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A Poem for Zaccheus Jackson & The Toronto Spoken Word Community

Source: FacebookThis is the piece I wrote to honour the late Zaccheus Jackson, who died in a tragic train accident two weeks ago. It was shared onstage at the Toronto Poetry Slam inside the Drake Underground on August 30, 2014. I post it here for posterity:

Worry Not, Waste Not by Ritallin

1.

If things go wrong, don’t go with them.
– Roger Babson

things have gone terribly, terribly wrong
one dude i know who’s all big lips and privilege
up and left and the only thing i can focus on
is the privilege i had to know him
to focus on that instead of the what ifs of a day
when we were supposed to be breaking bread
but instead he ends up dead
is too much pain for one man to bear
so i force myself into a mode of self-care
lain bare by the pain of tears that
force their way out tear ducts
and burn worse than acid on their way down
i ask you – where is the sense in all this?

2.

Worry is a misuse of imagination.
– Dan Zadra

Zaccheus Jackson would not abide my misuse
of my imagination at any moment of time
he had no worries when he introduced me
to his home, his cat and his hospitable heart
showed me nothing but love in the moments
we shared together and made me laugh along
with the unbridled joy he found in the universe
despite every tortured moment he ever experienced
he went through the very worst of the world
and came out smiling so who the hell am i
to carry baggage filled with spite, malice or vengeance
when he had no time for such things?

3.

People gather bundles of sticks to build bridges they never cross.
– Author Unknown

we can use gathered branches for bridges or burning
so who votes for bridge building
i’m tired of focusing on splinters
and would much rather forge connections
if one thing can be learned it’s that
our time for building bridges is borrowed
investments compound interest
which can work for us or against us
but it is only us who have the power to lay down
the sticks especially when we must stick together
so think about the ways in which you may be
cross and ask yourself if you like living there
or if you’d rather bundle yourself with those
who are like-minded as mutual support and
protection when a loved one goes out
in a glorious unexpected blaze

4.

I am reminded of the advice of my neighbor. “Never worry about your heart till it stops beating.”
– E.B. White

i am here
in this space in front of all of you
sticks laid out and ignorant of splinters
because we need each other
my heart is broken and we have the chance
to allow our tears to put out the brushfires
reach out to each other and remove the splinters
mend broken bones from sticks and stones
become a rock of ages to each and every
other heart that pumps a little faster these days
because don’t you think that those small things
are a whole lot less important all of a sudden?
so plunge deep into our shared passion
that is so much more important as a force of unity
than any single splinter that sprouts a sliver of pain
can ever realistically do
to honour someone who placed community first
we must also put community first
to build a bridge more majestic than the Golden Gate
as monument to one beyond pearly gates
call me a wistful dreamer or a naïve speaker
but i still believe we are stronger than our weaknesses
here are my bundles of sticks, laid out before you
now let’s lay a new foundation and build
together.

© A. Gregory Frankson, 2014. All rights reserved.

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Digging Under Ford Transit Plan to Find Truth, or, Ford Faerie Fantasy Finalized

The Ford plan envisions 32 kilometres of new subways at projected cost of $9 billion - funded by faeries.

The Ford plan envisions 32 kilometres of new subways at projected cost of $9 billion – funded by faeries.

I saw Andray Domise, councillor candidate in Ward 2, at the Black Canadians mayoral debate last week. He seems like a pretty well put-together dude, I thought at the time. Today on Twitter, I noted he was commenting on the Ford rapid transit plan released earlier today. His thoughts aligned quite nicely with mine: we agree Ford must believe in “Faeganomics” – the confidence that fiscal faeries who have yet to bestow their kindness onto our civic leaders will magically drop $9 billion in our laps to pay for Phase 1 of the madness the mayor has proposed.

Why is it little better than bluster and pixie dust? Because the way he wants to fund these lines sounds an awful lot like the “plan” he had when he pledged to kill the Transit City plan agreed upon under David Miller. Here are the projects in Phase 1:

1. Burial of the eastern end of the Eglinton Crosstown LRT (from Laird to Kennedy), which is currently under construction;
2. Extension of the Sheppard subway from Don Mills to McCowan (to connect with the new Bloor-Danforth extension “built” by Ford during his current term as mayor), instead of the surface LRT that’s already approved and funded along the same route;
3. Construction of the eastern section of a downtown relief line connecting Pape and Queen stations; and
4. Building a subway from the nearly-completed Finch West station to Humber College, instead of the surface LRT that’s already approved and funded along the same route.

