Text Size

Celebrate African Canadian Heritage Month ~ Know Your Rights

February 15, 2018 Black History Month


Know Your Rights: Access to Justice for the African-Canadian Community

Connaissez vos droits: L’accès à la justice pour la communauté Afro-Canadienne


~Executive Summary~

You are one of the more than one hundred members of the community that participated in this event on February 6th at the library. Thank you for contributing to its success! There was a wonderful spirit in the room and a collective expression for more opportunities to learn and discuss systemic solutions. What follows are highlights of the discussion circles.  For more detailed notes, please follow this link:  Executive Summary  For a full view of the notes takes from each circle, please follow this link:  Notes

~Sommaire exécutif~

Vous faites partie de la centaine de personnes qui ont participées à l’évènement Connaissez vos droits – L’accès à la justice pour la communauté afro-canadienne du 6 février dernier à la bibliothèque. Merci pour avoir participé à ce succès ! Il y eu un magnifique esprit et une envie collective pour plus : plus d’opportunités d’apprendre et de discuter des solutions systémiques. Ce qui suit sont les points saillants des différents cercles de conversations. Veuillez cliquer sur le lien pour accéder aux notes détaillées. Pour une vue complète des notes prises dans chaque cercle, veuillez suivre ce lien: Notes


Next Steps:   We want to hear from you about where to go from here. Please let us know what actions you would like to see next. Please follow this link to a short questionnaire.

Les prochaines étapes: Nous aimerions savoir dans quelle direction nous devrions aller. Laissez-nous savoir quelles actions vous voudriez voir par la suite.  Veuillez cliquer sur ce lien pour répondre à un court questionnaire.



 Celebrate African Heritage Month and the Decade for People of African Descent February 6th at the Hamilton Central Library! This free, bilingual event focuses on Access to Justice for the Black Community. Participate in conversation circles dealing with education law, housing law, human rights, criminal law & police complaints, child protection and mental health law. Then voice issues important to you and contribute to community actions to improve access to justice, particularly for youth. Enjoy food and be entertained by drummers and a spoken word poet. The event is organized by a coalition of individuals and community organizations. Everyone is welcome! (#knowyourrights)

To register:

Download Poster in English: AHMPoster EN     

Flyers in English: /uploads/BHMENFlyer.pdf

Download Poster in French: AHMOPosterFR   

Flyers in French: /uploads/BHMFRFlyer.pdf


Know Your Rights – Access to Justice for the African-Canadian Community

Connaissez vos droits ~  Accès à la justice pour la communauté afro-canadienne

 Date:                  February 6, 2018 | 5:00 pm to 8:00 pm / vendredi 6 février 17h à 20h

Where / ou:      Hamilton Public Library – Central Branch, Hamilton, Ontario

Bibliothèque centrale de Hamilton



 5:00 pm Registration ~ Refreshments ~ Drumming / Inscription

 5:15 pm Welcome/Bienvenue ~ Celeste Licorish, Esperance Ndgendandumwe

 5:20 pm Greetings from /Salutation de Councillor Matthew Green 

5:30–6:30 pm Conversation Circles / Cercles de conversation

Join one or three twenty minute discussions in the following six areas of law:

Joignez-vous à un ou trois des discussions de 20 minutes portant sur un des domaines juridiques suivants:


Child Protection Law ~ Protection de l’enfance:  Renatta Austin, Lawyer and Notary Public

Criminal Law and Police Complaints ~ Droit criminel et plaintes contre la police:   Christien Levien,  Lawyer and founder, Legal Swipe

Education law ~ Droit de l’éducation

Alex Battick, Student of Law, Justice for Children & Youth

Housing law ~ Droit du logement: Marla Brown, Lawyer, Hamilton Community Legal Clinic

Human Rights law ~ Droits de la personne: Sharmaine Hall, Executive Director, Human Rights Legal Support Centre

Mental Health Law ~ Santé mentale: AJ Grant, Lawyer, Legal Aid Ontario and  Sarah Adjekum, Mental Health Social Worker


6:30-7:00 pm Entertainment and Dinner Break ~ Repas – Divertissements

Drum circle with / cercle de tambours avec Leo Johnson

Spoken word with / poésie parlée avec Klyde Broox


7:00–7:45 pm Conversations ~ Issues and Actions / enjeux et actions


Determine a topic of interest and participate in a discussion with community members. Identify recommendations for actions to address the issues discussed. Facilitated by Sarah Jama / Trouvez un sujet d’intérêt et participez à une discussion avec d’autres membres communautaires. Identifiez des recommandations pour des actions portant sur les enjeux.

