Monday, October 15, 2012

Dr. Afua Cooper

By Trisha Mitchell

Dr. Afua Cooper       Photo: C. Ferguson
Born into a close knit family during a period of great changes in rural Jamaica, Afua Cooper remembers a childhood with, “history exploding all around me.” Dr. Cooper tells the tale of living in the shadows of a fierce and bloody history. Her home in Westmoreland, Jamaica was located just meters from the historic sugar cane plantation and she grew up listening to tales passed on by a Grandmother who had lived in the days when the cane fields were still ripe with cane and the men of the village still paid homage to the land with their backs to the sky. Afua also remembers growing up in an era of new consciousness in Jamaican music, Bob Marley and his brand of conscious music had begun to agitate not only a new sense of consciousness in the people, but also to bring a new consciousness of the outside world.

Afua moved to Toronto at a time when Canada’s economic policy included openness to immigration from Caribbean nations to fill spots as teachers, child care workers and care givers. Having always been interested in history and Caribbean Studies, after a brief stint as a teacher, Afua entered the realm of Canadian academia with a challenging, questioning nature that often left her short of marks on numerous assignments! Her questioning nature would eventually lead her to complete ground breaking research on African Slavery in Canada. Her research documented the lives of slaves like Henry Bib and Angelique, a clear indication of the presence of slave owners in Canada long before the Underground railroad.  Canada's early settlers had indeed brought African slaves to Upper Canada in the 1780’s after which slavery expanded rapidly as British Loyalists brought their slaves with them.

Her work in this area, led her to become a highly acclaimed author and high profile activist. So much so that in 2007, Afua was one of the fifteen individuals appointed by the Ontario government to advise the government on province-wide projects to commemorate the bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade, a little talked about part in Canada’s history.  Dr. Cooper acted as lead coordinator responsible for funding community initiatives and speaks candidly and proudly of those projects and their impact on the Afro-Canadian population. The commemoration activities afforded the opportunity for education, ownership, understanding.

Despite all this work, Afua laments that we still have a long way to go towards knowledge of self and claiming ownership of this space called Canada. She notes that we still have not taken ownership of this space, have not created our own systems, our own industries, owned our own lands. She further challenges the notion of repatriation as purely monetary, noting that, “history and culture is part ah dat too, not just finances. Is in the telling, that great gift of story-telling that we enable a new generation to know themselves. Our youth need to be fed our stories, culture, heritage, art, like good cornmeal porridge on ah early mawning, to mek dem whole, to feed dem body, mind and spirit…History, heritage, blood, family….. that is we identity.”- 2012

Despite her academic success, Afua’s first love is poetry, her face glows as she speaks of it, describing it as  “the first medium I used as a child to understand my world… (It is) my heart, it feeds and sustains me …the voice, sound and movementthe past colliding with the future.”-2012

Dr. Afua Cooper has used and continues to use the gift of poetry and documentation to verbalize reflections of the black family, history, heritage, enslavement here in Canada. Attempting, through artistic explorations of “myth, memory and voice,” to restore humanity to the enslaved. For this the AfroCanadaViews team recognizes her as a GIANT on whose shoulder our Afro Canadian Community STANDS.


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