After squashing the LRT projects on Sheppard and Finch and redirecting that money to subways, Ford somehow thinks the private sector (through development charges, sale of “air rights” above new stations and public-private partnerships) will fund a huge chunk of this plan, along with asset sales by Build Toronto and the city along the corridors, targeting natural year-over-year tax revenue growth from a couple of sources to transit, and big bucks from the two senior levels of government.

This is all malarkey, of course. 

I can almost see the little faeries Rob must be conferring with who have convinced him that taxpayers don’t need to contribute to the upkeep of the city, ever. In fact, if the city just had no taxes at all, we’re pretty sure everything could continue to run — the buses, the power lines, sewage, roads, garbage pickup, property assessments, municipal program delivery — because the taxpayer needs to be insulated from any responsibility! The private sector is so excited about Toronto, they will pay for any shortfalls after the faeries rain their pixie dust on the voters just long enough to secure Ford more years.

That’s how seriously we should take his transit proposals. 

In the real world, reallocating funding that’s already approved for lines already approved needs to be changed and then approved — by the provincial government. How confident are you as a Torontonian that this guy could sit down with Premier Kathleen Wynne and get anything of substance accomplished? At the end of the day, sensible people come to sensible conclusions. Quibble with her approach and direction if you want, but if I’m in a “Who’s More Sensible” debate pitting Wynne against Ford, it’s a one-word argument — and Wynne doesn’t lose.

What I would love the media to do is focus on the plans of all the mayoral candidates, instead of giving Ford a disproportionate amount of airtime (one of the main problems with the media coverage during this election cycle, from the start to the present). John Tory, Olivia Chow and David Soknacki have their own ideas and they should be compared and contrasted, not just Ford’s plan blasted.

Even though it’s full value for the withering criticism and barely muffled laughter at the “rationale” and “funding strategy” in today’s announcement.

 

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Black Canadians Mayoral Debate, or, Why the Toronto Black Community Desperately Needs to Learn How to Do Politics

Mayoral candidates at a debate hosted by the Diversity Advancement Network at the Novotel in North York Centre, August 29, 2014. Photo courtesy of Black Canadian Awards.

Mayoral candidates at a debate hosted by the Diversity Advancement Network at the Novotel in North York Centre, August 29, 2014. Photo courtesy of Black Canadian Awards.

I was invited to share some opening remarks at the Black Canadian Mayoral Forum presented by the Diversity Advancement Network – the organization responsible for the Black Canadian Awards. I got myself dressed up and showed up on time at the Novotel in North York Centre. I was told I would be able to present my remarks after the council and school board candidates in attendance were introduced, just before the debate was set to begin.

What happened next is a lesson in how not to run a political event.

First of all, it started grievously late. Secondly, the aforementioned political introductions were to be one minute long. Hands up – how many of you ever met a group of politicians who are capable of introducing themselves and their pitch in a minute or less? So that segment ran long too, causing the lead organizer to cut off the introductions mid-stream, cut my remarks entirely, and move directly to the debate proper, in the interest of time.

Sometimes you have to make decisions like that in the overall interest of the event. I understand those choices because I run events too. But what you NEVER do is cut someone from the program without notice, then give the person a half-hearted “we were running late” shrug halfway through the debate.

Why am I airing this on my blog? Because this event was meant to focus attention on the Black community. Despite the solid turnout (which was encouraging) and a few other positives, the event was, for the most part, a dog’s breakfast of confusion, tardiness and muddled messages. If we in the Black community want our political events to be taken seriously, there are a couple of really basic things that need to be handled:

1. Start on time, dammit! Don’t excuse “Black people time” by pushing things back until people show up. In the world of political campaigns, time is everything. Don’t waste the politicians’ time. The people who organize campaigns are around a lot longer than political candidates tend to be. They remember stuff like that and may not be willing to waste their time with you four years in the future.

2. NEVER cut off a politician once they’ve been promised the chance to speak at a political event. The fact you’re running behind schedule isn’t their fault. It’s yours. Deal with the ramifications at that point but let them touch the mic, especially if other candidates were granted the opportunity; campaign events are supposed to be non-partisan affairs on the part of the organizers. So if you cut someone off you will appear to be playing favourites, even if that’s not your intention. You also come across as an organizer who doesn’t honour their word and that is devastating for earning buy-in from candidates for the next debate.

3. Communicate any potential program changes to affected parties BEFORE you change it. This is so elementary it’s frustrating I even need to say it. People took time out of their busy lives to appear at an evening event on the Friday of a long weekend. Give them at least the basic courtesy of letting them know the preparation of their remarks (which also takes time) has gone in vain – as a personal courtesy and an absolute necessity to protect the integrity of your organization. Not doing so makes you appear callous, insensitive and ungrateful.

