growing increasingly frustrated, not only with the immediate aftermath but with the contents of the review. How could they let this happen? How has it taken so long for someone to finally put their foot down? Moreover, where the heck do we go from here?” wrote McMaster rugby player Payton Shank in a December 2020 Silhouette article.

C/O Good Faces

Creating safe spaces

Support for Black McMaster students this year didn’t come directly from the university, but through the actions of Black students, faculty and staff. For example, on June 11, 2020, Black staff members facilitated a Black student virtual check-in to give students a safe space to share their thoughts and experiences.

Black community members at McMaster took on this work for no pay on top of their work, school and personal lives. Many Black students at McMaster are executives on multiple Black-focused clubs while the African-Caribbean Faculty Association of McMaster offers mentorship and events with no funding from the university. However, because of the importance of these spaces, Black students, staff and faculty feel an obligation to continue.

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“We are going to help ourselves and our siblings because there's not a lot of us at McMaster. But it kind of brought us closer together, because during that time a lot of clubs had talks and chill sessions and discussions . . . I even made some new friends that way,” said Owen.

“We are going to help ourselves and our siblings because there's not a lot of us at McMaster. But it kind of brought us closer together, because during that time a lot of clubs had talks and chill sessions and discussions . . . I even made some new friends that way.”

Shae Owen, WGEN Research Coordinator

All year, Black students have been continuing or creating clubs and events to have important conversations and take a break from the constant stress. Some of these new clubs came from discussions among students that occurred last summer, such as the Black BHSc Association.

Established Black clubs used their platforms to empower Black students and support new Black clubs. For example, BAP-MAC chose the theme Black Resilience for their annual iRISE conference and had talks and workshops dedicated to medical racism and health advocacy. In November 2020, the Black Student Mentorship Program held an event for first-year students that focused on coping with loneliness and online school.

“[The summer] also made me a lot more conscious of other people's mental health and that was like one of the reasons [behind] the loneliness event idea. Because of what I was experiencing during the time, I just thought it would be nice to do something where people could speak out and be vulnerable and know that they aren't alone with that during the school year, especially first years,” said Makanjuola, who came up with the idea for the BSMP event.

However, in creating these safe spaces, Black students had to be wary of other students infiltrating these spaces. On Nov. 20, 2020, the Law Aspiring Black Students of McMaster experienced a racist attack during their Zoom LABS Chat. Since then, Black clubs have been trained on how to avoid Zoom bombing and have had to take special care to avoid similar incidents.

“I was shaking because I never expected something like this to happen at a university, especially because we can’t put a face to the name. We don’t know who these people are. So it’s like am I walking amongst people who feel this way, am I sitting in classes with people who could possibly infiltrate a chat?” said Maab Mahmoud, the vice-president of events for LABS, during diversity services’ podcast, Listen Up.

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The incident served as a reminder of the importance of safe spaces, but also made it clear that Black students at McMaster are not safe among their peers. This was also seen in the reactions to Black student initiatives such as the new Black engineering student scholarship, where non-Black McMaster students complained that it gave Black students an unfair advantage.

“Mac did the exact same thing where they just go, yeah, here's the scholarship to help Black students. We're going to ignore all that shit about non-Black students attacking Black students . . . we're going to continually let you go to school with and live with your abusers, constantly,” said Parry.

Yet through it all, Black students have continued to be there for one another and create places where they can be seen and heard. We do not know what the future holds and if the university will become a safer space for Black students.

But I know that we are resilient. As I graduate this year, I have faith that the Black students, staff and faculty of tomorrow will continue to make McMaster a place where Black students can succeed.

Jasmine Ellis spreads positivity, creativity and light through her homemade accessories brand

C/O Wildflower Supply Co.

If you are a Disney fan, you may be familiar with the quote, “Do you suppose she’s a wildflower?” from Alice in Wonderland. Underneath the pretty, soft appearance, these flowers have a bold and unique character, growing brazenly and unapologetically almost everywhere in nature.

The resilience, beauty and fortitude that wildflowers represent inspired Jasmine Ellis to start Wildflower Supply Co., a handmade custom accessories brand.

Ellis is a McMaster alumna and previous Social Media Coordinator during Volume 87 of the Silhouette. She developed an interest in jewelry making while creating friendship bracelets for her and her friends. 

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In the spring of 2020, she wanted to pursue jewelry making more seriously by launching Wildflower Supply Co. on Instagram. The first pieces she sold were bracelets with her favourite quotes and custom messages.

Over the past year, she has slowly grown the brand with more custom orders and the addition of different types of bracelets, mask chains and collaboration projects with local poets and businesses.

Ellis credits the rapid success of her business to when she sold Black Lives Matter bracelets in June.

“At the time, I was just screaming into the void, it felt like, on Instagram in support of the Black Lives Matter movement . . . I know that speaking about it on social media is really important, but [I thought,] “How can I tangibly do something that feels important?”,” said Ellis.

In an effort to make meaningful, real contributions to the Black Lives Matter movement, Ellis ran a week-long fundraiser selling her Black Lives Matter bracelets. She received overwhelming support and sold over a hundred bracelets.

