By Neals J. Chitan
In the month of February, I was invited to speak at a community parent conference here in Toronto organized by a local black church group.
As a social skill consultant and keynote speaker, I chose to deliberate under the caption “Real Talk for Parents,” with the intention to rip the clothing off the systemic conspiracies and traps I have observed that have been set for our children. And so, with my sometime abrasive unapologetic style of delivery, I addressed many of the downward spirals designed to drop our children at the bottom of the social barrel.
Neals J. Chitan is the Grenadian-born president of Motiv-8 For Change International -- a Toronto based High Impact Social Skill Agency that is specially dedicated to the social empowerment of individuals, families and communities
I must admit that, although the speaker, I too again experienced the pain and awfulness of the truth, as parents hung their bottom lips and wiped sweaty brows in total disbelief of what their children experienced after leaving for school in the morning.
Being Black History Month, I introduced my 90-minute presentation verbally tracing the journey of a slave ship “Hannibal” leaving Liverpool in England loaded with trinkets, cutlery, salted meats, fabric, guns and other cargo heading to Benin, West Africa, to pick up a load of Africans.
On reaching the shores of West Africa, these cheap mass produced items were bartered in exchange for the infinite value and uniqueness of divinely designed human beings, traded into the deep bottomless stinking pit of slavery.
The audience was held spellbound as they themselves seemed drawn into my illustrative PowerPoint slides of slave ships plying the waters of the wild Atlantic on their second leg of the Great Triangle Trade. Each slide depicted the diabolical gruesome experience of Africans; from capture to loading, to transporting, to dumping, as in throwing of millions of God’s children overboard when the trade winds blew up a storm in the path, and a need to lighten the ship arose.
Then as the journey was coming to an end, came one of the final processes on the slave ship, that of polishing and grooming. The Africans were brought up on deck one by one, tethered to a beam while scrubbed with an abrasive concoction of lime juice and gunpowder so that their God given rich black ebony skin would shine “like a booth” as one historian expressed. This process got them ready for the slave auction block to be sold into the hell of plantation life.
Beads of sweat stood solidly on brows and sighs of exhaustion were released from the audience, but the tension returned as I showed the final slide, which depicted the vivid image of a branding iron. This instrument, which represented the deep burning process of identity, cultural and religious change, was meant to break them into submission and steal their personhood from them. And what do you know, it did!
Using it as my tool to contemporize my presentation, I quickly switched gears to address the branding, profiling and carding black boys and men are subjected to in the 21st century North American society. The rest of my presentation was spent engaging strategies, techniques and concepts to equip parents to patiently dismantle the downward branding cycles of hopelessness that their black children may have already been caught in.
After the presentation, amidst the dozens of individuals who wanted to meet me, was a young family -- a family I will never forget for the rest of my life, but whose story prompted this article.
Dad and mom are from the rich cocoa laden West African country of Ghana. After marriage they left to migrate to Canada and decided to slightly postpone their plans to begin their family until in Toronto. Things went well for them and, after settling down and finding employment in their new homeland, their son “K” was born. He was the prince of the family and was nurtured and cared for by a protective and loving mother and responsible hard working father.
Being God-fearing parents they took their little Afro-Canadian prince to church, where he participated in well supervised classroom setting programs, games and activities, while quickly becoming the energetic involved and happy toddler that all his church teachers loved.
Then at two years, as mom decided to return to work, “K” was registered in daycare. The social and cognitive development he experienced in church enabled him to quickly become the helpful favourite of his daycare teachers. Spending two years in daycare gave him the skills he needed for entry into junior kindergarten in public school and, at four, he entered excited and ready. But being a bit bigger in size than the rest of the students in his class, this handsome vibrant child was flagged by the teacher for disruptive behaviour, fights and trouble. The branding iron was pulled out and put on the fire, ready to make its first stamp on the life of an excited, energetic and playful little boy.
And so, it was not too long thereafter that the self-fulfilling prophecy caught him in its downward spiral and the first stamp was painfully administered by a school that was expectantly lying in wait to brand him with a suspension for so-called being rough with another child. Can you imagine a suspension at four?
At five, he was again suspended for hitting a teacher; oh, by the way, it just happened to be the same teacher that made the first complaint and had him suspended at four. Coincidence you think?
Well, the red flag went up, and that handsome little boy, whose previous impeccable church/daycare record was now tarnished beyond repair at five, was referred to another “school” because he could not focus, his behaviour was unacceptable and he needed a smaller class where the teacher ratio was better.
Being new to the Canadian school system and trusting it with their son, his parents went along with the school’s “loving and caring” approach to child development, only to realize that it wasn’t a “school” that their five year old was taken to but a mental care facility for children.
Wow! Did you get that? Could you imagine, by five years old, two suspensions and a mental illness diagnosis on his school record, all because trained teachers with university degrees and so-called teaching experience who make $60,000 -- $100,000, and work for nine months a year, are total infidels who are unable to inspire children and control their classrooms of four and five year olds. Ridiculous, isn’t it?
By the way, that is the way the status quo handles what they see as “disruptive and challenging” children. During my career as a social skill consultant, I have seen and heard the stories of hundreds of young black students who have fallen victim to this contemporary style of branding, which many times starts with a simple one day suspension but which quickly picks up unbelievable momentum, ending in jail or the casket.
I am happy to report that, through my consultation with that family, we got a removal of the suspensions on the young boy’s school record and he is now on his way to a new school to get a new start without the malicious marks of the branding iron.