4. Acknowledge everyone invited to participate directly in the event when you wrap up the evening. To pour salt in the wound, no one said anything about the fact I was supposed to speak, had prepared comments and had made the time to be present. The opportunity to connect with others in my community about issues I care passionately about that affect their lives profoundly had been denied cavalierly by the head organizer. Not even taking the moment to say “thanks for coming, sorry about cutting you off” from the stage was the final indignity for myself and for the candidates who were denied the chance to speak.

It’s time for the Black community to mature in its interactions with the political process. It’s not enough to say “we had lots of people, they heard the candidates, so we’re happy” as if that’s the only thing that matters from an organizational perspective. It’s time for us to pick it up and show we know how to make this game work for us. As laudatory as it was to have a room filled mostly with Black people and news cameras to talk about issues that impact the Black community, we also broadcast our dysfunction, lack of respect for other people’s time and disorganization for the whole city to see. That was NOT a good look, Toronto Black community. WE CAN AND MUST DO BETTER.

For those who are curious, here are the words I intended to share with the audience at the Novotel that night:

 

Good evening. 

When we speak of politics we often hear them described using war or sports analogies. Politics is a bloodsport. Participants battle with no holds barred. They get down in the political trenches and attempt to blitz each other during the war of attrition we call campaigns. 

There is one undeniable truth in all this talk of battle, fighting and war – In order for any of those analogies to make sense one must be participating directly. It’s impossible to be blitzed by an effective ad campaign, for example, if your name is not on the ballot. 

The United States in 2008 did what no one thought would happen in this lifetime – elect a Black president. When does anyone believe we will elect a Black Prime Minister? Premier? Party politics may not produce a Black leader for decades provincially or federally. But today we focus on the local level, where the constraints of party do not apply and we have direct access to those of diverse backgrounds seeking to wear the chains of office right here in this room. 

The politicians you will see here tonight are doing something that is critical to our future – they are personal participants as political candidates. They are seeking support by not just pointing out what is wrong but by advancing ideas they feel offer the best solutions for the future. One can agree or disagree, and part of why we’re here is to be witness to the clash of ideas so we can see which perspective best aligns with our own. It’s our system at its best. 

Politics is much more like war than it is like sports. 

The sports fan may care passionately about the successes or failures of their favourite teams but championships or first round exits do not determine the price of milk. They are pastime – important for the soul but not foundational to the shape of society. 

War creates winners who earn the right to shape policy and political structures while the losers are forced to live with the decisions others make on their behalf. War is, like sports, rooted in conflict. But who wins a war DOES have an impact on the price of milk. Or the rate of taxation on development. Or the cost of riding the TTC. 

I say to the Black community that we do not have the luxury of allowing others to shape policy and political structures on our behalf without diligently working to improve our community’s lot and forcefully declaring our intentions at every point of access to the process. The current state of affairs has been found to be biased against us in many cases, flat out racist in others, and beyond our scope to directly influence and shape in all cases where we do not directly participate. 

We do not inherit our world from our ancestors but rather borrow it from our children. Disengagement is not an option for anyone who believes in this principle. I believe in it. That is why I am here today and I hope that is what has drawn you here as well. 

It’s not as though we do not have a strong history of Black political leadership in this city. When Councillor Minnan-Wong a few months back floated the idea of renaming Union Station in honour of Sir John A. Macdonald, I responded in my CBC poem that week that perhaps we should consider naming it Hubbard Station instead, in honour of the father, William, a former city alderman and the son, Frederick, a former chair of the TTC. We have been part of the political shaping of this city and it is now when we must press forward once again and assert our collective voice with mature and assured confidence. 

We must work to elect more diverse voices but electoral politics is but one access point to democracy. We have another lever, the franchise, which we can and must exercise in October and every four years hence. Let us seize the opportunity to hold current leadership accountable for the choices of the past and demand candidates for future leadership convince us of the best ways forward for all citizens of this growing and prospering city. 

For the sake of our children we must make decisions today that result in the Toronto we want to leave for them. Let’s do what we can this evening and in the weeks, months and years to come to ensure not just our voices but also our ideas and passions are planted firmly in the processes of our city. Pay close attention to see who can carry it forward from the group we witness tonight and identify those among us who will loudly and passionately fight for what we believe to be right once new people are elected this fall. 

It’s our city. It’s time we lead it. Thank you. 