At the end of the week, she raised $1,870 which was donated to the Afro Canadian Caribbean Association of Hamilton and Gianna Floyd Fund.

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The idea of sharing quotes through jewelry came from her and her mom’s longtime love of warm and inspirational messages, which are displayed throughout her house. It was also prompted by her first collaboration with poet Rebecca Leighton. Leighton’s lovely words were stamped on a gold cuff.

Ellis’ most recent collaboration was with Oksana Legault, the owner of 30 Wolves Designs, an online jewelry shop for handmade contemporary Indigenousbeadwork earrings. They picked their favourite lines from Indigenous poets to stamp on Ellis’ bracelets and sold them in a bundle with a pair of beautifully beaded earrings by Legault.

“[Collaboration launches] are probably the most intimidating and simultaneously the most fun projects that I’ve worked on for Wildflower . . ."

"[Those projects] make me push myself in ways that I wouldn't have otherwise thought to do, and it’s so fun to hear the creative process of the people that I work with, their stories and the reasons why they opened their business and continue doing what they're doing,” explained Ellis.

Ellis enjoys supporting and working with people who have important messages to share, and these messages are an important aspect of how she decides who to collaborate with.

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Running Wildflower Supply Co. not only fulfills Ellis’ artistic endeavours, but it has also served as a coping mechanism during the current pandemic. As much as the pandemic has negatively impacted aspects of her life, she believes the brand wouldn’t have existed without it. Her jewelry brand is the real-life portrayal of a wildflower that has bloomed despite the harsh conditions, restraints and challenges. 

The response to her accessory brand has all been kind and positive. Interacting with her customers for custom orders is one of her favourite parts of running the business, and she is still blown away by the amount of support she has received since the launch.

“The support from the community is the only reason why Wildflower has a following at all . . . It's the supporters that keep inspiring me to create new things, and they keep giving me new ideas and pushing me beyond my creative boundaries."

"I think it comes from them being themselves, so I encourage people to keep just being the most unapologetic best version of themselves because whenever they do that, in collaboration with me, everything new that I create is my favourite thing that I've created, and that comes from them,” said Ellis.

In the coming months, Ellis will also wrap up her master of teaching at the University of Toronto, and she hopes to begin supply teaching. However, she promises that Wildflower Supply Co. will remain an important community and a priority for her.

Sil Time Capsule is a new series that will continue to bring forward student voices

As we near the end of 2020, now is a good time to reflect, especially given how much has changed this past year. 2020 has been a rough year for everyone, but with its difficulties come opportunities for learning and changing, both within all of us as individuals and within our society. 

The COVID-19 pandemic remains the event that will define 2020 for years to come. The pandemic and its regulations have caused tensions, a shift across the board in education and different sectors to a virtual environment and rises in mental health issues due to isolation and other issues faced by many.

This pandemic has brought forth many challenges, particularly for students struggling to make the best of their youth amid a world of isolation and online classrooms. However, it has also highlighted pre-existing issues within our society, such as serious health disparities as a result of socioeconomic status. All in all, the SARS-CoV-2 virus has forever changed our world and how we experience it as individuals and as students. 

[/media-credit] Information from the City of Toronto, as reported by Jessica Cheung of the CBC

 

Next, there was the shooting of George Floyd and the rallying cry against anti-Black racism in North America and across the world. The Black Lives Matter movement, an existing movement against police brutality and anti-Black racism, shifted into the limelight, offering all a chance to reflect on their role in anti-Black racism.

The effects of this were far-reaching, with systemic racism being highlighted across our nation at an institutional and individual level. Beyond discussions on anti-Black racism, there was also a rise in the discourse regarding anti-Indigenous racism. The Land Back protests are a prime example of the important role activism played this year in sparking dialogue on inequities in our society. As students and as a student newspaper, it is essential these events are brought forth and discussed adequately.

[/media-credit] Black Lives Matter protests in Toronto, as reported by Laura Armstrong and Jacob Lorinc of the Toronto Star

 

Finally, there was the 2020 United States federal election. Although American politics can sometimes feel distant, this election caused — and will cause for the next four years — a shift in global politics and marked the end of an era in the United States and North America with Donald Trump as the President of the United States.

Additionally, given the close ties between Canada and the US, the repercussions and changes that will accompany the election and its results will be felt here more than in other countries. 

It is important to note the election, along with all other monumental aspects of 2020 mentioned thus far, was accompanied by a multitude of other important global events. These must — and will — be discussed in great detail in the coming issues at the Silhouette through both this series as well as through our Summer of Activism series in the News section. 

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As a student newspaper, it is important we discuss global events and how they affect us and the McMaster student community. Global events affect everyone in one way or another. COVID-19 is a global health issue but has left deep impacts on the lives of students. It highlighted important issues in our society such as the extent to which income and privilege dictate your level of health and protection. Students are not isolated nor removed from these realities.