 7:45 pm Community Report Back / Faire rapport à la communauté

 8:00 pm Closing/clôture: Spoken Word by / poésie parlée par Klyde Broox


 These are the  amazing community members that will join the conversations:


 Sharmaine Hall is the Executive Director at the Human Rights Legal Support Centre, a government funded, arm’s length agency, whose mandate is to provide free legal services to citizens who believe their rights under Ontario’s Human Rights Code have been breached.  Prior to her appointment as ED, Sharmaine worked at the Centre as Manager, Legal Services where she led a team of lawyers and non legal staff while carrying a caseload of her own. Sharmaine has extensive experience litigating discrimination cases on behalf of applicants. Prior to joining the HRLSC, Sharmaine practiced law and was the Executive Director of Dundurn Community Legal Services in Hamilton, where she regularly appeared before several administrative tribunals on behalf of low income clients.   She is a graduate of Osgoode Hall Law School and was admitted to the Ontario Bar in 1997. 


Councillor Matthew Green,  was born in Hamilton. He is a graduate of Political Science from Acadia University, attended McMaster University and received a certificate of Executive Education and Governance for Non-Profits from Harvard. Matthew was elected to City Council in 2014. He has championed workers’ rights, dignified housing, has strongly opposed carding and racial profiling, and has made Hamilton the first City in Ontario to regulate and licence payday lenders. Matthew is proud to live in the community he serves with his spouse Jayde and the joy of his life, his son Langston.

Renatta Austin, holds a Bachelor's degree in Criminology and Political Science from the University of Toronto, a law degree from the University of Toronto, Faculty of Law, and a Master's degree focused on Public Policy and Public Administration from the University of Western Ontario. Since her Call to the Ontario Bar in 2013, Renatta has also completed specialized training in trial and appellate advocacy. Renatta began her career with the City of Toronto in political and legal roles, before moving on to a prominent intergovernmental relations organization. Since hanging her own shingle in 2015, Renatta has represented clients in a variety of hearings, trials and appeals, and has appeared before municipal councils and provincial standing committees. ​ Renatta is a Director of the Women's Health in Women's Hands Community Health Centre and Parkdale Community Legal Services.​

 A.J. Grant-Nicholson is a mental health lawyer and a policy counsel at Legal Aid Ontario (“LAO”) where he currently leads mental health strategy. He has also worked as a staff lawyer in LAO’s Hamilton office where he provided legal representation and services in the areas of mental capacity and healthcare law, estate law and criminal law.

Christien Bryce Levien, J.D.,  Created the mobile application Legalswipe to educate the public on their legal rights. Christien practices criminal law. He has been featured in the National Post, Toronto Star, CBC, Business News Network, and other national news agencies for his commitment to access to justice. In addition to being a lawyer, he is involved in youth development and policing reform.

Marla Brown has been a staff lawyer with the Hamilton Community Legal Clinic (HCLC) for more than 4 years. Ms. Brown is currently the Housing Team Lead at HCLC and focuses primarily on eviction prevention of low income tenants. She also has assisted in the development of various initiatives including the Displacement Project providing know your rights training for tenants and service providers around issues of gentrification. Ms. Brown has also deputed at the City of Hamilton regarding poverty reduction and the issue racial profiling.



Sarah Jama is a community organizer and was the 2016/17 president of the McMaster Womanists. She has organized a number of events in Hamilton on racism, such as the Rise Up: Rally against Police Brutality, and Hamilton’s first Anti-Racism Action Initiative. She served a two year term as the Ontario Director of the National Educational Association of Disabled Students, and founded Maccess at McMaster University. Sarah was named by the CBC as one of Hamilton’s top five most interesting people of 2016.  She is currently a Community Engagement Liaison in the office of Councillor Matthew Green, and an Outreach Coordinator in the Hamilton Centre for Civic Inclusion.

Sarah Adjekum is a social worker, community activist, and writer born and raised in Hamilton, Ontario. The daughter of Ghanaian migrants, Sarah has been working in the Hamilton community at a grassroots level to challenge racial discrimination and its intersections. Sarah has worked in the field of mental health, trauma, and disability for 8 years. As a practitioner and educator, her work has focussed on the topics of mental health and trauma, racialized experiences with police, and the class dimensions of race. Sarah co-hosted the Anti-Racism Action Initiative, and has lent her voice to numerous conversations on the topic of inequalities including this 2018’s Women’s March Summit panel. She continues to work to connect research to inequalities through a critical race lens. Sarah enjoys sketching, and writing short stories and poetry.


Alex Battick is a Student-at-Law who works with Justice for Children and Youth to provide services to young people under 18, and homeless youth under 25 by protecting rights in the legal, education, social service and health care systems.Alex is the Non-Profit Housing Trustee for The United Achievers Club, an executive board member for the The Rexdale Community Health Centre and the Founder of BattLaw Resources. He has assisted with events that bring together the Brampton community, fundraised for Scholarship Awards to high school students, and has been a resource for individuals completing the process to have their foreign law degrees recognized in Canada.