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Canada Is Not Missouri (as heard on CBC Here and Now – August 21, 2014)

Canada is not Missouri
a country rather than one of fifty states
prone to cold rather than race riots
though we’ve had a few in our history
a land where law preceded the settlers
rather than a gateway to the wild West

Canada is not Missouri
the gateway is wild with anger these days
after a Black youth was gunned down
in the middle of a Ferguson street
suburban town of mostly African-Americans
served by a mostly white police force
felt anything but protected in the aftermath
so they rose up in furious protest
then police swarmed the streets in riot gear
in response protestors looted and burned
spontaneous release of pent up frustrations
that found voice and resonance in the callout
“hands up! don’t shoot!”

Canada is not Missouri
Toronto is not Ferguson
these truths do not change the reality
Michael Brown is no longer alive
and Black citizens are not satisfied
resolution is not just around the corner

homicide is not less heinous to family
when a police bullet takes life
because homicide means the killing
of one human by another
and we need to be real with people
about what a police shooting means
to the affected community
a police officer is a human being
and a suspect shot dead was also human
it is the very definition of homicide
candy coatings do not obscure reality
we need to treat all as human beings
no matter how or whom is responsible

with the motto “Proud Past, Promising Future”
Ferguson has work to do to make its motto stick
in this suburb of St. Louis in the state of Missouri
the body politic is quite decidedly sick
for true healing to come to the fore for its people
so they can find the serenity to live in peace
they must feel with certainty the cops in their midst
serve the interest of the people who are being policed
allegations of racism come from all different quarters
not just Missouri but all across America and so
while it’s easy to dismiss it as beyond our concern
Blacks shot dead by police is something we know
it has happened in Toronto so Ferguson’s anger
feels real to a community who understands the grief
despises the denials and abhors the excuses
seeks fruitlessly for a new reality that brings relief

Canada is not Missouri
but both places are filled with humans
for the group among those with melanin-rich
skin tones who feel the law is an oppressor
confirmation of their views was received
through what happened to Michael Brown
and even though his body
left to cruelly rot under summer heat
found itself there through a violent end
to life due to death at the barrel end
of a service revolver in Ferguson, Missouri
to Black people here it feels just like
those gunshots rang out right here
on a suburban street in this town

Canada is not Missouri
but Michael Brown could have been
the child of despairing Toronto parents
searching for meaning in the senseless
just as two parents are now doing in Ferguson
for a culture of distrust between police and Blacks
known to Black parents across North America
instils fear for the safety of their children
should they encounter armed agents of the law
it is senseless to believe otherwise
and disingenuous to say we are unaffected
because this happened south of the border
rather than on our city’s streets

Canada is not Missouri
this much is doubtlessly true
but even if Toronto is not Ferguson
what happened there should still matter to you.

© A. Gregory Frankson, 2014. All rights reserved.

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On the NBA and Donald Sterling

(reposted from my Facebook personal timeline)

Source: http://i1.ytimg.com

LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling was banned for life from the NBA and fined $2.5 million by Commissioner Adam Silver for his racist comments about African-Americans.

Donald Sterling is about to engage in the centuries-old practice of “owners” seeking the greatest possible compensation for setting their “property” free. Want to know why Haiti has been a fiscal basket case since the time of independence? The payments they made to France as compensation for their freedom put the country behind the financial 8-ball (which is black, of course) and they never fully recovered. John Graves Simcoe, widely praised for the law he passed that led to the establishment of the Underground Railroad, chose not to press for full emancipation of slaves currently in Upper Canada because the slaveholders in the legislature would never go for it. Instead, those Blacks remained in servitude (and their children until they reached adulthood) while Blacks fleeing America were free the moment they set foot in present-day Ontario under Simcoe’s law.

Simply put, Black flesh is valuable and ownership over it will not be relinquished without a fight and substantial compensation. Sterling said yesterday that the Los Angeles Clippers are not for sale. Even after a unanimous vote of the NBA Board of Governors to force a sale of the team (a virtual certainty), Sterling will pull out every legal trick in his toolkit, tossing wrenches into the works for however long it takes. Ultimately he will lose the legal battle but it will be a long, arduous process to get him to accept the inevitable. But when you’ve lived a long life of entitlement, wealth and delusions of racial superiority, admitting when your time is done and making a graceful departure is all but impossible.

Donald Sterling, if permitted to stay as Clippers owner, would cause irreparable harm to the NBA and therefore he has to go. The players know it, the fans know it, the other organizations know it, the commissioner knows it. The only one who will NEVER get it is Sterling. His property is his to do whatever the hell he wants to do with it. And never forget — the eventual forced sale will earn this racist man an incredible premium over his original investment. Even when “owners” lose, they still win.