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It is also important to discuss the many global events of 2020 as a student newspaper because these are in many ways mirrored by realities in our own community. For example, just as systemic racism and police brutality shifted to the limelight of national political discourse in the United States, realities at McMaster such as the anti-Black racism culture in the university’s athletics department were highlighted in a recent report.

As a student newspaper, we are responsible for informing our peers, discussing these issues and how they have affected our students. As global citizens, we are responsible for raising awareness of global issues, events and inequities. 

More than just being mirrored in our community, these events have also had a profound influence on our very sense of community.

More than just being mirrored in our community, these events have also had a profound influence on our very sense of community. Often exceptional and unprecedented events encourage stronger connections and drive communities closer together.

However, the nature of the pandemic has resulted in the opposite, with many students feeling disconnected and unsupported in these difficult times. As a student newspaper, it is important that we not only inform our peers and raise awareness about global events and issues but also that we do our part to maintain community and facilitate the connection between students.

Furthermore, this kind of coverage and engagement with global events is something that many, if not most, students are interested and invested in. During the Black Lives Matter protests at the beginning of June, the Silhouette posted a short message in solidarity, but we were challenged by our community to do more. Over the last few months, we have been working to deliver on those promises that were made and are continuing to look for ways in which we can improve.

Across all sections this past semester we have worked to ensure that we address and acknowledge these issues and events and their influence on our community. This article in particular serves as the introduction to a new series. Titled Sil Time Capsule, this series is an opportunity to reflect on this past year and draw attention to the ways in which it has affected our community as well as the wider world.

2020 has been an eventful and unprecedented year and as a student newspaper, we have a responsibility to acknowledge these events, inform our peers and raise awareness about them. We also have a responsibility to address the ways in which they have affected and influenced not only the wider world but also our own community. This time capsule series is one way by which we are working to do justice to the events and issues of this year and their influence on the communities big and small of which we are a part.

Two Hamilton and Toronto-based artists share their excitement for fandom merchandise through stickers, pins and zines

Not all friendships are compatible for a business relationship. Many underestimate the pressure a business can put on a friendship and as a result, witness their lifelong bonds break. However, Bae and Boba co-owners Clover Thursday and Victoria Nguyen demonstrate that with proper communication and trust, a friendship can be the key to a successful business.  

Thursday and Nguyen are freelance artists from Hamilton and Toronto, respectively, who met during their thesis class at the Ontario College of Art and Design. Despite having polar opposite personalities, with Thursday being more extroverted and Nguyen more introverted, they became close friends and launched Bae and Boba together in 2018.

Bae and Boba is an Etsy shop where the duo design and sell zines as well as cute and whimsical characters – from mermaids to boba bear – on stickers and pins. The name Bae and Boba was inspired by Thursday’s love for drawing cute female characters and Nguyen’s love for bubble tea. They created the business to provide more spaces for people who like anime, kawaii culture and alternative culture. Through the business, they want to encourage people’s passion and enthusiasm for fandoms.

“During quarantine and isolation . . . it’s amazing how important it is to have something to look forward to. People are excited to get that really cute sticker or a really cute pin they liked . . . It’s really nice to be able to give that excitement to people,” said Thursday.

“During quarantine and isolation . . . it’s amazing how important it is to have something to look forward to. People are excited to get that really cute sticker or a really cute pin they liked . . . It’s really nice to be able to give that excitement to people,” said Thursday.

The duo says open communication, patience, collaboration and compromise are vital to their business. It was a learning curve to figure out what they each value as artists and how to compromise on artistic differences. They are still learning how to work better together and create harmony between their different drawing styles. While Nguyen is more detail-oriented, Thursday uses more expressive linework. 

During the ideation process, they constantly send each other rough drafts, ideas and feedback. This was especially important while working on the Kickstarter they created to crowdfund for their enamel pins. The Kickstarter launched in August and featured pins representing teas from around the world. In the same month, they also released their first zine together.

“[The Kickstarter project] was kind of a big testament to how we were able to compromise both of our aesthetics and styles and really figure out an even better way to work together,” said Thursday.

“[The Kickstarter project] was kind of a big testament to how we were able to compromise both of our aesthetics and styles and really figure out an even better way to work together,” said Thursday.

Thursday has previously released other zines on Bae and Boba, including Black Skin, White Masks which was published this summer and whose proceeds went toward organizations such as Black Lives Matter, Black Health Alliance and Hamilton Centre for Civic Inclusion. The illustrations are based on Franz Fanon’s book by the same name in which he discusses his experience with racism and anxiety as a Black man in 1960s France. 

“[Black Skin, White Masks was] a milestone that I hit as an artist using what I can do and using my talents to try and influence some sort of change,” explained Thursday. 

Nguyen shared the same sentiment about using art for social change. 

“We’ve always enjoyed making cute or beautiful things, but seeing the events happening around the world, we just thought we should use our skills to do some good because we all had such a visceral reaction to George Floyd, so it feels wrong to not do something right now,” said Nguyen.

Thursday and Nguyen were both amazed by the excitement and support from customers, friends, family and the artist community. Through the business, they were able to connect with people outside of Canada from the United Sates, France and Australia. 

