GEORGE DEI - ROLE MODEL & AMBASSADOR
BIO: Prof. George Dei was born in Ghana and emigrated to Canada in 1979 attending McMaster University, Hamilton Ontario for his Master’s degree and obtaining his doctorate from the University of Toronto in 1986. He is best described as an educator, researcher and writer, a widely sought after academic, researcher and community worker. His professional and academic work has led to many Canadian and international speaking invitations in US, Europe and Africa. Currently, he is a Professor of Humanities, Social Sciences and Social Justice Education at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto (OISE/UT). In August 2012, he received the honorary title of "Professor Extraordinaire" from the School of Education, University of South Africa. In the past years he has been a Visiting Professor at the Centre for School and Community Science and Technology Studies (SACOST), University of Education, Winneba, Ghana and a Distinguished Visiting Scholar at the Adeniran Ogunsanya College of Education, Nigeria. He also served as the first Director of the Centre for Integrative Anti-Racism Studies at the University of Toronto.
His teaching and research interests are in the areas of Anti-Racism, Minority Schooling, International Development, Anti-Colonial Thought and Indigenous Knowledges Systems. To date, he has authored, co-authored, edited and co-edited a total of twenty-six (24) books and over a hundred and fifty (150) refereed journal articles and book chapters. His recent books include: ‘Teaching Africa: Towards Transgressive Pedagogy’, “Learning to Succeed: Improving Educational Achievement for All’, and an International Reader on: “Indigenous Philosophies and Critical Education”. In 2012 he co-edited ‘Contemporary Issues in African Science Education’ (with Professor Asabere-Ameyaw, Vice Chancellor, University of Education, Winneba, Ghana and Professor Kola Raheem of the University of Finland). He has also recently published "New Perspectives on Africentric Schooling in Canada", Canadian Scholars' Press, 2013, [co-authored with Dr. Arlo Kempf of the University of California, Los Angeles] and “Critical Perspectives in Sociology of Race and Ethnicity” (co-edited with Dr. Meredith Lordan) also published by Peter Lang, New York, 2013.
Currently, he co-Chairs, The African Community Networking Committee in Toronto, an organization dedicated to the economic and social enhancement of African peoples in Canada. He was the First President of the Ghanaian-Canadian Union, an umbrella group of Ghanaian-Canadian cultural, ethnic and religious associations in Ontario. He is on the Board of the AfroGlobal TV, and the National Scholarship Fund (formerly Harry Jerome Awards) of the Black Business and Professionals Association (BBPA). Some years back, he was voted by a Canadian newspaper organization as among the top influential Black scholars and community workers in Canada. He was a member of the City of Toronto Mayor’s Roundtable on: "Children, Youth and Education”; and also, the “Postsecondary Education Advisory Committee on First-Generation Students”. He is a Distinguished Fellow of the Molefi Kete Asante Institute, based in Philadelphia, US to advance the cause of global African development.
He has been a major proponent and a pioneering voice in the establishment of African-Centred schools in Canada. He is a recipient of numerous awards, including The 'Race, Gender, and Class Project Academic Award, 2002' in New Orleans. He has also received the ‘African-Canadian Outstanding Achievement in Education’ from the Pride Magazine in Toronto in 2003, and the City of Toronto's ‘William P. Hubbard Award for Race Relations’ 2003. He is also the 2006 recipient of the Planet Africa ‘Renaissance Award’ for my professional achievements in the field of African education, anti-racism and youth and the 2007 Canadian Alliance of Black Educators Award for ‘Excellence in Education and Community Development”. Finally, something he really cherished happened in June 2007, as he was installed as a traditional chief in Ghana, specifically, as the Adumakwaahene of the town of Asokore, in the New Juaben Traditional Area of Ghana. My stool name is Nana Sefa Atweneboah I. He is also the in-coming Gyaasehene-elect for the town.
What's your inspiration and how do you get motivated? I take my inspiration form the fact that our work is never done and that there is more to be accomplished before satisfaction. I am motivated by the love of life and education. I like to make a difference in whatever small way I can and I realize those of us privileged as ‘Black professionals’ have so much to be thankful for the sacrifices our forebearers made to pave the way for us today. It is this history of sacrifices and the fact that such history must teach one something to fight for that motivates me.
How did you get to where you are now and what more should we expect? The usual response is to say hard work, determination and strong sense of purpose. But to me, it is more. I attribute where I am now to a strong mother and father who instilled in us (the children) as a sense of discipline and dedication. My mother, in particular, has always wanted us to be the best we can and gave us the tolls through education. I have strived not to disappoint her. The strong upbringing has been coupled with good community connections and friends who have always been supportive.
What would you like to be remembered for? History is its own judge. There is a saying that a good name keeps someone so I will rest at that. But perhaps if I had my way I want to be remembered for being what I would call a “distinctive Black voice” in our community, someone who recognized the sacrifices of history and struggled alongside with others in our communities to give back in some small way to the communities we belong. In my case, the involvement in any work contributing to the upliftment of Black/African youth education and speaking out on issues of racism and social injustice is something I personally cherish.
How do you balance work, family, friends and leisure? It has been difficult and I think I sacrificed my family for my academic and professional work. I am rebuilding my relations with my son who I think paid a price for my work as a community worker and university professor. These days I am spending some time outside work understanding that there is more to life than work, work, work. I take time of research and teaching visiting with family, friends in and out of Canada whenever I can. It has been difficult but I see it is rewarding to have a fitting balance. I am an avid soccer and boxing fan. I like to dance as well. I like playing soccer when away in Ghana. When in Toronto I like to go dancing once a while and watch boxing on television.
