Community Dufferin News Opinions

Trisha Linton: Black History Month in Dufferin

This is our third installment in our series on Black History Month in Dufferin. In this piece, Trisha Linton of Amaranth, 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. 

Trisha Linton moved to Dufferin seven years ago, starting as a respite worker with different homes, assisting people living with disabilities in addition to creating programs for them. The Upper Grand District School Board now employs Linton as an educational worker. 

“I lived in Milton, and I was an advocate for children with disabilities. I also worked at Canada Post for 13 years and was very involved as a unionist. Part of my background is that I was a youth leader of the Ontario Federation of Labor. So, there is a lot of background that I draw from, and, for me, it has always been about community. I have lived in different places all around Southern Ontario. I’ve had a lot of perspective on the way communities are run.”

Linton delves into how being a union member has shaped her frame of reference.

“Being part of a union, especially while at Canada Post, I took advantage of all of their educational tools. When you take advantage of the educationals, you are pressed to learn about what the issues are in terms of marginalization, discrimination, diversity, and inequality. You are versed in it; you are educated in it. I kind of thank God for my background there because being a part of the union, you hear the worst parts about them, but there are good parts. It’s all about your rights and what it means to have those rights.”

What does Black History Month mean to you personally?

“That’s a loaded question. Black History Month, to me, is not just about the past. It is about our present and where we are going in the future. My parents are from Trinidad, and being a child of Caribbean parents, I learned about diversity very young.”

Trisha Linton illustrates some of her experiences growing up as to provide more context to her answer.

“My parents, like I said, were from Trinidad, and they met here in Ontario. After marriage, they decided to help others. They would go to Honest Ed’s and bring people home with them that came from the Caribbean, help them with employment, find a home and so on. When they could buy a home in Thornhill, I remember our home was always full of people around Caribana. My father would pick up the many bands from the airport and bring them home, so for a week straight; we would have people in and out of the house up to the day of Caribana. Back then, Caribana was on University Avenue, and my uncle was always a truck driver for one of the bands. I say this to show that when you are the bridge, you can bring joy and celebration in cultures and the uniqueness of who you are; people see and want to be a part of it. Look at Caribana now. It is global, and everyone from everywhere looks forward to that one weekend in August. Black History is not just a month it’s a movement in creating diversity and inclusion in the mosaic of all communities.”

During her youth, Trisha Linton underwent a unique circumstance that ended up being life-defining.

“In grade eight, I was the class clown. My mom told me, ‘I got a phone call from the teacher, you’re failing grade eight. Your bags are getting packed, and you are leaving first thing tomorrow morning.'”

Linton asked where she was being sent. Her mom told her she was going to Trinidad.

“You’re going to go to school there, and you are going to learn. I thought she was joking, but when I saw my bags packed at the door, I realized it was something serious.”

Upon arriving in Trinidad, Trisha Linton met with her grandmother.

“My grandmother said, ‘You do not understand opportunity. You do not understand how good you have it. When you are here, you are going to understand that you have no choice. You must be better, do better. You’re not doing it for anybody else, you’re going to do it for yourself.’ I did not understand quite what she meant because I was young, but I learned quickly. When I was there, I realized that everybody in the classroom looked like me, and they had one goal. The goal was to be the best that they could be.”

This occurrence, and others that Linton encountered throughout her time in Trinidad, inspired her to focus on education and take full advantage of life’s opportunities. Furthermore, she highlighted a more cheerful story that influenced her outlook upon returning home to Canada.

“Trinidad is where I learned about diversity and how people are celebrated. When it is time for Carnival, the country shuts down, and everybody celebrates. Everybody is joyous. When I came back to Ontario two years later, I had this passion for diversity because I knew what it meant to celebrate people, each other’s uniqueness, the value of what everybody was bringing to the table. To become one country.”

Linton delineates how this impacts what Black History Month means to her personally.

“It means the celebration of cultures coming together because here in Canada; we are a mosaic. There is also an educational piece in that not all Black people come from the same country. People must be engaging with one another and understanding that Black History is not just the celebration of being Black. It is also celebrating what your ancestors have brought to the table, from slavery to equality. It is not just to be tolerated and accepted, but to be at a place where we can all be celebrated, and we all hold each other up, and we all value each other.”

According to Linton, acknowledging Black community members’ past similarities and differences is key to recognizing Black History Month properly.

