Ontario's NDP celebrates human rights champions
April 8, 2017
Having a young boy in the audience approach him after a public speaking engagement to say he shared the same first name with Mohamed Salih was a defining moment for the London city councillor.
“That made me realise I got to do what I have to do despite how difficult and frustrating it may seem at times,” said Salih who came to Canada as a refugee. “That moment was enough for me to continue to be motivated. While I don’t consider myself a role model, I know this boy is looking up to me and I have to be there for him and others who are seeking inspiration.”
Salih, who fled warn-torn Sudan with his mother and sister over two decades ago, was the recipient of an individual Leadership Award at the 20th annual J.S Woodsworth Awards event at the Jamaican Canadian Association centre.
This was the first time that the ceremony was held outside Queen’s Park.
A strong advocate for human rights and an outspoken opponent of police carding and payday loans, Salih effectively utilized social media and hustle to capture Ward 3 in the London civic elections in October 2014, becoming one of Ontario’s youngest councillors at age 28.
While campaigning, he experienced racism’s sting when fried chicken and a watermelon were tossed at his signs.
The discrimination made Salih stronger and inspired him to be a successful Canadian.
“I know I am an immigrant, a visible minority and a proud Muslim and those things will not change,” he said. “There are many misconceptions about Canada’s Black community, but when you start to peel the onion and see who we are and what we are as a community at the core, people will realize that we are amazing people who are contributing significantly to this province and this country.”
Salih was a member of the Canadian Forces Military Police before joining Canada Border Services Agency.
The Ontario New Democratic Party (NDP) administers the awards which commemorate the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination which is celebrated on March 21.
On that day in 1960, a large crowd of Black South Africans assembled in front of the Sharpeville police station to protest the pass laws imposed by the apartheid government. The pass laws were statues requiring Blacks to carry a reference (pass) book with them when they traveled outside of their homes. The protest escalated into violence, resulting in the police killing 69 protestors - many of whom were shot in the back - and wounding 180 in what has come to be known as the ‘Sharpeville Massacre’.
Andrea Horwath, the province’s NDP leader who presented the awards, thanked the recipients for their hard work, sacrifice and energy.
“While the particular communities and causes that each nominee and winner has represented is as unique as the various social fabrics of Ontario, they are all united by the shared values of fairness, inclusion, community and diversity,” she said. “And in your own ways, each and every one of you has stood up against racism, prejudice, fear and hate and that work continues today. Some days, it’s easy to get discouraged because it feels like every time you go online, open a newspaper or turn on the television, there is another report about some kind of anti-Black, anti-Semitic, anti-Indigenous, an Islamophobia attack or an act of hate in our communities That kind of racism has no place in Ontario or Canada.
“The people in this room are champions working everyday to improve Ontario. That is what the J.S Woodsworth Awards are all about. In the face of so much negativity, today is about the positive, the gratitude and inspiration. Every nominee is deserving of our thanks because the work you do is essential, but it’s not often the kind of work that earns you accolades, fame or fortune. I know this is not what motivates you. This kind of work often demands sacrifice, long hours and a serious sense of determination, but you do it selflessly to create a better life for those who may come after you and to make a better life for you and your family, your neighbours, your community and all Ontarians.”
Author and Brampton Festival of Literary Diversity (FOLD) founder Jael Richardson and sexual assault survivor Farrah Khan were recognized with Women of Distinction Awards.
In 2008, Richardson accompanied her father – former Canadian Football League (CFL) player Chuck Ealey – who attended the ceremony -- to Ohio for his high school’s 40th reunion. The quarterback-turned-successful financial industry leader, who never lost a football game in high school or at the University of Toledo, came to Canada after he was overlooked in the 1972 National Football League (NFL) draft because of his skin colour and the position he played.
At the time, Richardson didn’t know why he came to Canada, leaving the Portsmouth projects and its railroad tracks where he first learned to throw by pelting stones at the passing railway cars. The outcome of that trip and some of Ealey’s never-before-told-stories are captured in ‘The Stone Thrower’, an engaging father-daughter memoir that was launched five years ago.
The recipient of a CBC Bookie Award, Richardson’s book is a moving story about race and destiny written by a daughter who is also seeking answers about her own Black history. Using insightful interviews, archival records and her personal reflections, Richardson’s journey to learn about her father’s past led to discoveries about herself and what it means to be Black in Canada.
The 2013 Toronto District School Board Writer-in-Residence, who wrote a children’s book based on ‘The Stone Thrower’, launched FOLD last year.
“We think it’s really important to provide a platform for diverse authors to present their work and it’s great to have a festival like this in Brampton,” added Richardson.
This year’s event takes place from May 4-7.
Khan, a nationally recognized advocate and educator with over 17 years’ experience supporting survivors of sexual violence, accepted the award on behalf of sexual assault survivors.
“I started this work as a survivor because I feel that people like myself deserve to be safe,” said the Ryerson University sexual violence support & education co-ordinator. “I didn’t see racialized women in a conversation about sexual violence, I didn’t see us having leadership positions and I didn’t see us being reflected in how violence affected our lives.”
Other winners were Nipissing First Nation educator Jenny Dupuis, , spoken word artist Mustafa Ahmed, Legal Assistance of Windsor Indigenous justice coordinator Katie Baltzer, the Black Community Action Network of Peel and the Canadian Somali Mothers Association.
The awards ceremony honour the legacy of J.S. Woodsworth who was a powerful advocate for Ontario's working class in the early 1900s. In 1932, he created the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), a political party that was the forerunner of the NDP.