This is just the beginning for the duo as they continue to use their work to bring excitement to people who stumble across their Etsy page or are looking for art with a meaning behind it.

A brief overview of activist action in Hamilton

CW: mentions of violence and racism

2020 has been a rough – albeit transformative – year for everyone. From the pandemic to the racial injustices across North America that gained media attention to global emergencies such as the Beirut explosion or worsening of the Yemeni crisis, the world has lived through some of its worst times in recorded history.

However, in the midst of the anger and sadness, there have been sparks of spirit and action as activists took the summer of 2020 as a time to enact social change. From rallies to sit-ins, activists across the country, even at McMaster, have advocated for change. Whether it be fighting for a home country’s autonomy and nationhood, empowering marginalized communities in Canada or reclaiming land that was lost to colonization, summer 2020 was full of activism.

[/media-credit] Hong Kong Umbrella Revolution 2014 爭取香港真普選

Pushing for Autonomy: Hong Kong’s Fight

In June 2019, protests took place across Hong Kong in response to plans to allow citizen extradition to mainland China. Although the bill that would allow for the extradition to occur was withdrawn in September, demonstrations continued as people demanded democracy and inquiries into police actions against protestors and activists. As police brutality against the citizens of Hong Kong became increasingly violent, many pro-independence activists are now seeking asylum in Canada as refugees. Canada has begun accepting these refugees into the country. 

The events unfolding in Hong Kong are heard here, on the other side of the globe, through media and first-hand accounts. Despite the physical distance between us, these issues directly affect and involve us, including students at McMaster.

McMaster Stands with Hong Kong is a student activist group that was founded last October. The mandate of the organization is to support and bring awareness to Hong Kongers in their fight against Chinese occupation, police brutality and to support all refugees seeking asylum in Canada. This past summer, the organization engaged in multiple acts of activism.

In May, Mac-HK opposed the Student Success Centre’s decision to post a Hong Kong police job on their student website, which yielded significant results as the Student Success Centre quietly deleted the post. In August, Mac-HK co-organized an event in downtown Toronto with other universities that called out Chinese influence and actions in Hong Kong and the need for Canada to protect Hong Kongers’ safety here. In September, Mac-HK co-organized a rally for Status for All, a rally focusing on giving status to international students, refugees, farmers and workers, who were all particularly affected socially and financially by the pandemic. 

These acts from McMaster students are a reminder that what happens across the world affects us right here in Canada and at McMaster. 

[/media-credit] Black Live Matter Plaza, Washington, DC - today with military vehicles removed

Fighting Social Injustice: Black Lives Matter

Black Lives Matter: this sentence and movement have been gaining traction since its use as a hashtag on social media after the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the death of Trayvon Martin in July 2013. This year, the movement reached a peak in traction and recognition following the shootings of Black men and women, including the murder of George Floyd in May.

An international fight against systemic racism and police brutality in the form of rallies, protests and petitions took center stage. In response to police brutality, many organizations seeking to fight systemic racism and police brutality in North America have emerged, some of them right here in Hamilton.

HWDSB Kids Need Help is an organization that was formed by Hamilton students, including some who currently attend McMaster University. The organization seeks to support the rights of high school students, particularly those from marginalized communities, in the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board and oppose police presence.

In February 2020, HWDSB Kids Need Help assisted in a report that requested the termination of the HWDSB police school liaison program. The program supported the presence of six officers at 38 secondary schools and five officers in a partnership with 158 elementary schools. This presence was meant to prevent crime, but HWDSB Kids Need Help researched and outlined the impact of the program. After a summer of activism, the motion to terminate the police school liaison program was passed

Reclaiming Land: Land Back Camp

Today, Indigenous people continue to face systemic oppression as a result of colonialism in many forms. In response to this, many movements fighting against land occupation have come about.

One example is Land Back Camp, which was set up in June in Kitchener’s Victoria Park. The camp was set up to reclaim land that was once a central hub of activity and life for Nations such as the Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabe peoples.

Beyond existing as a way to reclaim land and send a political message to authorities, the camp is said to connect young Indigenous adults to their culture and offer youth and two-spirited people a place where they feel more at home.

Movements like Land Back Camp that occur so close to home offer an opportunity for students to reflect on their role in supporting Indigenous communities.

Although social issues can often appear abstract or distant, it is important to remember that our neighbours and peers are actively shaping and defining change in our society. Large-scale issues manifest in one way or another within our school and communities and it is important not to disregard them, but to rather acknowledge the efforts local activists are putting in catalyzing change.

This article is the first in a series on the many acts, events and movements of activism from summer 2020.

A tangible support for Black students in academia

Following the death of George Floyd, a surge of protests in support of the Black Lives Matter movement has been occurring across the United States and Canada. The continued injustice and systemic racism against Black folks inspired seven McMaster University and Mohawk College alumni to create a bursary for Black students of the McMaster Health Sciences Program. 

Nizar Hassan, one of the organizers for the bursary, recalled how the group of friends thought of the idea. 

