Could you tell me about your childhood? Where were you born? Is there anything about your childhood that stands out for you?
I was born and raised in Trinidad and Tobago. I have a lot of memories of my childhood but what I think I remember the most of my childhood is my parents’ love. I tell people in all my life, I only remember my parents arguing once. I am sure they argued more but somehow they managed to keep us out of it. They stressed the importance of family, education and religion. All of these are central to my life right now.
Was there any person or persons that influenced your childhood the most?
My mother, my dad, my grandmother and my Sunday school teacher, Ms Dolly.
What is your educational background?
I have a background in Chemistry, Psychology and Social Work.
Could you describe your day job?
There isn’t a typical day for me as a social entrepreneur. However, I spend a lot of time building relationships and exploring new opportunities to grow my for-profit and my not-for-profit businesses. I attend a lot of meetings and have to follow up on various action items of those meetings. I engage in everything from marketing, accounting, shipping, program development, human resource management, partnership development, client engagement and public speaking. On the other part of my life, I am a Manager at the YMCA of Greater Toronto. I manage 4 programs- A youth employment, youth leadership, youth entrepreneurship and a disability program. I will be managing shortly a Young Women’s Entrepreneurship program. Again my typical day is all over the place but a lot of time is spent dealing with client and staff concerns. I spend a lot of time writing proposals and reports as well as doing a lot of community development work.
You are well known for your involvement with the Braids for AIDS. Could you tell us about its origins? Can you describe its mandate, organization, challenges and achievements?
I have always had a passion for work in the African, Caribbean and Black Community as I am a woman from the African Caribbean and Black Community. HIV/AIDS is an issue that impacts this community, not only in third world countries but in Canada. The story of how I started BrAIDS for AIDS is a story of oppression, racism, sexism and ageism while working in the HIV/AIDS field and needed an outlet for community voices to be heard and my voice to be heard. BrAIDS for AIDS’ mission: Promoting HIV/AIDS awareness and access to resources for Black communities through culturally appropriate practices. Our vision is clear that ” African Caribbean and Black communities will engage in dialogue in safe and open spaces to reduce the stigma and spread of HIV/AIDS.” There are many challenges in this field. One of my main challenges is dealing with competitive individuals and organizations. It is sometimes sad to see in this “helping” field that people will try to steal other’s ideas and be competitive. I am always open to collaboration so it bothers me when I experience competition. Another challenge is getting non- health funding bodies to get the concept of BrAIDS for AIDS.
Outside of your job and your role as leader of the Braids for AIDS, do you have any other hobbies?
I am a poet, a dancer and a Zumba enthusiast.
What do you see as the biggest challenge in promoting AIDS prevention among people of African and Caribbean heritage in Canada? How can you overcome it? From your perspective, is there any hope of finding a cure in the foreseeable future, for this debilitating disorder which affects large numbers of people of African descent?
I think stigma and discrimination is one of the biggest challenges in promoting AIDS prevention. I think that with our organization, we have an in road with a lot of people because there is a beauty/fashion/a needed service attached on to the HIV/AIDS issue that makes people a little more okay to talk to us. I was recently talking to a young man in the prison and he was like this program works because it work on me. I am getting a free braid up and I am getting a serious talk. I chuckled. I said I am glad you see it that way. There are a lot of advancements in research that look at certain stem cell gene therapy as possibilities for a cure. However we know with the marginalization of people, there are few that will have early access to any sort of cure. I think one of the most troubling things I read when I started this field is the issue of patents and how many large companies will put many barriers to the making of generic drugs that could impact the lives of many in third world countries. I say Poverty is a money making business.
Looking at Canada’s black population, there seems to be a divide between African and Caribbean communities on the one hand and Anglophone and francophone communities on the other. Do you agree with this perspective and if so what can be done to remedy this divide?
Yes I agree. There are even more divides. I remember once that a man telling me that I am not black enough when I had my hair. There is religion. We can always find something different in someone else but I think it is building unity through our shared experiences.
Over the years, have you seen any change in the status of the black population in Canada? Are we any better off now than say, ten or fifteen years ago?
I see some growth but we are still at the lower end of many aspects of life: health, socio-economic status, housing. So is that really growth?
There are some segments of our community which claim that black men do not respect black women and vice versa, that we tend to defer to other races when we interact with them, especially white Caucasians. Do you agree with this perspective?
That is a tricky question. I have heard some young black men state that I will not date a black woman at all and to me that is just a bit off. However a man is free to have his preferences so I cannot really judge. To each their own.
Looking at the Black population in Canada, what do you see as our greatest challenge and how do we resolve it? What are our strengths?
Greatest challenge- Coming together. Our strengths- Our strength is our strength. We are a people that have gone through so much, continue to go through so much and we are still pushing.
Finally, do you have a message for readers of Black Ottawa Scene?
Ottawa will always be home to me. Ottawa is a unique place. The Black community is so different that Toronto. The Black community is more close knit in Ottawa and so they need to harness that.