On Tuesday, Jully Black will sing her modified version of the national anthem at the inaugural graduation ceremony for the first cohort of law students at Metropolitan University of Toronto.
And with the new anthem comes a message — be strong in your defense of change and in yourself, she said.
“It’s amazing to no longer feel invisible and to be welcomed into a space and invited to contribute to something so beautiful,” she said in an interview with CBC Toronto.
Black’s change to the anthem was first heard in February during the NBA All-Star Game. The Canadian R&B singer and Juno winner changed the first line of the anthem from “our home and our native land” to “our home in the native land” to acknowledge the country’s theft of Indigenous lands, she said.
The school said it asked Black to perform to reflect the law program’s core values, which are a commitment to diversity, inclusion and reconciliation after its name change from Ryerson University to Toronto Metropolitan University.
The name changed last spring after teachers and students had worried for years that its namesake came from Egerton Ryerson, considered the architect of the residential school system.
Memory of Black’s mother inspired anthem change
When Black was deciding if she should change the one word in O Canada – she said she heard her mother’s voice.
“Be wise, Jully,” she heard her mother say. Although her mother died in 2017, Black has worked to follow her teachings.
Her mother emigrated to Canada from Jamaica in 1968 to build a new life, and she was confident in her beliefs. Black remembers his mother leaving a church because members judged Black for his tattoos.
WATCH: Jully Black explains why she changed the anthem
She knew her mother would not back down from what she believed was right. And for Black, that included changing the anthem.
“So for me, exercising any kind of fear didn’t make sense. My mom would be like, ‘What are you doing? ‘” Black said.
The ceremony will mark the first graduates of the university’s Lincoln Alexander School of Law which launched in the fall of 2020.
The school’s commitments to diversity and inclusion, and the evocation of Alexander’s namesake are what encouraged her to perform at the ceremony, she told CBC Toronto.
“As a black woman, born in Canada, for me [the ceremony] poster ‘OK, this is what Canada looks like. It couldn’t look like this,” she said.
Mental health is a priority at school, valedictorian says
Safia Thompson, the law school’s first major, said she was thrilled to speak on the same stage as Black will perform on Tuesday.
“I’m thrilled to see a woman of color using art to send such an important and powerful message,” Thompson said.
Speaking to peers from other law schools, Thompson said they don’t get the chance to have discussions about diversity, mental health and gender like they are at TMU. Although the discussions are sometimes difficult, students and staff are not afraid to bring up these topics, she explained.
“For us, that’s really where the magic happens, that’s where we can learn about the law and how we can serve the diverse community when we go out into the world,” she said.
Donna Young, the school’s founding dean, said the law school has integrated Indigenous laws into its teaching, which is still ongoing.
The Standing Strong Task Force, a group mandated to consult with TMU faculty and students and find a way forward to confront Ryerson’s legacy in the school, recommended that these teachings be incorporated into the curriculum.
TMU must listen to indigenous teachers
Eva Jewell, an assistant professor of sociology at TMU and research director of the Yellowhead Institute, an Indigenous-run education center, said she was a big Black fan and it was exciting to watch her play the game. ‘school.
Although TMU has made “fairly significant efforts” to commit to reconciliation, it needs to do more to provide resources to Indigenous faculty and be more intentional in its integration of Indigenous history and teachings. across multiple programs, Jewell said.
For example, the Yellowhead Institute does not have a permanent home at the school, she said.
Additionally, there has been a rollback on mandatory curricula and the school has to face these kinds of challenges head-on, she said.
“You have to be attentive to this tension that we are experiencing in universities,” she said. Consultations are also sometimes done and then Indigenous perspectives are always ignored, she said.
Next steps for the school include “adequate resources, support, especially in senior administrative positions, and listening to experts, who are Indigenous teachers,” she said.
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to stories of success within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project that Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.
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