My name “Kanika Shani” means “marvelous black cloth” in Swahili. My father, born and raised in Dominica, picked it from a book of African names; their origins and meanings. Everything about my upbringing was to deliberately immerse me in black culture and history from the very beginning of my life. This includes all of the hard stuff. Over my childhood, I must have watched hundreds of videos about slavery, the civil rights movement, Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X. I read about our Canadian and Caribbean black heroes and did presentations at school about Mary Ann Shad, Lincoln Alexander and Sojourner Truth. This work of my life brought a weight that I have carried with me my entire life.
I knew that Paprika needed to release a statement at the beginning of the week but couldn’t release one until the end of it. I’d like to try to address why.
As I grew older and grew as an artist, I came to appreciate this upbringing and deepened my education and immersion. I deliberately walked into the hurt, traumatic and uncomfortable places and brought that to my work. That is my responsibility to the people who have paved the way to my existence. It gives purpose to continuing my story-telling.
I have been skeptical at the sudden mass interest in black lives now that once busy lives have been paused and we’re all cooped up at home.
I have been angry at the rapid outpouring of public statements and didn’t want to participate until I could make sense of things in my own mind. On Monday I wrote a statement full of expletives and accusations; I was enraged, physically ill, deeply sorrowful and skeptical sometimes all in one day.
In the end, I realized that I couldn’t write a statement that would represent Paprika. Everything I wrote was raw, messy, and had no clear action items. Everything I wrote was me in the thick of whatever I was moving through that day and so I decided to offer that.
Black people, I see you. I’m with you. Of course our lives matter. We’ve been saying it all along but now more people are open to listening. This doesn’t change what we’ve always known; that black lives have always mattered and when we rise together we will not be ignored.
In the past two weeks, we have witnessed the murder of Black and Indigenous people at the hands of the police in the United States and in Canada.
In the past two months, we have witnessed a global pandemic disproportionately affect Black and Indigenous communities due to inaction, lack of access, and inequalities in health care systems.
In the past week, Black artists have shared their experiences in theatres, rehearsal halls, and dressing rooms, pointing out blatant racism and micro-aggressions.
This is not new. These are systemic problems that stem from colonial, white supremacist structures. But the amplification of these issues over the past weeks has built the momentum and container for institutions to be held accountable for their past actions and actions moving forward.
As a youth arts organization, with a recent history of being predominately POC-lead, we need to interrogate practices, processes, and policies that we’ve inherited through an anti-racist and anti-Black lens.
We must consider our role in creating a welcoming environment for current and prospective Black, Indigenous and participants of colour. And we must consider our role in shaping a theatre ecology that is welcoming to Black, Indigenous and artists of colour; a theatre ecology that listens to experience, and acts.
As an organization that connects the next generation of artists to established artists and professional theatre companies, we must consider our role in providing Paprika participants transparent information about who they are connected to that reduces the risk of harm and additional labour to the participants.
As an organization that works with the next generation of artists - artists who will work on Toronto stages, and take on leadership and management roles in Toronto companies - we must consider how we are preparing Paprika participants with the tools and knowledge to advocate for themselves and their colleagues.
At an executive level, Paprika believes in honest evaluation of the role we play in our theatre ecology, and realistic goal-setting that we can act on starting tomorrow. With that in mind, here are a few goals we are reiterating for ourselves:
Ongoing Company Commitments
Our current reality shows strong outreach efforts in the downtown core. However, we notice less applications from Black and Indigenous artists. Over the next 1-2 years, we want to hold 5+ community outreach events with new community partner organizations both in and outside of the downtown core on an annual basis. To do this, we need to build stronger connections to organizations and communities that centre Black and Indigenous community members both in and outside of downtown Toronto.
Our current reality shows a small amount of funds that are allocated to mental health resources for participants in our programs. With the knowledge that some participants are creating from a place of lived-experience, and often trauma, Paprika needs to have resources readily available that support participants, especially Black, Indigenous and participants of colour. Over the next 1-3 years, we want to increase these allocated funds and provide access to trained personnel to support these needs.
Our current reality shows a pedagogical approach that uses our Training Days to deepen artistic practices and producing acumen. How do we leverage these days that bring all participants together to have critical conversations about contemporary issues in the theatre ecology? Over the next 1-2 years, we want to ensure our Training Day programming is building space to have difficult conversations that prepare participants to enter workspaces wherein they have the knowledge and tools to advocate for themselves and their colleagues.
Below is a list of resources; organizations and funds where you can donate, reading and resources where you can learn and unlearn, and different ways you can support and amplify. Providing your time and sharing resources are just as useful as a monetary donation.
Canadian-Specific Petitions, GoFundMe Campaigns, Places to Donate, and Protest Information
(Created by @laibah.k & @mani515 on Instagram)
Black Solidarity Fund: Fund organized by TAIBU Community Health Centre that benefits over 40 charities whose work is centred around the well-being and advancement of Black Canadians. You can see the list of the charities benefiting from this fund here.
Black Health Alliance: A community-led charity looking to reduce the racial disparities in health access and care in Canada, focusing on the broad determinants of health, including racism.
Black Legal Action Centre: A non-profit community legal clinic that provides free legal services for low or no income Black residents of Ontario
PASAN: A community-based prisoner health and harm reduction organization that provides support, education and advocacy to prisoners and ex-prisoners across Canada.
Black Youth Helpline: Originally started in Manitoba, the Black Youth Helpline focuses on community development and support for Black youth across Canada.
Map of Black & Indigenous Owned Business in Toronto
(Created by Black Artists’ Network Dialog (BAND) Art Gallery & Cultural Centre)
Mental Health Resources for the Black community in Toronto
(Resources compiled by Imani Walker for BlogTO)
Therapy for Black Girls: Online space dedicated to encouraging the mental wellness of Black women and girls, including a directory of therapists you can search by your location and a podcast.
Twitter accounts offering to caption BLM content for Deaf or hard of hearing folks
(thread created by Leigh Ann Cowan)
Black Coalition for AIDS Prevention (Black CAP): Organization that works to respond to the threat of HIV and AIDS in Toronto’s African, Caribbean and Black communities.
'To Our Future Afro-Indigenous Kin' Zine Submission Form
(Created by @wapahkesis on Instagram. Click through for information on how to donate to support!)
Native Canadian Centre of Toronto: Provides programs to the Indigenous community in Toronto.
List of Indigenous Organizations to Support
(Created by Laura St. Amant, @laurast.amant on IG)
It Starts With Us: Honouring the lives of MMIWGT2S.
Twitter Thread: Donations to Memorialize Black Trans People and Resources to Provide Relief
(Thread by @IMANISHANTE)
Its Nice That: A comprehensive list of petitions to sign, funds and charities to donate to, and resources for educating yourself and those around you.
Anti-Racism Resources for White People
(Resources compiled by Sarah Sophie Flicker & Alyssa Klein)
Ways to Contribute Funds if You Can't Afford to Donate:
Tab for a Cause: A Chrome or Firefox extension that donates to charity for each tab you open using ad revenue from banner ads on the launch page. For the month of June, the funds are being allocated to is the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.
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