Dr. Kwaku Kusi-Appiah

Build that Caribbean/African Community centre now! 
by Dr. Kwaku Kusi-Appiah

Monday 27 May 2024

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Home is a place you grow up wanting to leave,

and grow old wanting to get back to.”

Wendell Berry, writer, environmental activist, and farmer

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Introduction
The concept of ‘home’ encompasses more than just a physical space; it represents a fundamental aspect of human existence and performance, it shapes our identities, relationships, and sense of belonging. Most wonderful mmemories are created in the home, and it is also the place where friends belong, and laughter never ends. Without a place to call home, a community risks losing an essential anchor, leaving it adrift in an uncertain and often challenging environment. In this piece, I centre my thoughts around the geographical concepts of place and identity for Blacks in the Canadian space.Specifically, I argue that any ‘community’ that does not own a designated place in a politically delineated space has not fully integrated into that political space, and that creates deep challenges in that geographical space. Geographical space is the voluminous void that contains all the things humans desire and cherish.  In this space, places are formed, and sense of place becomes manifest, and the resultant landscapes define cultures and communities.

Showing up is half the solution

On March 16, 2024, I attended Ghana’s 67th Independence celebration (Ghana gained independence from colonial Britain on March 6, 1957) in Ottawa, Canada’s designated capital city, with Ghana’s High Commissioner of Canada in attendance. The event was well-organized, well-attended and very colourful. As usual, the food was great, and I was particularly proud that some of my students attended and sat at the same table with me. We enjoyed the traditional dancing and the fashion show, as well as the speeches. I am immensely proud of the work done by the organizers (too few, in my not-to-be humble opinion). But I left the event a little sad and dejected.

Place matter

I was not sad because it was cold and wet on my way back home:

I was not sad because my favourite fufu na abe n’kwan (fufu and palm nut soup with fresh fish) was not served at the event.

I was sad because Ghana’s event was held at the Ukranian Hall (a ‘foreign space) in Ottawa. Please don’t get me wrong; I am thankful that we found a place to host our event, but I am not particularly thrilled that we do not have a permanent Black-owned-and-operated hall for our activities.

Not having a place we can call our ‘home’ or community space like the Ukranian Hall is sad. Space/place is often intertwined with connections to family, friends, home, and community. ‘Home’ is where we gather with loved ones, share meals, celebrate milestones, and support each other through life’s challenges. ‘Home’ is linked to our roots and heritage, reflecting our cultural, ethnic, and familial backgrounds. It is a place where traditions are upheld ideally upheld (e.g., local languages are spoken, and cultural practices are passed down through generations at ‘home’). Our sense of belonging and connection to home is shaped by the stories, histories, and legacies embedded within its walls and landscapes.

Scrambling for place

I have always watched with clinched fists the hussle and scramble for a place to hold our meetings or to commemorate milestones important to the community.

Among other things, our lack of a designated place for our events, is the reason why our influence is not very huge. The monies we spend on community spaces do not trickle down to our community – it is money that could have been spent on other priorities such as investments on other physical needs for the community. In addition, we are not able to make any inroads politically because we are scattered (apologies to Chinua Achebe)!

Past efforts have yielded modest results

We are at this juncture not for want of trying (or not for lack of trying). As early as the 1970s, Blacks of Caribbean descent who formed the first wave of Black immigration to Ottawa, did everything they could to acquire a community space. In the1990s and early 2000s, both Blacks of Caribbean and African descent joined forces to build a ‘home’ for people of Black ancestry in Ottawa.  Unfortunately, we were unable to move it further because the ‘community’ had not raised enough funds for the construction of the building.

It is not for fun that there is a Gawdwara (Sikh community centre) in every major city in the world.  The Sikhs have developed this tendency of building a community centre where they gather for all their activities.  It works for them; it will work for us!

Loss and Displacement

The absence of a place to call home can have profound emotional and psychological impacts, leading to feelings of displacement, loneliness, and alienation. Whether due to forced migration, homelessness, or involuntary displacement, the loss of home disrupts individuals’ sense of identity and belonging. Some of the benefits of having a designated place we call home are as follows; a)maintaining cultural identity, b) strengthening community bonds, offering entrepreneurship and economic development opportunities, c) serving as hubs for job training and educational workshops, d) enabling the community to organize and advocate more effectively for their rights and interests, e) dedicated venues for freely expressing their cultural identities without fear of discrimination or marginalization, and f) proving a platform for discussions, meetings, and campaigns related to social justice, immigration issues, and other challenges faced by the diaspora.

Conclusion

In essence, the concept of “home” encompasses more than just a physical space; it represents a fundamental aspect of human existence, shaping our identities, relationships, and sense of belonging in the world. Without a place to call ‘home’, we risk losing an essential anchor in our lives, leaving us adrift in an uncertain and often challenging world.

Hence, a dedicated place for events would help the Caribbeans and African diaspora to preserve their culture, build a strong community, create economic opportunities, advocate for their rights, and provide a safe environment for expression and celebration.

Build that community centre now!

Ma no asi!