“It came up fairly organically in the context of hearing about all the injustice, starting mainly with the George Floyd story, and reflecting about what we can as a group do to try and make some sort of a difference. The conversation then moved from there to the underrepresentation of Black-identifying students, particularly in science academia and in our program of health sciences,” said Hassan.

One of the other organizers, Anthony Albina, added that the group hoped to provide tangible support for Black students.

"It just became painstakingly clear that listening was just not enough . . . We actually wanted to do something concrete and something that would touch a program that is very near and dear to us and had a really big impact on our lives," said Albina. 

"It just became painstakingly clear that listening was just not enough . . . We actually wanted to do something concrete and something that would touch a program that is very near and dear to us and had a really big impact on our lives," said Albina. 

Currently, a fundraising goal of $20,000 has been set in order to establish a yearly bursary worth $800 in perpetuity. If more money is raised, the bursary can also be increased.

The bursary will be provided to one Black BHSc student with financial need each year, with a different student receiving the bursary every year. Hassan and Albina said that criteria for financial need are not handled by the organizers and will primarily be handled by the Student Financial Aid Services in addition to other departments of the university such as the Alumni Advancement Office or the BHSc program.

The organizers also expressed that other than financial support, there are ways McMaster can provide greater support for Black students within the local community. 

“Other things to consider [include] more active community engagement and trying to get people who come from a low socioeconomic background or are less likely to choose to go to university and try to engage with them and try to bring them into McMaster,” said Hassan.

[/media-credit] Screenshot of the bursary's iFundMac page (link accessible through clicking photo)

Hassan and Albina expressed that McMaster could do more to actively reduce barriers, similar to what Queen’s University has planned. Announced on July 24, Queen’s will allocate ten of its 100 seats to Black and Indigenous students for each cohort of its Doctor of Medicine Program, effective for the 2020-2021 application cycle. 

Albina also elaborated that though the fight for social justice is not new, something was different this time around. 

“What was nice or different about [the support for Black folks] this time is that people were more [active in] looking for actual tangible ways to help . . . We just felt like we had to do something. You can’t just keep listening and letting this issue go. By no means do I think we will be fixing the issue of inequality in sciences, but hopefully this could be a small step in the right direction,” explained Albina.

Hassan and Abina shared that they have been encouraged by donations from many different folks, including those who are still in school and may not have a significant income.

“It's been nice to see that kind of positive feedback and people putting their money where their mouth is,” said Albina. 

“It's been nice to see that kind of positive feedback and people putting their money where their mouth is,” said Albina. 

As of Sept. 23, the bursary fund is at $8,100. The bursary will begin distribution as soon as enough funding is collected. With no deadline to reach target funding, the organizers wish to collect enough donations as soon as possible and have the bursary established for future students.

Photo C/O Silhouette Photo Archives

On June 2, Black Lives Matter — Toronto posted a livestream series on Twitter of students protesting the “violence that Black and racialized Indigenous students face” on McMaster University’s campus.

“McMaster also silences students when we protest, we get ignored and we get ticketed for speaking against basic injustices that happen here on campus,” a student on the livestream stated.

At the end of the livestream, they call for McMaster to remove the presence of special constables from campus and to cut ties with Hamilton Police Services and to immediately terminate Glenn De Caire’s contract — the former Police Chief for the Hamilton Police Services who has been employed as the Director of Security and Parking Services at McMaster since 2016.

Background:

Much debate and controversy over De Caire’s tenure as police chief came to light while in the role. In 2010, De Caire introduced the Addressing Crime Trends In Our Neighbourhood team, five high-profile groups of officers tasked with lowering crime in the downtown-core. These officers were the only ones who conducted “street checks,” a practice also known as carding.

However, in June 2015, seven members of the ACTION team were arrested, with five members being charged after it was alleged they falsified tickets. The provincial government cut ACTION’s funding in half and sparked the government to enact regulations to stop carding within all police services across Ontario.

In response, De Caire sent a letter to the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services outlining his worries that Hamilton could be at risk if carding practices ceased, citing “officer discretion” as being paramount to “stop, investigate, identify and record information of individuals in the appropriate circumstances.”

“Information must be gathered before it can be analyzed and interpreted . . . [t]he result of reduced officer-community engagement can lead to increase, crime, violence, injury and death” stated De Caire.

In a response to De Caire’s letter, Ruth Goba, Interim Chief Commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission classified the police chief’’s position on carding and street checks as a “textbook description of racial profiling”.

“Racial profiling in street checks has a corrosive effect on Black and other racialized communities. As the OHRC has said repeatedly — it must be stopped,” stated Goba.

Around the same time, De Caire forwarded an email to all police members that included an anonymous note commending the HPS for their work on a case involving a Black teenager being killed downtown.

“I also wanted to say that I believe it is time for these Black kids to stop blaming the police for the problems and take responsibility for the actions of the youth,” read the anonymous note.

Included on the bottom, De Caire hand wrote: “All of our officers that responded to the recent homicide did a great job. Keep up the good work.”

In an interview with the Hamilton Spectator, then-city councilor Matthew Green, Hamilton’s first Black councilor, expressed his concern over the email. “Does the Chief not understand how that . . . might create a culture of us-versus-them when it comes to community relationships?” said Green.