“It is understanding our ancestral roots and where we are coming from. Understanding oppression, understanding inequality, but not staying in that place. It is being part of a movement that allows people to understand that there is more to others than yourself. There is more value in understanding cultures. Every culture in the Caribbean is quite different from one another. That is because when a lot of the slaves came from Africa, some of them went and fought in the Revolutionary War in America. They were given choices. Some people made it to Trinidad. Some people made it to Jamaica. Some people made it to Nova Scotia. If you look at me, yes, I identify as a Black woman, but also there is a cultural difference about me.”

Trisha Linton further expands into how diverse the Black community is and how Black History Month should motivate people to explore that.

“The continent of Africa, there are so many different countries with so many different heritages. You have the French; you have the British; you have everybody going there with so many different ideas. There are so many different backgrounds and cultural differences, and we are labelled as one thing. There’s so much that falls underneath that umbrella that people have to get curious about, and people feel valued when you’re curious about that.”

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

“I think as the growth happens, we’re still defining what that looks like. I honestly believe that it should become a movement of being better and creating a safe place for everyone to live. Moving forward in the development of this community, I genuinely believe that we need to, especially for Black History, find it within our school system as well. I think children need to understand that and know their history. I do not think it should be as much American history when there is so much Canadian history to be learned, which is still in its infancy. So, for me, in the beginning, I think now is the time to get together to create what this foundation is going to look like.”

Linton discusses how she believes that tolerance of people’s differences has been over-emphasized in the fight against racism and prejudice. Instead, we should be pursuing celebration. That being said, she knows there is still a struggle that needs to be overcome before that.

“We’re still at this vulnerable place of wanting to be accepted. You do not want to be defined by your skin. You do not want to be defined by the things that make you look different. You want to be defined as just a person. Respect. That is what it all boils down to. You value me as a person and respect me, as I will respect you. What you give is what you receive.”

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

“It’s slow. In all honesty, I have said it to many people. There is the conversation that is happening outside where everybody wants to be saying the right thing, the correct thing, but there is also a conversation happening within the homes. That is most instrumental to all of this. I believe that the conversations at home need to be about togetherness, unity, acceptance, befriending. I don’t think that conversation is happening enough.”

Trisha Linton provides more of her insights into this challenge.

“It has to be with a complete heart. It must be connecting at home, with your family, with your friends, whether you have barbecues or parties. It is just allowing people to be a part of your life, accepting them for just being them and just being neighbourly. Change happens in the community, and the community is each other. Until we reach out to each other and truly build a community, we will not know. We will just keep on repeating past mistakes, stepping on eggshells with each other, and tiptoeing around real issues. I think we have got to get to this place where we can have a real conversation with our neighbours. And help us to get to know each other, not just based on what we see, but based on what we can figure out about each other.”

There is an obvious barrier for many in discussions related to race, acceptance, and understanding, in Linton’s opinion. That being said, that barrier is artificial.

“The problem is the minute you say, ‘Black’, people feel like there is a wall. That ‘it is not about me’ or ‘I don’t feel a part of it’. It is not about the whole thing; it is about the word Black. It is not just about the skin colour being Black. People need to look at it from the perspective of compassion and understanding. Black people have been oppressed. Black people have not been a part of the conversation in terms of economic development and many other things. Because of George Floyd, there is now a conversation happening, and this conversation should have happened a long time ago. But it is happening now. I do not think this is an excuse, but I think people gravitate to what they see as opposed to knowing what they understand. So, when people hear the word Black, they think that they are not part of it. But we all are part of it. It is not just about being Black. It is about love. It is about understanding the need of our children and our children’s children to feel comfortable in their own skin. There needs to be a sense of pride as there is no longer that veil of oppression or anything else. But it is also not just for Blacks. It is all about the inclusion of everybody. You know, for most Caribbean islands that consider themselves underdeveloped on the economic scale, they sure got it right when it came to diversity and inclusion. Everybody supports. Everybody celebrates.”

Despite the challenges, Linton believes Dufferin County can make significant steps towards overcoming them.

“I think we’re in a very unique position. We have new development happening; we have people coming from far and wide to make this their home. I think that is a beautiful thing, but it is also something that we can’t take for granted. We have got to get it right, and I think it is going to take a lot of work to get it right. That is where we need to come from, a place of welcoming everybody from all backgrounds, because once you start celebrating the diversity, once you are making people feel at home, and once you are in this place of getting curious about each other, I think it will promote not just a way of being, but a different value to life. I believe that.”

