What It Means to Be Black in Canada Today

"BLACK IN CANADA" is a spoken word poetry project put together by three Black poets, each bringing their own perspective of the Canadian Black Experience.

Randell Adjei is the first poet laureate of Ontario. The role, which honours late poet and Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie, raises public awareness of poetry and aids the promotion of art across the province. Hailing from Scarborough, Adjei has shared the stage with the likes of Jessie Reyez and Terry Crews, and is also the founder of RISE Edutainment.

In honour of Black History Month, Complex Canada partnered with Adjei, as well as acclaimed local poets Dwayne Morgan and Faduma Mohamed. The three writers collaborated on a joint spoken word piece, bringing in a few words each about what it’s like to be Black in Canada today. Exploring themes such as Black joy, oppression, and resilience, “BLACK IN CANADA” shows the many facets of the Canadian Black experience.

Adjei, who produced the piece, chatted with us about some of the messages and concepts behind the poetry.

Tell us about the concept of the piece. What are the themes explored in this poem?
The concept of the piece was inspired by the multiple, shaded experiences of Blackness across Canada. The concept speaks on personal experiences and battles before a moment in appreciation of the resilience it takes to withstand the racist and oppressive systemic practices that shape the Black experience in Canada. The concept speaks about a personal experience of racism by Randell Adjei, reflects on an introspective journey of what it means to fight for equity as the oppressed person by Dwayne Morgan, and closes off with a playful and powerful rendition of Black resilience by Faduma Mohamed.

“I’d like folks to walk away knowing the Black experience is not monolithic and that it has different perspectives within the diaspora.”

What was it like bringing these different poets together for this project?
It was a pleasure, actually. I felt as though these voices were the right voices to participate in the poem given their lived experiences and wisdom as Black poets and service providers within the community. It was nearly seamless. We came together to discuss what it has meant for us all to be Black in Canada. We were able to discuss the similar themes and portray a piece that speaks to some of the multiple experiences of Blackness—from navigating racism, advocating for our rights, and bathing in Black joy and resilience. I admired Dwayne’s ability to contextualize the Black experience in his eyes and how Faduma was able to lighten up an otherwise heavy poem by bringing light to the fact that we are not limited to these oppressive structures. 

I understand you wanted this to go up on the last day of Black History Month. Why is that?
Well, Black History Month is about world history. Although the month of February is short, Black history and excellence is on full display 365. The last day symbolizes a new beginning. For me, it represents a call to continue the conversation and bring awareness to the need to acknowledge the Black Experience beyond February. It also speaks to Black future as a notion that our history is being made everyday.

What’s the main message you want people to take away from this video?
I’d like folks to walk away knowing the Black experience is not monolithic and that it has different perspectives within the diaspora. I also want people to get a better sense of the full spectrum; from the disappointment we have towards these oppressive ideologies to the joy we somehow still manage to exude and the resilience and pride of who we are and what we have overcome despite it all. 

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