Community Dufferin News Opinions

Polvier Folkes-Grandison: Black History Month in Dufferin

This is another installment in our series on Black History Month in Dufferin. In this piece, Polvier Folkes-Grandison of Orangeville, Ontario participated in a discussion on Black History Month and related topics. Special thanks to the Dufferin County Canadian Black Association for making this possible. 

Polvier Folkes-Grandison works in the non-profit sector, focused on helping women and children internationally, through sponsorship. Polvier moved to Dufferin eight years ago with her family, after her dad suffered from a major brainstem stroke on his way home from work. This resulted in him being hospitalized for over four months. Their home at that time was not accessible, so they had to make a change for Polvier and the rest of her family to care for her father during his recovery.

“At that time, I was living in Iqaluit on Baffin Island, doing an assignment with Habitat for Humanity. My husband was home caring for my ailing father in the hospital, our two young kids, and my mother. We had always taken road trips to Orangeville, just to look and see. It was just a dream of somewhere that reminded us of home because we’re from the Caribbean. When the need for a new home arose and we tried looking for a place that could suit our needs, our search brought us here to Orangeville.”

Although Polvier and her family had found their ideal space, it was not a quick journey into their new home.

“We had to rent for a while, and my dad had to stay in care. We were lucky enough to find a bungalow that met our needs and we spent a year renovating it, making it accessible and bringing my parents here to live with us.”

When their house was finished and ready for them to move in, they were immediately reassured in their decision to come to Dufferin.

“From the get-go I can say that we were met with only what I have described to many as a fairy tale kind of welcome. From our neighbors bringing brownies to the door to welcome us, offering to help us move or watch our kids, to the local contractor who worked in our home and sat with us poring over plans to see which layout would best suit my father’s accessibility needs… the various trades that came, the plumber, the electrician, every single interaction was one where we felt welcomed and cared for.”

What does Black History Month mean to you personally?

“As a woman of color, and as a mother of two sons, I see it as an opportunity to showcase for my children the journey that we’ve progressed through as a people, as a family, even to the point where as Canadians  they can see the sacrifices that have been made for them, and hopefully see themselves being contributing, valued members of the community that they call home, and ultimately to also have a sense of belonging.”

Folkes-Grandison shares how she purchased a book for her sons that features all of the black pioneers who helped build Canada, so that “they can read and see themselves mirrored in the history of their own country.” She reiterated how important it is that her sons have that sense of knowing and belonging.

The book that Polvier references was written by a co-worker of hers, Tiyahna Ridley-Padmore, and is titled Trailblazers: The Black Pioneers Who Have Shaped Canada. More information can be found here.

We asked for Folkes-Grandison’s views, as a parent who had children in the school system, on whether there was enough effort being put into educating students on Black History.

“My eldest is 18, he’s at the University of Guelph, and my youngest is just started at Robert F. Hall, in Canada. I think there has been a decided effort by both schools to insert in February a focus on Black History Month, which I find has been helpful in exploring that topic with them. As a family, we have intentionally not focused on it as being a thing, because we want them to feel that they belong. Having a month that showcases Black History for them reinforces that. We are grateful for that value-add, because as they opened the history books, the were not seeing that reflection there as they studied the history of Canada. That has been something that we are grateful for.”

What do you think Black History Month means to the community overall?

“In the past eight years, I have not seen an overt expression of a celebration as a community of Black History Month. I am aware that it happens in the schools that my sons have attended, who invited speakers in from the community to share with the students.”

Polvier Folkes-Grandison also mentions that the church that her family attends also recognizes Black History Month in February, extending its reach beyond the schools. That being said, there was an event last year that really hit home.

“As a community, I must say that last summer when there was an actual walk expressing solidarity, I was dumbstruck. I was in tears. For me, I’ve always said that it feels like I came home when I moved to Orangeville, but when I saw the community turn out to support us, as people of colour, in a moment when we were mourning…”

“What you saw last summer was a visceral human, response to something that we thought we had gotten past, but it was such a vivid reminder that we had more work to do. Some responded in anger, some responded in fear, some responded in tears. But what Orangeville did, by just walking and expressing, ‘we’re here with you, we see you, we value you,’ that for me… My son’s felt this too as our family watched. We didn’t participate at that point, to be honest, because of COVID. We live in a high-risk home with my parents who have underlying health issues. But for me, it just reaffirmed the fact that we are in a community that cares, and that we have such a future of greatness ahead of us if we continue with that mindset of valuing those among us.”

Dufferin News mentioned how some in the community did not see the meaning of performing this march in Dufferin, and considered it a virtue signal. Folkes-Grandison shared her views.

“Going through that experience, what I’ve learned, and it’s all learning because, as I’ve shared with even close family members and friends about my own journey into this whole acknowledgement of the positioning of ourselves as a race  and the politicisation of color and all of that, but the silence is what was heard most by those who did not say anything, or pretended it didn’t happen.”