City Councilor Terry Whitehead, a member of the police services board, also shared his concerns with the Spec. “When you look at that line it looks like an endorsement that the Black community is blaming the police for all their issues . . . I think that’s a dangerous ground to walk on,” said Whitehead.

In late 2015, De Caire was initially set to continue his role as police chief when the Hamilton Police Services board unanimously voted to extend his contract by an additional two years. A month later, De Caire announced that he would be retiring from his position, a move that puzzled the board as well as the mayor.

“McMaster has offered me an opportunity to contribute to their organization over a long term, and my opportunity here with the Hamilton Police Service has been limited by the contract term,” said De Caire during a press conference.

Calling for accountability:

The June 2 protest at McMaster parallels the worldwide public outcry following the deaths of several Black people at the hands of police officers, notably the murder of George Floyd, who died after former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes. Floyd’s death is one of several publicized deaths of Black people in the United States (including Breonna Taylor, Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells and Riah Milton) that sparked protests in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement internationally. In Canada, the deaths of Regis Korchinski-Paquet and D’Andre Campbell, among others, have also led to public demands for justice and accountability from police departments.

As a result, there have been many protests and riots against police brutality against Black people internationally. On a local level, students have been calling McMaster to address the racism that occurs at the university, as shown by tweets and comments by Mac students and alumni.

Oh cause I thought a school that hired a racist ex police chief as head of security said something https://t.co/LwEHixziXo

— 🌻 (@ItsIeshaa) June 1, 2020

how about doing what you already said you would over four fucking years ago now? https://t.co/x6a1qayWXi

— death to canada ✨✨ (@dah0nggou) June 3, 2020

https://www.instagram.com/p/CBWXVN6jN9y/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link

One group that has been advocating for De Caire’s removal is De Caire Off Campus. The group was established by Black women studying at McMaster when De Caire was hired in 2016 and exists to advocate for the removal of police on campus. Although the surge of support has benefited this group, they want to ensure that this movement against police is sustainable.

“This isn't a temporary outrage. It has been present for decades and will continue to exist as long as police are on our campus,” said De Caire Off Campus in an interview with the Silhouette.

Among demands for De Caire to be removed by McMaster, the McMaster Students Union has also taken heat.

“The MSU can and should keep to their abandoned commitments — that is, to do the work necessary to remove De Caire and special constables from campus,” the group said.

In March 2016, the Student Representative Assembly passed a motion to call on the university to remove Glenn De Caire as the director of security and parking services and a call to end the university’s campaign of increasing police presence on campus. However, the execution of the SRA’s call to remove De Caire and special constables off campus remains to be seen.

On behalf of the board of directors, MSU president Giancarlo Da-Ré assured that the concerns regarding De Caire have been heard “strong and clear.”

On June 14, Da-Ré moved a motion to call on faculty offices to permanently terminate all ties to the Hamilton Police Services, Halton Police Services, and any other police service. This includes internships and training or co-op placements that involve police services. In addition, an amendment was made to the motion where the MSU will consult any relevant groups or stakeholders that hire private security firms in replacement of campus constables.

Both the motion and the amendment were passed during the meeting. This motion will be binding for the 2020/2021 SRA term.

Da-Ré also mentioned that the vice president (administrative) team is developing “Equitable Hiring Best Practices & Guidelines” in order to address the underrepresentation of Black, Indigenous and People of Colour within the MSU.

“These practices will include changes to application processes, hiring committees and promotional strategies, and be created upon consultation with [the Equity & Inclusion Office], [President’s Advisory Committee on Building an Inclusive Community], the [Student Success Centre]’s Diversity Employment Coordinator and various other stakeholders,” Da-Ré explained.

The Silhouette asked McMaster University about the growing concerns students had and while providing a statement, did not directly address the concerns about De Caire.

“Equity, diversity and inclusion are critical to the university. McMaster denounces anti-Black racism and violence and supports the ideals expressed by the Black Lives Matter movement,” said Wade Hemsworth, the Manager of Media Relations for McMaster University.

Hemsworth outlined ways in which McMaster was addressing anti-Black racism and violence, such as a PACBIC and the EIO hosting a virtual check-in and conversation for Black students on June 11, the EIO hosting a virtual discussion called Let’s Talk About Race for BIPoC students, staff and faculty on June 18 and several statements made by McMaster.

What’s next:

Moving forward, De Caire Off Campus demands that McMaster “completely severs ties with Hamilton Police Services.”

“The removal of special constables cannot be followed with the hiring of private security or the enshrinement of surveillance against students,” the group said.

In addition, they demand that the budgets for special constables and security be released for transparency, to remove the university’s freedom of expression guidelines and that the MSU ensures that clubs are not forced to collaborate with security services.

As the 2020 fall term approaches, McMaster students continue to call for change on campus, holding the university and MSU accountable for their past actions and their next steps.

