Being Black in Winnipeg

Rhonda Wilson-Thompson reflects on being black in Manitoba and the struggles, victories of the community

 

Manitobans celebrate the diversity and commonalities of the community during Black History Month in February 2019. (Submitted by Rhonda Thompson-Wilson)

“Where are you from?” I would be asked. “Oh, I’m from here” would be my response.

Simple enough, right? Nope. 

Most times when asked the question, it was followed up with, “No, where are you from?” Because the assumption was that black people were not Canadian by birth — not at that time, anyway. 

I would have to then explain my birthright claim to the true north. 

During my childhood, most of my time outside my predominantly white school environment was spent with other children from Caribbean homes. My parents still share stories of how close the black community was, back in the late ’70s and ’80s.

I learned very early on to love the skin I was in. But as I got older, I was tested by others to conform — whether it was to straighten my hair or dress a certain way. 

I was ‘too Caribbean’ to be Canadian and vice versa.– Rhonda Thompson-Wilson

Living in a larger Canadian city like Winnipeg, we were blessed with a large black population (relative to many smaller cities and towns), so we were afforded the opportunity to feel at ease and congregate with others from a similar cultural background, and share stories of the racial tensions we face as a people.

Sadly, not all black Canadians have that privilege. Couple that with the fact that blacks are not represented in mainstream media, one can be left feeling, well — lost.

I have always related much more with my Caribbean connection than with the country of my birth. But the fact remained in many eyes that I was “too Caribbean” to be Canadian and vice versa. I am so glad that our community had the foresight to build associations and churches that would become gathering places for newcomers.

 

Thompson-Wilson says she is grateful for community organizations like Winnipeg’s Jamaican Cultural Centre.(Submitted by Rhonda Thompson-Wilson)

Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”

It rings true that those that are introduced to their culture from early on tend to grow in it. Having a sense of self, and what I was born out of, gave me the confidence to tackle adversity and struggles.

When questioned about my uniqueness, I did not cower or feel the need to downplay it. I accepted that I was different than most of my classmates and co-workers, and welcomed the chance to recognize this and share things that others may not have been aware of.

Diversity within the black community

Members of the broader community may not understand how diverse we are as black people.

Our brown skin tone can often be our only commonality. Among us, our language, food, music, attire is so varied and equally beautiful, that those within even have a tough time keeping track!

It always astounds me to think of the rich cultures of our motherland, with more than 1,000 languages and the basis for most other genres of music; or how in the Caribbean, islands have tasty national dishes unique to them. 

Yet on the surface, you usually cannot tell what region a person is from.

In my lifetime, I have proudly witnessed barriers come down, and those given the toughest odds persevere despite it all.– Rhonda Thompson-Wilson

Back in the day, when we saw other black people, there was always a greeting, to the point where I knew I would get asked, “Do you know them?” and I would laugh and say, “No.”

To us, it was a sign of respect to acknowledge each other. We knew that even if we didn’t know them personally, they were likely linked to us in some fashion. I miss that.

In my lifetime, I have proudly witnessed barriers come down, and those given the toughest odds persevere despite it all.

Because of what I have personally experienced, it organically became my passion to give back to the community that groomed me. 

I thank my parents and the leaders in our community — leaders like Mr. Wade Kojo Williams Sr., Rev. Milton W. Chambers, Mrs. Mavis McLaren, Mr. Horace Patterson, Mr. John Jack and others — too many to name — who made personal sacrifices for the greater good of all.

These are the ones who were turned away for housing and jobs, and who fought for the freedoms we enjoy today. 

Take an opportunity all year around, but especially during Black History Month, to get to know about the struggles, victories and contributions of our strong, resilient black community.– Rhonda Thompson-Wilson

We should all make it a priority to pass down our stories, good and bad, to educate and enlighten others so that they are aware of what came before us — and we should not wait until it’s too late in life to do so. We are storytellers with much to share, so we must shine whenever the opportunity presents itself, and create opportunities where none exist. 

Remember, ignorance breeds nothing good, so when others are curious about the differences within our greater human race, use the opportunity to educate.

Take an opportunity all year around, but especially during Black History Month, to get to know about the struggles, victories and contributions of our strong, resilient black community.


 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

Rhonda Thompson-Wilson

Rhonda Thompson(-Wilson) is an HR professional, a singer/songwriter and a mentor who regularly donates her time to community organizations — from performing, to financial consulting to facilitating events. She is also the treasurer for Winnipeg’s Black History Month Celebration Committee and the Congress of Black Women of Manitoba.

Source:  CBC News
 
 
 
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