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Celebrating Black History: Conversations on Revisiting the Past and Understanding the Present

In recognition of Black History Month (BHM), Leslie-Ann Fullerton, Critical Time Intervention Specialist and Outreach Worker at Elizabeth Fry Toronto, led a workshop for staff on the topic of Black excellence in North America’s History. Leslie-Ann spoke to staff about the need to move away from enslavement and trauma narratives when recognizing Black history in North America. In that same spirit, the workshop included a virtual scavenger hunt, with staff being divided into teams to research Black creatives, thought leaders and inventors from North American history. The format gave staff the opportunity to build collective knowledge about how Black excellence continues to shape the lives of all Canadians, and invited us to celebrate the Black history of prison abolition.


While planning for this BHM event, we sat down with Leslie-Ann to discuss cultural relevance, spirituality, migration and borders, criminalization and prison abolition. In the audio excerpt provided, Leslie-Ann foregrounds that Black cultural movements come from survival, and evolve into something greater, while also cautioning that multiculturalism is a mask; it acts as a shield so it is difficult to talk about varied issues and barriers faced by Black communities.

You can listen to an excerpt of this conversation with Leslie-Ann here.


The conversation touches on a range of important issues, and mentions the work of two academic scholars, Michel Foucault and Sylvia Wynter. To learn more about these two scholars, check out this overview on Michel Foucault’s work on prisons, and this overview about some of Sylvia Wynter’s work on being human. While both of these scholars’ work can be dense and cover many complex concepts, they were referenced in this conversation through two ideas of liminal space and the plot:


-Liminal space: a term used in geography to talk about the spaces that are not at the center of attention, spaces that are often forgotten or overlooked. Homi Bhabha wrote about liminal space in the context of social justice, to describe the spaces where these labels don’t fit people in rigid identities, and where safety exists around personhood and the ability to explore the self, outside of prescribed identities.


-The plot: Wynter writes about the plot and the plantation (click here for her original text), describing geographies of slave plantation in the Caribbean and the United States. On plantations, enslaved people of African descent had small areas of land on the borders of the plantation called plots, where they grew their own food. Wynter describes these areas as places where enslaved people made life amidst terror and violence.


The reference to Wynter in this conversation’s context also pertains to her work On Being Human as Praxis. In this work, Wynter acknowledges the historical practice of sub-human narratives and engagements experienced by members of the Black community, and investigates if and when the Black community will be recognized and treated as human beings.

This conversation with Leslie-Ann, and the BHM workshop she facilitated, highlights the need to build positive and sustainable relationships with Black communities in order to effectively support those who are disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system in Canada. By holding space for these types of conversations and learning opportunities for our staff, we must continue to hold ourselves and the organization accountable to challenge systemic oppression in all its forms. This includes our commitment to being self-reflective, self-accountable, and intentional in upholding the principles of anti-racism, anti-oppression, and decolonization in all levels of our organizational practice. Understanding the history of Black leaders and communities that shaped North American history is essential to contextualizing the unique struggles Black communities face in relation to criminalization in this country, and to honour how Black communities continue to survive and thrive every day.


Written by: Elizabeth Fry Toronto Communications Team

In Conversation with: Leslie-Ann Fullerton

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