When cultural centres and schools limit their access based on race, any gains that result should be questioned.
While it is understandable that people want to be comfortable and familiar with their surroundings, our fear is that by creating an environment based on one specific race we are backtracking to times of segregation.
Over the years, our area has seen the growth of several cultural centres, and now perhaps black-focused schools, that are meant to shelter, educate and stand up for their members and at the same time welcome diversity. Recent talk of black-focused schools has created a mix of emotions.
Nadia Bello, a TDSB trustee, feels these types of schools are not a solution to the issues at hand. One student thinks we should avoid losing our multicultural feel because it’s something that Toronto is very well-known for, while another seems content with letting his parents make the decision for him.
Then we have cultural centres. Our most recent addition is the proposed Centre of Excellence, which is similar to other centres in that it’s race specific. The president says that although black people and Caribbean communities are the main focus of this anticipated new community centre, his group would never turn anyone away based on race. While this may be true, we can’t help but worry that we are possibly tarnishing the legend of two remarkable people who 50 years ago worked extremely hard so that today we would be equal and together.
Could cultural community centres threaten the selfless work of amazing individuals like the late Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King? Parks, an African American civil rights activist, resisted racial segregation in the 1950s by refusing to give up her seat on a bus for a white person. This event got the ball rolling all the way to the Civil Rights Movement.
King spent a good part of his life fighting for civil rights, and with his help and that of legions of followers, legal racial segregation was eventually abolished.
The understanding that segregation weakens societies was something Parks and King understood and communicated very well.
Consider for a moment, then, that although they were fighting mainly for the rights of African Americans, they were also fighting for every other race in the world. Racial segregation can affect anyone.
So by building race-specific centres, are we stepping on the toes of Parks and King? Do we really want to run the risk of possibly stopping the progression of equality to build community centres that centralize their focus on one specific race?
In an online biography by the Academy of Achievement, Parks speaks of retirement and elaborates on her exciting life.
“I do the very best I can to look upon life with optimism and hope, and looking forward to a better day, but I don’t think there is any such thing as complete happiness. I think when you say you’re happy, you have everything that you need and everything that you want, and nothing more to wish for. I haven’t reached that stage yet.”
Nor have we. There is too much crime, too much discrimination and too little understanding among cultures to be “completely” happy.
We support the building of new cultural centres, but let’s not forget our predecessors’ efforts and the strength that results from being united together.