A conference to bring together black people from the Caribbean islands and Africa was recently held at Kwantlen University in Surrey, British Columbia.
The conference, called the Africa-Caribbean Leadership Conference, was organized by the newly formed Africar Canada Community Development Foundation, the brainchild of Nigerian scholar, translator and broadcaster Dr. Ode Iweh (pictured). The conference was held on Saturday September 18 and attracted many African and Caribbean leaders in the Lower Mainland of BC.
I asked Dr. Iweh why he thought such a conference was necessary and he said even though he was new to British Columbia, he could easily tell that the different black communities are not as united as they should be and he has decided to do something about it, because, as he put it, "it's time for us to tell our own story and do something for ourselves because nobody else will do it for us."
Iweh who studied French in France and has taught in Nigerian universities, was a senior official at the African Development Bank in Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire before relocating to Vancouver, Canada. He is the founder of Africar Television which is intended to tell African and Caribbean stories.
One of the presenters at the conference, Dr. Germain Tanoh, a Simon Fraser University Mathematician originally from Cote d'Ivoire, pointed out that unity is crucial but to bring about that unity black people need to have a vision or business plan and have the will to implement such a plan. Thinking without action is useless, he said. He added that there are many talents in the black community that could be identified and called upon to contribute to the advancement of black people in the province and the rest of Canada.
Dr. Godwin Eni, a community leader, university professor and health specialist said he has been in Canada for about 40 years and he has seen many changes, some of them negative, some of them positive. He had experienced many forms of discrimination, stereotyping and even racism; and also many good things happened to him over the years as he raised his children who were all born in Canada and are now adults in responsible positions.
He lamented the lack of unity among black people from Africa and the Caribbean islands and black people within those two groups.
"We Africans from Africa and our brothers and sisters from the Caribbean used to work together when I first came here, but the two communities have slowly drifted apart, they no longer work together," he said, with some sadness.
"Some of our black brothers and sisters from the Caribbean think they are more civilized or superior to blacks from Africa while some blacks from Africa think Caribbean blacks are not African enough, not part of them," he explained.
He called for an immediate end to what he called "this ridiculous situation".
"When we walk down the street we are all seen as blacks, not as Africans or Caribbean people, he said."
Barbara Binns, a community activist and educator originally from Jamaica said being black is just a perception or identity marker and thus has nothing to do with one's inherent worth or world view. She explained that the Caribbean islands contain many other people apart from blacks, so people should stop thinking that the word "Caribbean" is synonymous with blacks.
"In Jamaica there are Asians, indigenous people, whites and so on. It's a rainbow society," she said.
She called for a change in the name of the Foundation that is currently in place, the Africar Canada Community Leadership Foundation, to something more representative of the black community in BC.
A working committee was constituted at the end of the conference to draw up a plan of action and to report to the rest of the community at a future date.