A city that has yet to come to terms with its black presence lost its most inspired social and political activist last Wednesday when Marlene Green died. Green's life and work exemplified the very best in us. Her loss, if it can be greater, is all the more poignant given the current tenor of race relations. To paraphrase the poet Octavio Paz, we are "in a room abandoned by language."Amidst the denial, the recrimination, the nihilistic war over and on black bodies, Marlene Green's biography tell us her story as well as ours. She came here young in the 60s from Dominica, in the eastern Caribbean, with all her gifts and her hopes for race and class justice.
Beginning with her founding of the Black Education Project in the late 60s, Green's work became a lightning rod for black activism. Her organization was the nexus from which organizing emanated -- advocacy and protests against racism in schools, in policing, in the workplace and in civic life.
When I first came to Toronto in 1970 searching for black identity, it was with relief that I found her and the Black Education Project. I wish such an experience for every black 17-year-old navigating their way through this city today.
Green was a leader in the African liberation support committees of the 70s and became school/community relations officer at the Toronto board of education, where she co-wrote the first report on race relations in the educational system. In the 80s and 90s she headed CUSO in the Caribbean and in east, central and southern Africa, where she supported anti-apartheid work. She is widely remembered for her courageous work during the 1983 American invasion of Grenada.
She taught me and my generation that struggle against injustice is not only our obligation but our duty to ourselves and to those who come after us. Green had a sense of hopefulness, love. She filled our room with the language we needed to describe ourselves. That the work she undertook needed to be done was evidence of the unease in our city over race and class. And here we are again and still abandoned by language.
I can see her now -- her commanding presence, her liquid, hoarse voice, her great sense of humour, her passionate love of jazz -- sitting down at a meeting and asking us what needs to be done. We were privileged to have had her amongst us.
A memorial for Green takes place Saturday (November 9) at the Ralph Thornton Centre (765 Queen East) from 2 to 6 pm.