Until We Are Free

23 April 2020

Until We Are Free: Reflections on Black Lives Matter in Canada
Edited by Rodney Diverlus, Sandy Hudson, and Syrus Marcus Ware
Published by University of Regina Press
Review by Shelley A. Leedahl
$27.95 ISBN 9-780889-776944

This multi-voiced tour-de-force details the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement from compelling Canadian perspectives. It’s comprehensive, diverse, and explains the “origin story” and trajectory of BLM – praise-worthy, all – but I also commend the anthology’s structure. Editors Sandy Hudson (founder of the BLM’s Canadian presence and BLM—Toronto) and Rodney Diverlus (a Haitian-born artist, activist, educator and member of BLM—Toronto) have written a creative introduction set in “An Imagined Future” (2055 C.E.), after the world’s been decimated by “droughts, fires … class wars” and “race wars”. The narrator melts beneath the blistering sun under one of the few remaining trees on a “weekly water-sourcing trek,” and reflects upon this very book. “We wrote about our future,” he/she says, “and it was beautiful”. It’s a literary entry into a text that’s alternately academic, political, and also written for those just learning about the movement, which was spawned after the 2013 acquittal of George Zimmerman re: the shooting murder of the unarmed Black teen Trayvon Martin. “This case captured the public’s attention and triggered a global discourse on anti-Black violence not seen in a generation,” the editors write. (Californian Alicia Garza was first to pen #BlackLivesMatter, and the movement quickly spread “from a viral hashtag to an online platform”.)

The book’s invaluable for the myriad experiences it archives, and it’s hefty in both size and content: 320 pages of strong statements by those who’ve lived beneath the shadow of racism. “Police violence and anti-Black attitudes are realities that define the Black Experience in Canada,” the editors state. They’ve collected essays and conversations between organizers, activists, artists, academics – and the imprisoned-for-murder writer Randolph Riley – and document ideas, protests (ie: Tent City at the Toronto Police Service Headquarters), and victories, including The Black Lives Matter—Toronto Freedom School (“providing an avenue for children to be involved in the movement”) and the Canadian Freedom Intensive.

Riley’s story came painfully alive for me with the startling image of the young Nova Scotia student’s visit – “in cuffs and shackles” – to his mother’s funeral at Cherrybrook Baptist Church. “‘I’m sorry to come before you like this,” he says to his community. “There is no stopping the love” as people in the historically Black community “line up to hug him, to touch him, to cry with him”.

For some contributors, like poet Queentite Opaleke, being called “nigger”- by her Grade Four teacher! – started her activism. I learned that the Black community of Africville – formerly on the Halifax shoreline – was “bulldozed” in 1964 and its 400 residents forced into housing projects sans compensation for their properties and possessions; that scholar Tiffany King uses “fungible” to explain how “Black people were treated as interchangeably as seeds … to terraform the land in order to change it for the process of colonization;” and that the KKK received permission from Edmonton’s mayor to hold a rally at the Exhibition Grounds in 1932 (copies of the actual letters are in the book).

The stories are eye-opening, hopeful, and important.


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