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Fourteen Years

(A Open Letter to Nahom Tsegazab)

fourteen years
you shot two people dead
at a barbecue and you knew
to brazenly pull triggers
fire into a crowd of niggers
trying to leave another shooter dead
but instead
Shyanne Charles and Joshua Yasay
felt the burn and churn as life
left them right at that central moment
last breaths made it their last day
and all you got for your part in this plot
two young people shot
destined to die in shock and fear
is fourteen years

stay warm in your cell on cold winter nights
for your poorly thought out plots
resulted in two plots of frozen dirt
with two bodies of frozen dreams
too early taken when too late
to dodge when you squeezed off eleven
while a shooter who hit you two times
was too cowardly to face fate
Joshua’s back split
as he kissed the dirt a final time
and Shyanne lay riddled and dying
mother screaming her name
your motivation and recklessness
a riddle none of us living and left behind
will ever be able to solve
no amount of regret you expressed
as you were sentenced to hard time
will ever take away her pain
when she lost her child
to an assassin’s stupidity
at the age of
fourteen years

the hard time to be served by
the survivors and families of Danzig
is a life sentence
the worst kind of run-on with
punctuation of tears and stolen aspirations
conjunction of pain and anger
two lives with unending ellipses
where instead there should have been a novel
you created short stories in their place
truncated unsatisfied promise
and the poetry of their passions
shredded like so much paper
cuts so deep we can do nothing
except bleed at their full stops
while you live to write your sentence
for fourteen years

so as i think about the reality
that fourteen years after birth
Shyanne Charles’ life
was snuffed out by 9mm
and .40 calibre bursts
as people semi-automatically
dove for safety while another
fired fourteen times at innocents
destroyed so much innocence
on that Scarborough evening
that proved twilight for Joshua
eerie stillness of what was moments before
vibrant bodies inhabited with the joy of youth
their deaths infuriating truth
of what happens when the young
take others’ lives into their hands
i do not think we will ever understand
my mind weeps with the knowledge
that in total you will serve the length
of Shyanne’s total lifespan
should you remain in jail
for the full length of your penance
though our system believes this to be
a just and appropriate sentence
there is just no way to resuscitate
two cadavers that lay cold and soaked with
our tears

may you rot like their bodies
behind bars of your making for all
of your fourteen years.

© A. Gregory Frankson, 2014. All rights reserved.

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POEM: Vouch for My Surname

This poem is dedicated to my friends Chris Turner and Ashley Bristowe, who took on Air Canada’s ridiculous travel voucher transfer policy and kicked them hard in the ‘nads.

it was quite the Turner of events
that made me bristle for a Bristowe
when Air Canada told a Calgary writer
they couldn’t picture his wife on a flight
with a coupon he copped by dropping
off a plane to take one later
so later on when he tried to give
his valid voucher to his wife
who kept her surname after nuptials
sir named the miss
the airline wished to take on his missus
and made no mistake when
he chose to take them on a journey
via the digital airwaves

waves created by his entreaties
pooled at the base of Air Canada’s rep
though their rep on the phone
was a consummate professional
such ridiculous policy could only
result in its perpetrators being dammed
all the heat evaporated any goodwill
residual in their public relations trough
while the firestorm ignited via twitterverse
an expression of the perverse curse
of being a national airline that floats
buoyed in the molten miasma of public scorn

certain kinds of heat piled on
only flow downhill when a stink is created
and this steamer plopped on
the front doorstep of a domestic giant
is the product of an elephant
that lives in the corner of an echo chamber
but saw just enough daylight
to reveal the antiquity of inner workings

Air Canada
you cannot expect Canadians to join you
on this flight of fallacious fantasy
expect faint criticism for fanatically
framed folly as you feign fidelity
to a fictitious familiarity with the reality
of twenty-first century family function

Air Canada
on the plane of believability
your credulity-stretched explanations nosedived
while the black box of digital memory
recorded every misplaced word that crackled
through fibre optic cable to land
with documented disbelief and scorn
on the desktops, tablets and laptops of a nation

Air Canada
this issue has runway from you
so a return to the hanger to store
this sexist, impractical policy –
a historic avionic miscommunication –
was the only possible retreat before
the story changed from a missed connection
to something potentially more terminal

fair recognition of the nature of modern families
with their various surnames and lineages
will in future prevent such bull-headed responses
from companies who fail to relate to new relations

our primary passports
will always be our surnames
and any airline worth its wings
would be wise
to unfailingly stamp approval
whenever we present them

the best ticket to future success
is to Turner over a new leaf
and Bristowe upon the paying public
a modicum of respect
for the ways we choose to express love
in names that vouch for the identities
we provide with pride at the gate.

© A. Gregory Frankson, 2014. All rights reserved.

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