After living across southern Ontario, Linton recognizes the opportunity for Dufferin to “create not just an equal playing field, but a playing field that everybody can be at the same table and we can honour each other and value one another in our uniqueness.” Trisha Linton is not just watching and waiting for progress in our community though, she is making sure it happens.

“I am part of the Dufferin County Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee. It is the beginning, and we are having so many meaningful conversations about what this really looks like. How inviting can it be to bring other people in, whether it be business, whether it be tourism, or people coming here to live. It is such a fresh of breath air. We are not dwelling on the negative, ‘oh, this person called me this’, and ‘this person said that’ and whatever. It is a meaningful conversation about how we can create Dufferin County, all of Dufferin County, all of the residents that live in different municipalities, regardless of if they have a disability, are Black, or are a minority of any type or any kind. How can we create a safe place for them to come and know that they’re welcomed here?”

Linton points to the number of local companies being operated by those identifying as a visible-minority and then underlines the importance of having businesses that cater to people of all backgrounds, celebrating the diversity of all those in Dufferin.

“We have businesses now that are starting to open up for all different people from everywhere. I think that is fantastic too, because my girls, my two daughters, their father is from Ecuador. So, there is a lot of the Spanish influence that they gravitate to as well. It is not just me being Black, but it is also them having a lot of Latino in them, and they like to express their Latino roots. I think of that for them and everybody else.”

When it comes to the efforts that Dufferin County’s leadership is putting into solving issues related to diversity and inclusion, Linton expresses satisfaction.

“I think right now Dufferin County is in its infancy, but we’re in a movement towards making change, and that is good. You have Orangeville’s Mayor, Sandy Brown, who is very involved. You have Shelburne’s Wade Mills, who is very involved. You have the Warden of Dufferin County, who is very involved. You have all these great people involved in making sure that everybody feels welcome. I think that’s a good start.”

Trisha Linton is also pleased to see the Dufferin County Canadian Black Association’s formation and all the headway they have made in a short period.

“Alethia O’Hara-Stephenson, who is pushing a lot of things to the forefront through the Dufferin County Canadian Black Association, helping to make these changes and these recognitions happen. I think that’s a good thing.”

On a related note, Trisha Linton supplied her take on the circumstances related to Amaranth’s Mayor Bob Currie and his comments on “Black Lives Matter” after hearing a presentation from the DCCBA at a Dufferin County Council meeting.

“I heard a little bit of the Mayor of Amaranth saying, ‘All lives matter.’ In essence, he is right, but also, there must be an understanding of where Blacks have come from and having the compassion and the empathy to hear that, and where we want to be. We just want to have a place at the table and feel welcomed and accepted, for you to know that we are here in your community as much as anybody else.”

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

“Overall, I would say that I am blessed to be a part of a community that is in the beginning stages of becoming something great and magnificent. It is truly a great thing to be part of, to allow my children to see what can happen when people make a choice and decide to become part of a movement to be inclusive. People coming together and making that choice. And I want to say that Black History Month is not just a month. It is every day; it is showing up. It is doing the work to understand and be proud of your cultural heritage from wherever you came from and being part of something where we can celebrate ourselves, celebrate each other, celebrate our shortcomings, and where we want to be as a people. I think we have an opportunity to make a difference and allow that to become part of our history.”

Trisha Linton ended with the following, which caught Dufferin News’s attention, as it has been a recurring theme throughout our discussions on Black History Month.

“You know, a lot of us in the Caribbean know what it is to be a part of a community because they say it takes a village to raise a child, and I honestly think that Dufferin County has that opportunity to become that village.”

Dufferin News asked if Linton could clarify what is meant by this comment.

“I think about all the farmers of the past who have lived here who have farmed the land, who have really come together as a farming community. Caribbean people are not too far away from that. Black people, overall, from Africa to here, we know about farming. It is really a sense of belonging for us; it is a sense of what we know to be common. Many of us have come from families that have been farmers and stuff like that, knowing that food does not come from extremely far, it’s just a stone’s throw away. That is what you find people gravitating towards, and that is what makes everybody come together. That makes a community, and I think that is what we can have if we just keep the transparency and the conversation going. Let us not just let Black History be about just one month. Let us have it be an ongoing conversation about what it is to be an inclusive community. Something that people can feel with their hearts, that they are welcomed and safe.”

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 – Trisha Linton: Black History Month in Dufferin

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