Black Lives Here: Reflecting on why Black community members are the ones doing the work when it comes to social justice

Local resident Trevor Bazilio is concerned that our society is regressing when it comes to antiracism. Photo by Mimi Liliefeldt.

By MIMI LILIEFELDT

As February comes to a close and with it, the end of Black History Month, I wonder what sort of impact – if any – the month of observation has had.

Perhaps the local schools were investing time and effort into the annual reflection and celebration of Black History, but locally I have yet to see any evidence that it matters to anyone. This realization is a sad one though not completely unexpected. The initial enthusiasm and vigor assigned to Black social justice has waned, significantly.

Gone are the do-gooder posts of allyship and celebrations of Black achievements. The books on racism have all been read, essentially checking off all the boxes, and the majority of whiteness can move on with their lives in the comforting assumption that they have done “the work.”

Interestingly, unsurprisingly? The people that are continuously dedicated to pushing the boundaries are Black people themselves.

This reality is absurd since we are not the ones to have created and perpetuated the problems. Yet, the burden and steadfastness of white supremacy sits heavily on our shoulders, when in fact the weight should be carried by those with the greatest privilege. You wouldn’t ask someone with a broken wrist to carry your baggage, so why are we to hold the weight of your entitlement?

Local resident and part-time YMCA employee, Trevor Bazilio is someone who refuses to live in denial of our social climate. When I first explained my column to him and asked if he would be willing to participate, we had a brief chat about doing the work ourselves. He said with a smile of resignation, “If we don’t do it, who’s going to do it?”

When I asked him if he was hopeful that we could actually live in an antiracist world, he said, “I think we are regressing somewhat. Recent events of the overt support of far-right wing groups, it’s in our faces, there’s no shame. . . The lengths that they’re (the U.S.) going to defeat things like CRT (Critical Race Theory) that tells me there’s going to be no learnedness for the future. That’s what tells me we’re not progressing, because if we’re not willing to speak to these things, how are we ever going to change anything?”

Most immigrants come to North America with a sense of hopefulness and possibility. Trevor and his family were no different.

Trevor, an only child, was born in Guyana and came to Canada in the mid 1960s when he was 14 years old with his mother.

“I was excited to come to Canada. I arrived with a lot of knowledge. My relatives, aunts and uncles had immigrated to the United States and England, and they would send information. I had a little game that slides, and it was a map of North America, so I knew where Ontario was,” Trevor said.

Though when I asked him if he knew how cold Toronto was going to be he said, “no” with a laugh.

After graduating from Centennial College, he eventually found what would become his lifelong career in the printing industry. For the most part, Trevor who is friendly and engaging took pleasure in his occupation. Occasionally though, he was faced with some of the less desirable aspects of being the only Black employee.

“There was a work situation I remember where two young girls conspired. One reported (to the boss) that I had said something (bad about them), and the other supported it. So my boss called me in and I said, ‘OK, if you can prove that to be true, then I’ll resign right now.’ One of the girls fessed up, she caved.”

I asked if Trevor thought it was racially motivated and he said, “probably.”

Though the boss offered, as Trevor said, “the usual mild apology,” it doesn’t erase the maliciousness of the accusation, nor does it sit right that the coworkers were neither properly addressed nor made to apologize for the slander.

It is the latter part of the story that sends the stronger message. If the roles had been reversed, do we think Trevor would’ve been allowed to carry on without further discussion?

When you know you don’t have the same privileges as others it can hold you back from standing up for what you believe is right.

“Let’s say there are 40 people in an office environment and I’m the only Black person,” said Trevor. “Actually I’m the only Black manager, so when you sit in the board room with 10 people, you’re the only Black person there…” He let his voice trail off but it was clear Trevor was indicating the reluctance to voice any injustices.

Thankfully these unsatisfactory moments did not cloud the overall view of his profession. “I retired in 2007. Then started my own business as a printing consultant, which I still do. If you need to have something printed, I find the source. Find the right source that would suit your budget, suit your quality, suit your timelines. So, middleman, broker. I love it, the connection (with people)…

“I enjoy it, it’s from home, I set my schedules, so I have what I wanted to achieve which is the work life balance,” he said with deserved satisfaction.

What also gives Trevor great satisfaction is jazz music. “It brings me back to childhood memories of uncles playing and enjoying that music idiom. When I heard it later in life (early 20s), it was easy to listen to as it was already in my memory,” he told me.

The history of jazz music is rooted in Black culture and recognizing that fact is important. Trevor’s appreciation for the genre and its origins provoked him to organize a weekly Saturday afternoon Black History Month Tribute for the month of February at The Pilot in Yorkville.

Trevor has never shied away from his Blackness. He is the proud father of a biracial daughter whom as she grew up, he encouraged to engage in Black culture through his own embracing of it.

“She was influenced because everything around her was Black. Everything that I did, the music was Black, the books were Black, but nothing was (specifically) said,” he shared.
“She came home one day and was saying, ‘Shania Twain’s so good’. And evil dad was saying, ‘OK…listen to a little Janet Jackson’,” he admitted with a mischievous laugh and later added, “’You wanna go to the Boyz to Men concert? I’ll buy you tickets.’”

For far too long, Black people have not been made to feel proud of their Blackness. Every so often a Black person becomes famous or successful and white society opens up to accept them. It’s like being approved to be part of an exclusive club, but the truth is concessions should not have to be made in order for our existence to be accepted.

Rich, poor, athletic or not, we should be celebrated and elevated in all the same ways as white people without having to go above and beyond societal norms in order to be recognized as human.

So, it’s a shame that Black History Month seems to have fallen a bit flat this year because there is so much more we need to learn and celebrate about the Black experience in order to move towards to true equality.

Trevor himself said it best: “We all want the same thing. Success, job, whatever. What you want in your life, I want too, without hindrances. And to do that you must know me and understand me.”

Mimi Liliefeldt is a Beach resident and business owner. She can be reached at mimi@missfit.ca


Was this article informative? Become a Beach Metro Community News Supporter today! For 50 years, we have worked hard to be the eyes and ears in your community, inform you of upcoming events, and let you know what and who is making a difference. We cover the big stories as well as the little things that often matter the most. CLICK HERE to support your Beach Metro Community News!

Click here for our commenting guidelines.

Leave a Reply

*