Espérance Ngendandumwe, originaire du Burundi, demeure dans la ville de Hamilton depuis un peu plus de 20 ans. Elle travaille au Centre de santé communautaire de Hamilton en tant qu’intervenante en prévention, sensibilisation et éducation publique en matière d’agression à caractère sexuel et violence faite aux femmes. Si vous êtes intéressée à en savoir un peu plus sur les services et programmes offerts par le Centre de santé pour la communauté francophone, n’hésitez pas à l’approcher! Ça sera avec plaisir qu’elle répondra à vos questions et vous donnera de l’information du mieux qu’elle peut!


Celeste Licorish is a single mom with multiple passions – especially making Hamilton a better place for those struggling with poverty. Her passion for helping those in need shift attitudes in others while discovering themselves through stories has made her a sought after speaker and presenter in Ontario and the US. Her most recent presentation was a TedX talk in Hamilton


Leo Johnson spent eight years in refugee camps, after fleeing war-torn Liberia in 1998. He arrived in Canada in 2006. A government-sponsored refugee, he was on his own in an unfamiliar (and very cold) place. “I decided I could either carry on with a victim mentality – or be a champion of possibilities.”  He applied to McMaster University and was accepted. “They gave me a shot,” says Leo, who had completed his high school education in the refugee camps. In his second year, he founded CURE Canada (now Empowerment Squared), a charitable organization that promotes academic mentoring, access to sports and recreation, and groundbreaking educational projects in his native Liberia. He graduated with a degree in political science in 2011, but not before receiving the Albert Lager Prize for Student Initiative and earning a spot as a semi-finalist in CBC’s Next Great Prime Minister Competition. He’s also received the YMCA Peace Medal and the World Citizenship Award from the City of Hamilton – and he’s been named one of the Hamilton Spectator’s Top 40 under 40. Leo now spends his time between Canada and Liberia, his current project is the Liberian Learning Center, a community hub that will house the country’s first public library since the civil war began in 1989. “It’s been quite a journey.”


“I am the poet whose village is this entire planet. My words echo voices of many peoples, an endless poem, resounding across ages in which all my utterances form a single phoneme of our collective, eternal, universal tellurian statement of being alive “

Klyde Broox





From Last Year

Recently we wrapped up our annual series of Black History Month Posts.

Black History Month posts have become an annual tradition for us at the Clinic.

The process of putting the posts together is energizing and promotes thoughtful reflection and discussion at the clinic. We hope readers have found the posts of interest. .

These posts can be found on our website in the News Section under Black History Month and Le mois de l’histoire des Noirs.

As the Month ended, we became aware of a new initiative directed to Black Communities in Canada. We have reprinted an Open Letter to Black Communities in Canada below.


An Open Letter to Black Communities in Canada


Monday, February 20, 2017

On February 6 the, 2017, several leaders from our community hailing from Edmonton, Halifax, Montreal, Ottawa,and Greater Toronto Area, ascended upon Parliament Hill to conduct meetings with Members of Parliament toseek their support for the tabling of legislation currently being drafted by Greg Fergus, MP for Hull-Aylmer,that formally recognizes the United Nations' Declaration of the International Decade for People of AfricanDescent (2015-2024).

Our key messages aimed to raise awareness about anti-Black Racism in Canada, and advocate for a targetedapproach to address the specific and unique challenges faced by People of African Descent in Canada.

Among the topics discussed were: developing an approach to examine future legislation, policies, regulations,and procurement through an anti-Black racism lens, policing, border security, corrections, economicdevelopment, education, health equity, immigration, and diversity in public appointments.

This initiative came together quickly, so as we carry forward we wanted to explain to you how it developedand invite you to join us as we move to strengthen and sustain this important community effort.


Every February for Black History Month, our community comes together, tirelessly organizing a flurry of eventsand initiatives celebrating our collective history and culture. As a part of the celebrations this year for BlackHistory Month, and Canada 150, the Minister of Heritage, Mélanie Joly, hosted a reception in Ottawa on theevening of February 6th.

Many of us who had already planned to travel to Ottawa for the celebration, began to coordinate with oneanother to see if a few meetings could be scheduled during the day to make the most of our trip. We had ashort time in which to develop a plan of action and we had to act quickly.

Our plan of action took shape with the expertise and guidance of Tiffany Gooch, a consultant with theCanadian communications and government relations firm, ENsight. Tiffany provided pro bono service tocoordinate the groups and scheduled over 50 meetings for the day that resulted in the group speaking withmore than 60 MPs from all three major parties, with representation from 7 provinces. Subsequent meetingswere also scheduled on later dates with ministers and opposition leaders who were unavailable to meet onthe 6th.

