Reflections on 2020

by Channon Oyeniran

Exhibit Photos by Anna Grace & Reece Franklin

Last week, while scrolling through Facebook, I saw a post about a “Say Their Names” Memorial that was taking place in Dallas until September 17th. While I watched the fifteen second clip of all the African-American men, women and children who have been murdered, my heart, already heavy, began to ache even more. Watching the clip, I saw the smiling faces of Tamir Rice, Atatiana Jefferson and Botham Jean to name a few. And then I got angry—angry that their lives were cut short for literally no reason at all…all because someone “feared” the colour of their beautiful brown skin. Although I had wanted to write a post about all the murders of Black people that have happened this year, seeing this clip about the “Say Their Names” Memorial, prompted me urgently to get my thoughts and heart down on paper. 

What a year it has been. I remember at the tail end of 2019 being excited to enter into a new year. To put the trials, hardships and pains of 2019 in the past and step into a new year with greater expectations. Unless you’ve been asleep all year, you know that hasn’t been the case.

When I heard about Kobe Bryant, his 14 year old daughter and seven others passing away in a tragic helicopter crash in late January, I was at the Ontario Black History Society’s annual Kick-off Brunch, an event that kick starts Black History Month in the city of Toronto. I remember sitting in my seat and feeling completely dumbfounded, in disbelief and shock. Obviously it’s not that I knew Kobe Bryant personally, but it was simply the fact that a brother’s life was cut short at a time in his life when he seemed to be enjoying it to the fullest. I was reminded that life is so short and to live it well.

After the shock of Kobe Bryant’s passing somewhat diminished, it was now time for me to “focus” on one of the busiest times in the year for me—Black History Month. Everything was going well, and I was gearing up for my personal Black History Month Conference that usually happens at the end of February. The conference went well, various Black History Month speaking engagements went well, and we closed out February 2020 on a high note! I was also teaching a class on Black History in Canada and was enjoying it. I had started to hear about this coronavirus that was plaguing Wuhuan, China back in late January and throughout February. It was causing many people to get sick, spreading rapidly, and many people were dying as a result. 

On Friday, March 13th, 2020, with two weeks left to teach the Black History in Canada course, the government of Ontario essentially shut the province down to stop the spread of the coronavirus, which at that point was significantly affecting other Canadian provinces and the whole world. I watched as this virus disproportionately affected African-Americans across many states and read about and watched many Black Canadians (especially health care workers) get infected by Covid-19. The effects of Covid-19 are here to stay and has completely changed how we “do” life. Life has slowed down and has forced many of us to be still, quiet, spend quality time with loved ones and, most importantly, has shown us how precious life is.

Say Their Names: 

In the midst of the craziness of Covid-19 in March and April, the story of Ahmaud Arbery began to circulate.  On February 23rd, 2020, a twenty-five year old African-American man named Ahmaud Arbery was out for a jog in an Atlanta neighbourhood and was brutally assaulted and murdered. There is video footage of his killers hunting him like he is an animal, instead of a human being out for a jog. I have not and will not watch the video.

On Monday May 25th, not only did another African-American, Christian Cooper, get the police called on him by a white person, a situation that could have potentially ended his life, but George Floyd was murdered by literally having the life squeezed out of him by the knee of a white police officer. Again, I have not and will not watch the video. I believe the murder of George Floyd was a catalyst and major shift for the world to wake up to the grave injustices that have been committed against Black people globally. I deeply wish that George Floyd did not have to die for this shift to happen….

It was around this time that the March 13th murder of twenty-six year old Breonna Taylor at the hands of white police officers (yet again) became publicly known. Again, another Black queen’s life taken away unnecessarily because some police officers do not know how to knock on a door and talk to people or check in at their station to see if the person they were looking for was actually already in custody! It seriously blows my mind and I cannot comprehend how much hate people have to have in their hearts against Black people to senselessly kill us with no regard or remorse. 

A few months go by and I have seemingly gotten used to this “new normal” and living life in the Covid pandemic. I am also still angry, sad, numb and am mourning and grieving the passing of my mother in law in November 2019, Kobe Bryant, my grandad in April 2020, fellow Canadians D’Andre Campbell and Regis Korchinski-Paquet, the unjust outcome of the trial of Black Canadian man Dafonte Miller, the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and the countless other Black brothers and sisters who keep losing their lives unnecessarily. And then on August 23rd,  when things have seemed to have “calmed down,” African-American man Jacob Blake was shot seven times in the back by white police officers…in front of his children. While he did not (thankfully) succumb to his injuries, he is now paralyzed from the waist down, and his and his family’s life is forever changed. I have not and will not watch the video. Again I am left at a loss for words, feelings and thoughts…again…this has happened again, and it’s only August.

Just a few days later on August 28th, man of faith, actor, advocate, King of “Wakanda” and a king for the Black community, Chadwick Boseman passed away in his home surrounded by family after a four year battle with cancer. Two weeks and two days later, I am still in shock that he has passed and kept his illness a secret for years. Again, it’s not that I knew him or anybody else who passed away this year personally, it’s just that another brother’s life again was cut short especially when they are in their prime and living their life to the fullest. What amazes me and inspires me about Chadwick Boseman, is that although he knew he was sick, he still had hope that he would beat cancer, and because of this, still lived life to the fullest and made art that inspired millions. From all of the tributes to him, from his friends, family and colleagues they all said the same thing, that Chadwick knew his purpose here on this earth and lived it out completely everyday. [For more on the impact of Black Panther, check out our Black Panther Resource List.]

And here I am…September 2020 and so much has happened this year that has changed me forever. The events of the past 9 months have been heavy on my heart and mind. I think constantly about the futures of my two young Black kings and have been literally taking life one day at a time. Although 2020 is not finished, the events of this year so far have taught me a few things and reminded me of a few things: 

  1. We are in an era of racial and social awakening globally, and we have to take action and not be stagnant any longer.
  2. Time is valuable—I plan to use mine well.
  3. Helping people is one of the greatest rewards there is.
  4. Uncovering your purpose in this life is the real way to be fulfilled….and I will continue to stand in mine.
  5. It is important to be still and quiet so that you can uncover things like your purpose.
  6. Knowing who you are and what you are made and called to do is like a key that unlocks the permanent rewards in this life.

A lot of people have cancelled 2020 and in all honesty, there have been times that I have wanted to as well. But I still have hope and I still have faith that the events of this year can teach us something and inspire us to make the world a better place. So what will we do with the rest of 2020? What will we learn from what has happened so far and how will we change for the better? What can we all do to continue to fight against anti-Black racism and fight for justice and equality for all people? I encourage you to take action, I encourage you to stand, and I encourage you to keep learning and growing.

Post Script from Michelle:  If you’re a white person, and you’re not sure how to even begin, I hope this helps: White People, This is Where We Start

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