 

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Photo C/O The LGBT Community Center National History Archive

By Lauren O’Donnell, Contributor

In the early hours of  June 28, 1969, there was a police raid on the Stonewall Inn in New York’s Greenwich Village. The Stonewall Inn was one of the only places where 2SLGBTQIA+ people were able to gather as it was one of few places that accepted drag queens as well as trans men and women. On June 28, the police raided the bar, assaulted patrons and arrested 13 people. The riots that followed were not about fighting for marriage equality, they were a response to police brutality against the 2SLGBTQIA+ community. Stonewall is frequently hailed as a catalyst for 2SLGBTQIA+ rights in North America, and it began with riots.

Many of the pioneers of the 2SLGBTQIA+ rights movement were Black trans women and trans Women of Colour, like Marsha P. Johnson, Miss Major Griffin-Gracy and Sylvia Rivera. These women paved the way for Pride as we know it today. Griffin-Gracy is still alive, and continues to be a pillar of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community. You can support her retirement fund here. Within the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, People of Colour and particularly trans Women of Colour are still routinely attacked. While the mainstream 2SLGBTQIA+ movement may be slowly gaining acceptance, the people who made it possible are still in constant danger.

Many of the pioneers of the 2SLGBTQIA+ rights movement were Black trans women and trans Women of Colour, like Marsha P. Johnson, Miss Major Griffin-Gracy and Sylvia Rivera. These women paved the way for Pride as we know it today. Griffin-Gracy is still alive, and continues to be a pillar of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community. You can support her retirement fund here. Within the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, People of Colour and particularly trans Women of Colour are still routinely attacked. While the mainstream 2SLGBTQIA+ movement may be slowly gaining acceptance, the people who made it possible are still in constant danger.

Oppressive systems are able to continue because they pit oppressed groups against one another, fearing that if we work together none of us will have rights. It’s an either/or mentality that drives a wedge between oppressed groups. As a result, we push away the very people that we should seek to work with. A case study of this can be seen at the 2016 Toronto Pride parade, where the parade was paused by activists from Black Lives Matter until Pride Toronto signed a list of demands. The media response to this event was varied, but there is a common theme— let’s take a moment to unpack it.

Many of the responses suggested that Black Lives Matter sought to undermine Pride. In 2016, The Globe and Mail published a particularly vitriolic opinion piece by columnist Margaret Wente. In the piece, Wente suggested that Black Lives Matter was usurping Pride Toronto.

“You'd think, just weeks after the slaughter [at PULSE Nightclub] in Orlando, that they might have chosen to cede the spotlight to the dead and wounded, who really were under attack. But no. The Black Lives Matter activists are firmly convinced that they are at the very top of the pyramid of oppression. Only after the parade's executives meekly agreed to all of their demands (basically, more money for their projects) did they allow the show to go on,” said Wente in her article.

The pyramid of oppression — or the oppression olympics — is one illustration of putting oppressed groups in opposition. Being at the top of the so-called pyramid supposedly brings along with it more media coverage and public support. Wente uses this term to undermine Black Lives Matter’s protest, framing it as an attempt to dismiss the suffering of others.

In particular, Wente points to Black Lives Matter’s demand that the police be removed from Pride as being “wrong, and sad and bad,” and that their claims of being oppressed by police are over-exaggerated. Defending the police’s right to be at Pride is not uncommon, but the urge to defend the police should be examined. The first Pride was a riot against police brutality.

“Defenders of Black Lives Matter insist that the gay rights movement was birthed in protest against police harassment at Stonewall, and in Canada, amid riots triggered by raids on a gay bathhouse. Gay people, thus, should indulge BLM in its anti-police agitation. But invoking Stonewall and similar episodes of historic police abuse only shows how far our two countries have come. In so many places around the world — Russia, and, most recently, Turkey — the police attack pride parades and arrest gay rights activists. In North America, police protect them,” reads one article from the Los Angeles Times.

To be blunt, the fact of the matter is that North American police don’t always protect Pride. Our countries have made progress, certainly, but not for everyone. Progress isn’t the same as completion. Sometimes direct action is necessary in order to draw attention to the insidious ways that systemic oppression functions.

Thus far we’ve looked at how non-Black people covered the event. However, the Black 2SLGBTQIA+ community is not monolithic, and not everyone in the community supported the actions of Black Lives Matter, instead suggesting that they were detracting from Pride for their own agenda, or ignoring systemic problems within their own communities.

“Black Lives Matter could use their political and social power to actually raise awareness about this issue, but it is apparently easier for them to target the white gay community than it is to tackle black homophobia. And Pride Toronto yields to their requests, as if the black community is a monolithic entity represented by a single group,” said Orville Lloyd Douglas in an opinion piece for CBC.

Critiques from within the Black 2SLGBTQIA+ community are infinitely more important than those from outside the community. It’s nigh on impossible for a reporter from L.A. to see problems in Toronto, so in order to fully understand all sides of the issue, it’s important to seek out the voices within affected communities.

Speaking of listening to voices from within the community, what was the intention of Black Lives Matter in stopping the event? Let’s turn to the motivation behind the protest, from an article interviewing Alexandra Williams, the co-founder of Black Lives Matter Toronto.