What's your favorite food, book, music and movie? I like fried plantain and beans and also fufu, the Ghanaian staple. I only drink when on a night out. I like Ghanaian highlife and also reggae. My favorite book in many ways is the writings of my idol, Steve Biko and his “I Write What I Like”. I hardly go to movies but I must say recently enjoyed watching Django after the prodding of some friends to watch the movie.
What's your experience as a Black person in Canada? Like everyone else, I have had many experiences, pleasant and not so pleasant. I have come to appreciate existing opportunities in Canada to live up to my full potential. But I am also wary of the inequities and social exclusion that exist; the racism, sexism, homophobia etc. that conflict our communities. I bear witness to Aboriginal and Indigenous peoples’ injustices. Not every one of us has been so blessed. I have witnessed the poverty, disenfranchisement, the sense of disaffection and living a dead-end existence in the eyes of a number of our youth.
As Black and African peoples in Canada, we have a responsibility to join in the Indigenous struggles over Land, for social and environmental justice. We must see how we have been complicit in the Aboriginal rights and self-determination etc.
Our society can do better and we all have a collective responsibility. I have always argued that for those of us so-called “immigrants’ our greatest contribution to Canadian society is to work to make this society even better that we came to meet it.
As a Black community, we can only address our challenges when we are united, develop a sense of collective responsibility, acknowledge our relative complicities, and appreciate whatever privileges we enjoy. We must teach our youth about respect for self, peers, elders, and community and engrain in them a sense of community work. We must build, support and strengthen our own Indigenous institutions while not failing in our duties and responsibilities to building a strong Canadian nation inclusive of all. Through all these, we must respect our differences of opinion.
What is the Black community doing right or wrong in Canada? It is only the fool and adamant who thinks he or she is always doing right. We learn from our mistakes and we must be humble to recognize our failings. Clearly, I think our mere existence and survival denotes we must be doing something right. I recognize the hard work and sacrifices many of us are making to make Canada a better place. We have Black mothers and fathers supporting their families, youth exhibiting great creativity and resourcefulness and we have Black excellence in many fields of endeavor.
But as a community, we have more work to do. There are mounting unemployment, health issues, youth education challenges, family reunification owes, and the perennial question of Black unity. Such unity is crucial to achieving Black power. We need to redouble our efforts in these areas and build strong, healthy sustainable communities. Any community is as good as we collectively work to make it. We are not homogenous. We have demarcations around ethnicity, gender disability, sexuality, class etc. Our differences should not be points of divisiveness but rather must be sites and sources of our strength. We must come together and strengthen each other. We must hold each other back. We must be communities in the true sense of the work, communities of differences. We must build associations that have strong political leadership voices that speak on our collective behalf. Our professionals must recognize their responsibilities to the larger community and remember we did not get to where we are now through our own individual efforts. Others sacrificed to make that journey smooth for us. We must not forget this.
As a community, our work is never done and we cannot be satisfied until we do right by each other. We must all be community warriors.
Should and do Blacks support black music, events and businesses? Definitely. This is a no brainer. This is how we build communities. We must have our own radio and television stations, playing our music in its diversity. We must support our own businesses and patronize our events. It is funny how sometimes others see the value of our culture except ourselves. Little wonder others can arrogantly and insultingly claim they know us better than we know ourselves.
Some claim we have musical artists and talents in Canada that are as good or better than those in the US? I believe that and what I do know is that we have this sense of inferiority in Canada where we think everything from US is better. We must appreciate our own, encourage them and honour them to be great. It is troubling how there is the constant juxtaposition of the US on Canada anytime such matters about the Canadian experience (race, social justice, etc.) come. There is this constant referencing of the US!
Mention a few of your favorite Black Canadian Artists? This is a difficult question for me and I recognize it is my own limitations. So I will rather like to mention my favourite global artist, the late Bob Marley.
What’s your understanding of Black History in Canada? I will first answer this question by sharing African proverbial sayings. It is said that “it is not what one is called that is most important but rather what one responds to”. In other words, the question is what do we respond to when we are called? What do we respond to when we hear ‘Black/African history”? The Akan of Ghana says that “if you fail to recognize the horn of your Chief, you feel lost at the durbar grounds!” [se wowere firi wo kuromhene aben a, woyera adwabo ase]. Black History in Canada is not taken seriously. It is not taught in the schools in any meaningful sense and this is my deep concern. Such history is tangential in the school curriculum and there is a lack of deep appreciation and understanding of what this entails. I know I am not alone on this. One must know one’s history to know and understand themselves and to articulate who they are. We can discuss African History in terms of the contributions of African civilizations to global civilization; also, as an understanding of the long history of African peoples in Canada and our achievements and contributions to Canadian society. But more importantly, African History is a recognition of the contemporary challenges for us as a people. There are some broader implications of the narration of this history for all of us. Every history must teach us something; otherwise, it is not a history worth telling. African History is the totality of the African lived experience globally. After all, contrary to misguided Eurocentric thoughts, African History did not arrive with the coming of Europeans to Africa nor the arrival of Blacks in Canada! Our responsibility today, when we speak African history, is to reclaim such knowledge about African history for all learners. We must also develop the courage to challenge how this history is taught to us also. African history is a time for us to reflect [take stock] on the past, reclaim the present and project onto the future. In fact when we celebrate the so-called “African History Month” we must all be asking ourselves what are we going to do with the knowledge received? What are our responsibilities to the lessons of African History today?