Ensuring that we spoke with one voice during the Lobby Day, we struck a small group to quickly create aposition paper that effectively communicated our key messages and ask for the day. We capitalized on theexpertise and skills of our group members to maximize our efforts. You can read the position paper on ourwebsite at and follow the hashtag on twitter #BlackPACan or oninstagram #BlackPACan . We will be the first to admit that it does not capture all of the needs of our diversecommunity, but it is a start.

Tiffany also provided our team with government relations training, communications strategy and materials,regional outreach as our delegation grew, and facilitated weekly cross-Canada conference calls to keep thelines of communication going. Our small delegation organically grew overnight to 40 passionate and dynamicmultigenerational and multidisciplinary community leaders. We formed 10 teams altogether in order to be ableto take simultaneous meetings with MPs to amplify our key messages across Parliament Hill throughout thecourse of the day.

We would like to thank the Members of Black Caucus on Parliament Hill who hosted us and who wereinstrumental in lending their support to make the day possible. Special thanks to Celina Caesar-Chavannes,MP for Whitby, for her community outreach and the tremendous logistical support her office provided inpreparing for the day and to Greg Fergus for his leadership on the legislation. Thank you to Tiffany Goochwhose exceptional organizational and leadership skills helped us to make the Lobby Day a reality.

Moving forward with the community

In the coming months, we hope to work with you and your organization to build and grow this movement,work to ensure that our movement is fully bilingual and representative of our diverse communities, and tocontinually improve our advocacy efforts for the betterment of our communities.

Where do we move from here? We are moving ahead feeling much more energized and optimistic. Wewould also like to ensure that you are involved and to incorporate your voices. Building on the momentumfrom our Lobby Day, we will be engaging with community leaders, like you, who are entrenched in this kind ofwork, to institutionalize a Pan-Canadian Black Political Action Committee (PAC), and build the capacity forcoordinated proactive community based action. There are many considerations at play including (butcertainly not limited to):

− Regional representation− Meaningful involvement of experts in the wide variety of issues where we are advocating for change− Full representation of our widely diverse African Diaspora group− Reflecting the diversity in age for those involved in our movement− Mandate to educate, continually advocate, and create issue based campaigns as needed− Democratically structured with various options for regional collaboration− Conscious of the multi-partisan nature of our communities− Built with term limits to ensure refreshed leadership− Institutionalized to withstand the political grandstanding of any one individual or organization overthe needs of our communities as a whole− Funded by the community, with a careful eye to sustainability− Well researched for organizational structure based on international best practices for PACs− Completely owned by our community by involving organizations and individuals who are alreadycarrying out this important work

We will be facilitating one-on-one dialogues to expand this community momentum. A website is underway(the development may be slow and thoughtful) to facilitate input from the community. Very special thanksRicardo McRae of for providing website development services pro bono.We are excited to see the impact of the meetings held with the MPs and will keep you informed as this workcontinues to develop.

Who are we?

We are teachers, historians, activists, doctors, students, parents, lawyers, policy wonks, artists, academics,journalists, business professionals and entrepreneurs alike. We are women and men of all faiths, diversesexual orientations and gender perspectives living on intersections within the African Diaspora group acrossCanada who believe that our voice is stronger together.

We hope that you will join us.


Africa Centre,                                                    Edmonton Black Business and Professional Association

Black Educators Association                                Black Health Alliance

Black History Ottawa                                

Black Agenda Noir                                   

Canadian Association of Black Lawyers                Canadian Black Caucus

Canadian Council for People of African Descent    Council of Caribbean AssociationsCanada

First Fridays                                                      Inspiring and Empowering Youth

J'Nikira Dinqinesh Education Centre                     Jamaican Canadian Association

Every Child is Sacred                                          Justice for Abdirahman Coalition

Legacy Voices                                                   Network of Black Business & Professional Women

Nova Scotia Alliance of Black School Educators    Muslim Link

Ontario Alliance of Black School Educators           Ontario Black History Society

Trust 15                                                           Young Haitian Chamber of Commerce

Young Leaders Advisory Council                          3R, working with Racialized Youth & the Canadian Judicial System


 Celebrate African Canadian Heritage Month and join the community in this event:

Celebrate African Heritage Month and the Decade for People of African Descent February 6th at the Hamilton Central Library! This free, bilingual event focuses on Access to Justice for the Black Community. Participate in conversation circles dealing with education law, housing law, human rights, criminal law & police complaints, child protection and mental health law. Then voice issues important to you and contribute to community actions to improve access to justice, particularly for youth. Enjoy food and be entertained by drummers and a spoken word poet. The event is organized by a coalition of individuals and community organizations. Everyone is welcome! (#knowyourrights)Te register:

Poster in English: AHMPoster EN

Leave a comment