“We are not taking any space away from any folks. When we talk about homophobia, transphobia, we go through that too . . .  It should be a cohesive unit, not one against the other. Anti-blackness needs to be addressed and they can be addressed at the same time, in the same spaces,” she said.

The execution of the protest may not have been flawless, but the intent matters. As Williams points out, these issues are interconnected. Highlighting Black Lives Matter doesn’t usurp Pride, it returns it to its roots. Pride was spearheaded by Black trans women and trans Women of Colour as a protest against police brutality. How can we turn our back on the people who helped us the most?

So where do we go from here? White folks in particular need to use our privilege to support the movement however we can. We need to call out public officials, sign petitions and continue supporting Black Lives Matter long after the hashtags fall off the trending page. There are a number of ways in Hamilton that you can practice active allyship, including supporting local grassroots organizations, buying from local Black-owned businesses and being proactive in seeking out additional resources and education. Redefine Twenty is a local organization and an excellent place to start. Allyship is not an identity, it’s a constant action.

Ultimately, however, it isn’t up to us to lead this movement; we need to amplify melanated voices through direct action. This is not about us. This is about us showing up for the people who always showed up for us, from the very beginning. This isn’t about retribution, it’s about restitution.

As you celebrate Pride this year, know that any time you side with the police, or dismiss the actions of protesters, you are telling your Black 2SLGBTQIA+ friends that they cannot trust you. You are telling them that you value your own safety and comfort above their lives. Just because we can’t see systemic oppression doesn’t mean it’s not there.

 

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On Sept. 24, McMaster played host to Alicia Garza, one of the founders of the Black Lives Matter movement.

“It was a huge, huge deal,” said Ismaël Traore, one of the event’s organizers. Traore explained that he and the other organizers began working on the initiative to bring an activist to McMaster in late 2014. “We wanted to bring in a millennial, someone who’s on the front line,” he said.

During the Black Lives Matter presentation, Garza talked about the beginning of the movement and how it has changed since its inception. “It began as a love letter to black people,” she said during her speech. Garza spoke fondly about the beginning of the movement and shared her fear about its possible slide into a passive social media phenomenon. “Hashtags are not movements,” she said.

Garza’s presentation struck a chord with many audience members, including Traore. “This is actually a civil rights movement... [but] lot of people aren’t giving it the seriousness that it deserves,” he said. He stressed, however, that the movement differs from the civil rights movement of the 1960s. “It is advocacy for all identities of blackness… The older civil rights movement was very heterosexual and dominated by men,” he explained, while BLM has a strong focus on advocating for black women, LGBTQ+ persons, and persons with disabilities.

Despite these leaps forward, work remains to be done.

During the last presentation by McMaster professor Vanessa Watts, three protesters who go under the group name Project Black disrupted the event. Kermeisha Williams, Kayonne Christy and Halima Hatimy were all involved with “Black, Brown, Red, Lives Matter,” the OPIRG-run chapter of BLM at McMaster. Christy and Hatimy were originally slated as co-facilitators of the Sept. 22 event. However, they felt marginalized and abused within the BBRLM community and chose to leave it altogether.

“Even when we would leave the group, specific members would come and try to pull us back into an abusive situation. We’d leave to protect ourselves and they would pull us back to further exploit our labour,” Hatimy said.

The trio maintained an air of professionalism throughout their protest. They stood quietly at the back of the room while Watts gave her presentation. They waited until they were noticed by Alicia Garza, who then invited them to join her outside the room to discuss their concerns. After the presentation, they marched to the stage and listed their demands.

“The demands were broken down into three sub-categories. One addressed Black Lives Matter, one addressed McMaster, OPIRG specifically, and the other addressed the city of Hamilton at large,” Christy explained. The group hopes OPIRG will hold its working groups more accountable for their actions, and check in with members of said groups to ensure they are maintaining anti-oppressive practices.

Even with these changes, Hatimy was adamant that the current organization is not working. “At this point we want BBRLM to be dismantled, the reason being it doesn’t have a good history. There were a lot of people who were hurt and oppressed,” she said. “We want it dismantled because we don’t want there to be an avenue for certain people to be able to bully and harass members of the community and obviously students at Mac.”

While Hatimy, Christy and Williams are proud of their first step in diminished the internal conflict within BLM, they feel there is much work that remains to be done.

“We feel our actions were radically misunderstood by people in the community. It was treated, specifically by the moderators of the group, like it was just another segment, so I think that really minimized the significance of why we did what we did,” Hatimy explained.

Traore, for his part, spoke positively about the disruption. “I appreciate disruptions. I am an activist myself… and these disruptions are strategically necessary sometimes,” he said. “And so I think it was great that a space was made for these three women to be able to speak, instead of [shutting them down].”

He did mention, however, that ideally the demonstration would have taken place during the question and answer period rather than during the presentations. “Vanessa Watts is an amazing speaker… and I felt hurt that the protest occurred while she was speaking,” he said. “How can we talk about the erasure of the voice of one group [when] the protest is also erasing the voice of another group?”

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