Today, I was reminded that I'm an outsider.
I didn't grow up in Toronto. I don't share the same memories of high school track meets, all-ages jams, summer jobs at Canada's Wonderland, or the days when the Caribana parade was anywhere but along Lakeshore. I came here almost 6 years ago, in the midst of that sensitive crux of girlhood-to-womanhood, ready to make my mark on the big city. My residency began in late 2006, but my love affair with Toronto was born many moons before that.
I was born and raised in London, Ontario - a small city known for its post-secondary educational facilities, greenery (it's been dubbed "The Forest City"), and penchant for adopting street and landmark names from that other London, across the pond. London was not known for its diversity. Having "Nigger!" yelled out to you from passing cars as you walked to school, and having people insult and mock your parents' accents was the norm for me as a child. It was our regular family trips to Toronto that reconnected me with something I didn't realize I was missing. Mom, sis, and I would get our hair done at the salon while Dad and bro got shaped up at the barbershop across the street. Reggae music blasted from the shops along Eglinton West as we hit up Rap's for lunch, and Sunlight Bakery for fresh Hardo bread. The coolest spot was the record shop where Dad would buy all the latest reggae 45s. I loved the feel of vinyl under my fingers, loved the bass that pulsed through the tiny shop as Dad asked the owner to "play dis yah one - mek me hear di riddim", and loved visiting this Black mecca where elements of my Caribbean culture seemed to just be - it wasn't an anomaly or something to be ridiculed like it was at home. Toronto was where I came to understand community.
Memories of the mecca of my childhood collided with the reality of the past week. Since July 16th, Toronto streets have seen 3 shooting incidents that have left 4 dead - and in one shooting, left over 20 people injured. Reaction amongst friends, family, and social media connects have ranged from nonchalance to burning outrage.
"Get rid of the guns!"
"Too many good-for-nothing people are sitting around on welfare."
"This is what happens when kids are fatherless, and mothers aren't mothering."
"Children need better mentors and role models."
"Where's the funding for positive community programs?"
"Again? Ain't nothing new about this."
The only conclusion I can reach is that the violence in our city is a multi-layered, multi-faceted issue. Guns are too readily available in this city, and that warrants policy review of its own - however, the true problem is apparent long before someone (mainly our young Black men) gets their hands on a firearm. Our youth are disconnected - from family and family values, from meaningful education, from gainful employment, from self-esteem, and from respect for self and others. As poet/speaker/social entrepreneur Dwayne Morgan mentioned in his piece, we've lost the sense of community that was once the norm, and now function as a set of individual souls, surviving on our own without the ability to reach out, solely looking out for me, myself, and I.
Too many youth are empty, but please understand that they're filling those gaps. Youth hunger for so much, and are consistently seeking out the junk-food equivalent of the things they lack. They're finding a sense of belonging from gang affiliation, love from partners who really have no clue what healthy love consists of, self-esteem from the smoke-and-mirror magic trick of image as seen in the media, and security from monetary gain - problematic whether through illegal means, or whether it's legal, but the only thing they value in life.
So, the million-dollar question remains: where do we go from here? How do we remove the junk from our youth's value diets and infuse them with the things that will help them to grow and thrive? How do we get parents to understand the depth of their role in a child's life? How do we get our children excited about education? How do we create a society that provides opportunity and financial stability? How do we learn to respect ourselves as a minority community in order to gain respect from those who look down on us? How can those of us in a position to mentor find effective ways to do so? How do we find trust in leadership that tells us to "move on" and wants to investigate immigration laws to "get 'em [criminals] out of Toronto"? So many questions, and to be honest, my brain hurts from working on my personal responses.
Like I said at the beginning of this post - I was reminded I'm an outsider. I was told that since I didn't grow up in Toronto, since I wasn't born and bred here, I couldn't truly relate to or feel the pain of what this violence is doing to the city. I may not have paid my dues to Toronto, but this city was often more of a home than my home in childhood. This city was where a girl became a woman. This city has a significant piece of my heart, and that love motivates me to do my utmost best to see the esteem, respect, success, security, and future of its inhabitants lifted up. The mecca must return.
Whether you live in Toronto or not - what are your thoughts on violence and the issues youth are facing today?