Rodney Diverlus, co-founder, Black Lives Matter Canada

Black Futures Month: The artist and activist has a monumental year planned for Black Lives Matter

Before the federal government launched CERB, Black Lives Matter-Toronto adapted to COVID by running an emergency fund to help out-of-work Black Torontonians cover daily living expenses. This mutual aid model is something Rodney Diverlus, one of the group’s founding members, sees as integral to the way we build back after the pandemic. Diverlus calls himself an “artivist,” creating work that exists at the intersection of art and activism. He is the director of Wildseed Centre, a multi-purpose co-working space for the city’s Black community to organize, meet, create art and heal. He feels we’re on the precipice of a Black renaissance, laying the groundwork for sustainable organizing for generations to come.

“Throughout the pandemic, many of us are reflecting on ourselves, our practices and our community work. Many of us are waiting with bated breath for the opportunity to actually go to war, to create, to generate, to feel, to laugh, to dance again. 

There has been a lot of mutual aid, which has continued to hold many people during the pandemic, providing economic support, mental health support and access to food. Once the immediacy starts to die down, we’d really benefit from thinking about being in relation to each other in ways that are more deliberate, generative, respectful and passionate.

We get to redefine this relationship with ourselves as Black Toronto. In this resurgence of Black activity, the traumas have been brought back up for many of us, there is anger and excitement to start building the new world that we spent so long talking about.

When we re-emerge it’s going to feel in many ways like a renaissance. We must take care of each other until then, make sure we’re able to get ourselves to the finish line. We’re going to see a generation of people with so much fervor that will usher in an era of unprecedented building.

It’s time to get out of the endless cycle that we’ve found ourselves in. Anti-Black racism boils up to the surface, we take all of our rage, sadness, pain and we bear it out for the rest of the world; we protest. We’re constantly writing books, producing content, educating everyone else about the issues that impact us and we get some promises and loose commitments. Then years go by and we’re back to the same cycle. 

We’ve just experienced it in Toronto between 2014 and 2019, which we often refer to as the first wave of BLM. There were many protests that resulted in inquests, provincial review consultations and movement to see legislative and policy changes. Then everything was reversed with an election, with a snap of a finger. The Doug Ford government came in and introduced a pro-police, pro-surveillance, pro-criminalization agenda.

A future for Black Toronto is a future in which we’re establishing our own ways of being, our own institutions, building our own infrastructure, from art spaces to advocacy bodies to community groups. We’re going to see a proliferation of Black entrepreneurship, Black innovation – we’re going to see way more Black activism across all different sectors.

Samuel Engelking

Black folks are tired of waiting, we’re tired of asking. We’re ready to build it for ourselves. We’ve been in Canada for generations and been ignored the bulk of that time. We’re realizing more and more that whether we keep our heads down, whether we’re loud, whether we’re on the front lines or we’re silent, anti-Black racism will find us anyways.

Those on the frontlines for years have been those with the most to lose. It’s Black trans people, queer people, disabled people and newcomers. The people that founded BLM are people who have the most to lose, but we were talking about bringing along all Black lives.

This year will be monumental for Black Lives Matter Canada. We’ve started new chapters across the country. We’ve been thinking about what infrastructure and resources are needed to allow for long-term, sustainable organizing, as we’ve done in Toronto, to support Black communities from coast to coast. Many people mistakenly predicted that BLM would peter out. I’m really excited to be laying down the foundation for a movement that our children and our grandchildren can continually evolve and make into their own. 

It’s always been my practice to sort of bring art and activism together. It’s a tool to de-westernize my art practice, to take my practice away from the studios and theatres and bring it to the streets, to everyday realities. Black resistance has always been building from magic, from art, from dreams and desires. Following that lineage, we’ve always integrated art and music and joy into our organizing, in addition to fighting for our lives. 

Activism can really focus on the us versus them, but art is very generative, which serves to make our work more dynamic, more palatable, more relatable for people. A lot of people see BLM as disruptive. They see that energy, but they don’t see that tactic is actually meant to gain power for us all, to be distributed amongst us all. The flip side of that agitation is actually a deep-rooted love. It’s a deep love for ourselves and others and deep pride in ourselves and each other. 

More Black Futures Month 2021

Paul Taylor, executive director of FoodShare Toronto

Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu, artistic director of Obsidian Theatre

Cheyenne Sundance, urban farmer and founder of Sundance Harvest

Renee Jagdeo, student at the University of Toronto


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