Polvier further explained the impact of silence and how acknowledgement and a show of solidarity can be of major significance to those affected.

“The silence when something really bad happens, I find, personally, is the most deafening reminder of the fact that you’re not valued. If nobody sees you, if not even a pin drops when something that hurts you most happens. That says a lot. I know that it is a tricky road to travel when we are talking about the whole Black Lives Matter issue, and I try to be very careful in how I engage in that discussion, but I think it was a wake up call for many. That some of the issues that we’ve highlighted, historically, systemically, are true. They are real.” 

Folkes-Grandison emphasizes the value of speaking openly about these matters and for everyone to share their own lived experiences.

“I think the journey that we are currently on, even if it is a painful opening of things that we would rather not discuss, I would rather we look at them closely, have a discussion about and hear what the feelings truly are on either side, and hopefully get to a point where we can relate with a new understanding and awareness of the things that matter to us. For me, it is my children. I did not grow up in a world where racism was a thing. People look at me weird when I say that. That could be because I moved to Canada as an adult, and I lived in the Caribbean where that was not a thing. Even in my journey here. I have been here for over 20 years as an immigrant, my journey in Canada has not been one that has been scarred in any major way by racism as a black woman. I have met amazing people from a plethora of walks, cultures, religions, and belief systems. And I have never felt unheard or unseen. But as I have further discussions, I am realizing that there are people who have had these experiences.”

“I’ve reaffirmed with myself, with my family, that whatever I can do to share my own world-views that may have impacted my own experience. I think when you truly look at people and assume good intent, I think there’s value to that. And that is not to cover up or dismiss what has happened. But hopefully it will impact what will happen. My boys are my driving force. I want them to have a world where this is not an issue, if that makes any sense. As a mother, that is what’s driving me. We all need to figure this out because we are handing this off to your children, to my children. What is this legacy that we are hoping to hand off to them? We cannot change history. It is done. The immediate present is here. What are we going to do with that to impact the future? That’s my question.”

Have you seen other signs of our community making progress on these issues in the past year?

Polvier Folkes-Grandison points to the Dufferin County Canadian Black Association that was launched last year and the work that has been performed under the leadership of its president Alethia O’Hara-Stephenson. 

“Alethia’s attempt to galvanize the community and to form an organization where we have a collective voice at the table, I think that’s a significant shift.”

Folkes-Grandison also highlights the achievements of Shelburne’s Deputy Steve Anderson and Althea Alli, who was appointed as Vice-Chair of Shelburne’s Police Services Board, and the significance of these events to the community as a whole.

“These are steps in a direction that will make people in the community have a voice and be heard, but also allows for a deeper engagement and a progress forward, because people are making this area their home, which tells me, they’re here to stay.”

“There’s a thing that happens in Orangeville, every single time I have an interaction where people ask, ‘How long have you been here?,’ It is like a yardstick, you know? It’s generational people love this community. They do. I’ve had friends, people, my neighbors. They’ve been here for 30 years. That’s amazing to me. I’m not 50 yet but living in the same spot for 30 years tells me that this is a place that is loved. There must be something special about it.”

“I’m tracking towards my 10-year mile. My hope is for my family, that one day, we too can say that we have lived here for 30 years, with a sense of belonging. I think those steps will get us to a point where we can all feel that pride, and we will own this community and care for it. Because it’s not rocket science. People care for places they love. You want it to grow. You want it to succeed. Right?”

“We’ve had in the last couple of months, an interaction that was completely foreign to us and it was a bit jarring accepting this new reality in a place we call home.” During our sons’ Grade 8 graduation at the local school he attended for seven years , someone came on and ‘bombed’ the call. They just inundated it with racial slurs. That was a wake up call for us.”

“For me, it was something I’ve never experienced and it was with my children. When that happens to you it’s one thing, but when it happens to your child in front of an audience… As a parent you can’t pull it back… You just have to deal in that moment with what just occurred.”

“Even in that interaction, when the school reached out, the parents reached out, the parents reached out to see if we were okay, that again tells me that this is not typical.”

“I’m weighing that interaction with my eight years. Nobody’s perfect, but that tells me that we have work to do.”

Is there anything else that you would like to say to the community?

Thank you for making Orangeville home for us. Thank you for helping us. I tell my boys that they need to be men of honor, to speak truth, to always take care of the poor and the needy, and to always be the best that they can be. As I see them grow, and I see them fulfilling their dreams, I know that it took a village to raise these two boys. My son got into medicine, first round with a full scholarship. My other son wants to be a lawyer. Think of all the other children in this community. If we can replicate the love and the care that we received as strangers eight years ago, for every newcomer to this town, for everybody who wants to raise their children in a safe welcoming environment, think of the great legacy Orangeville could have in 20 years.”

Disclosure: Special thanks to the Dufferin County Canadian Black Association, a registered non-profit that Dufferin’s Spotlight is partnered with.

Dufferin County Canadian Black Association

References – Polvier Folkes-Grandison: Black History Month in Dufferin

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