Rallying against racism: How these Kingston organizers want to turn words into actions

TVO.org is speaking to activists across Ontario to find out what's happening in their communities — and how they're fighting injustice. Today, we interview Mofi Badmos and Lavie Williams of Black Luck Collective
By David Rockne Corrigan - Published on Jun 10, 2020
A scene from the Black Lives Matter solidarity vigil at Kingston's McBurney Park on June 2. (Stephanie Hogeboom)

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George Floyd’s killing by Minneapolis police on May 25 has sparked a wave of protests in the United States, in Canada, and around the world. 

Over the past two weeks, millions of demonstrators have taken to the streets. Coverage in the U.S. has focused largely on the massive displays of support in major cities, but demonstrations have also been held in smaller towns across the country.

The same has been true in Ontario: thousands have grouped, gathered, and marched in such major centres as Ottawa and Toronto to speak out against anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism. But events have also been held in Guelph, Thunder Bay, Niagara Falls — and the list goes on. 

This week, TVO.org will talk to those involved in the movement in cities, towns, and other communities across the province about what they're fighting for — and where Ontario should go from here. 

Today: Mofi Badmos and Lavie Williams, founding members of Black Luck Collective, which hosts social, professional, and educational events to promote “the coming-together of new and seasoned Black Kingstonians.”

TVO.org: Let's start with last Tuesday. For people who aren't in Kingston or weren't there that day, can you describe what took place at the event that Black Luck Collective organized on June 2 at McBurney Park?

Mofi Badmos: On Tuesday, we had a vigil gathering to come together in the name of the lives of the Black people and Indigenous people and other people of colour that have been killed by the police — also police brutality — in the context of white supremacy of our society. So, on this day, we gathered in the space. It was opened up by a drummer, Yessica Rivera Belsham, who is a community member and Indigenous woman here in Kingston. We had words from one of the organizers, a land acknowledgment, people chanted, we shared together — in grief and community. 

TVO.org: I know in some cities in Canada and the United States, we're seeing marches and protests. There was a rally in Kingston on June 6. Why was it important to hold a vigil?

Lavie Williams: Mofi and I had a conversation about that, and what we spoke about was what was impactful about the vigil was the act of seeing Black people coming together to support each other. And so, in Kingston, the reason why we decided to call it a vigil, it was primarily to get across the thoughts of what we were hoping and wanting people to do: to come together, to take up space together, and to mourn the lives that have been lost in connection to police brutality. Marches and protests, I think, also do that. And I think the intention, as well, was to take up space in the park and not march through the city. So we thought that the vigil signified that a little bit better than calling it a march or a protest.

TVO.org: What did it mean to you individually to take part in last Tuesday’s vigil?

Badmos: Lavie has kind of alluded to one of the reasons we did this, and the biggest meaning for me was seeing Black people in Kingston together. You know, there's this notion that there's no Black people or other people of colour living in this city. And for us to be able to organize this as Black people, and show up with members of our community, meant so much to me. And some of the words that were spoken — the power behind those words that we have as Black people and the organizing that we can do. But, also, the hurt and exhaustion we’re feeling in this moment. 

Williams: For me, in addition to all of what Mofi has just said, is also the number of people who turned up and witnessed the awakening of many to the long-standing reality of anti-Blackness. This is a conversation that has been around in Kingston for a very, very long time. And a lot of feedback that we did get on the vigil is the sheer number of people who turned out. People were not expecting so many supporters. And so I think that that is a long-lasting memory for me around what seems to be an awakening in Kingston.

TVO.org: Last week, Tianna Edwards published a piece about racism in her hometown of Kingston. (Editor’s note: TVO.org republished the article on June 1.) What was your reaction to that piece?

Badmos: It is great to see Black people speaking up and speaking out and using their voice, or using their platform, because we're perpetually silenced by white supremacy. And you see this in many instances, in how white voices are typically privileged over Black voices in conversations around anti-racism. Seeing Tianna’s voice out there, I was very happy to see that.

Williams: I said we've been talking about racism in Kingston for a very long time, but it's typically stagnated around diversity and inclusion, instead of anti-racism. I want to give my love and support to Tianna. I think that she’s been very brave in being so vulnerable. She and I have spoken, and I know she’s received many accounts of others who have experienced similar realities in Kingston and across Canada. 

Badmos: I want to also say that, as we share our stories, I want to emphasize that we should not need to unpack and share our pain and trauma in order for white and non-Black folks to show up and do the work. Folks should organize because history and the present already provide many accounts for why — just look around you, listen, and pay attention.

TVO.org: The vigil was a big moment for Kingston. Where does the community go from here?

Williams: We definitely need to move beyond dialogue. It's important to talk; it’s important to have these conversations; it’s important to have education on these topics. But we definitely need to move beyond the dialogue and move into action. A big part of that, for me, is seeing that reflected in the way that our city is set up. I think that it's really important to have dedicated and paid Black personnel who are working on anti-racism strategies in this city. And, so, when questions do get asked and when there are issues that people — Black people, people of colour, or Indigenous people — are facing in the city, we can really point to or connect with people who are working on it and committed to it, through and through. I think that also looks like funding. Funding for particular projects that maybe the Black community across Kingston may need. And the final piece that I would like to add: there need to be physical spaces for Black people in Kingston, which includes services. I think a lot of the time, Black people come to Kingston and don't see themselves reflected in the spaces, don't see themselves being catered to, and that signals to Black people, ‘Hey, you don't belong here.’ And, so often, Black people come here, and they experience trauma and racism, and they leave in a short period of time.

This interview has been condensed and edited for length and clarity.​​​​​​​

This is one in a series of stories about issues affecting eastern Ontario. It's brought to you with the assistance of Queen’s University.

Ontario Hubs are made possible by the Barry and Laurie Green Family Charitable Trust & Goldie Feldman.

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