Goodbye 2023: Our Look Back at the Memorable, the Unforgettable, and the Lamentable
- After the extraordinary high of the Canadian Men’s Soccer Team qualification for FIFA in 2022, we experienced a profound low when they did not make it out of the group stage. But national athletics certainly brought Canadians something to celebrate in 2023 when the Canadian Men’s Basketball Team brought an historic bronze medal home from Asia after their 127-118 defeat of the US Men’s team. Well done!
Canadian Men’s Basketball Team with bronze medals at FIBA 2023
2. As a country that routinely denies its colonial histories, Canadian institutions took a big step forward when Canada Post and Heritage Minutes honoured the enslaved woman Chloe Cooley with a postage stamp and heritage minute educational video respectively. The erasure of histories of Transatlantic Slavery in Canada under the British and the French has served to bury the knowledge of the centuries-long presence of Africans in the territories that became Canada. These partial histories support the false narrative that black Canadians are always recent immigrants. While most enslaved people were partially documented as units of labour or possessions of economic exchange, our deeper knowledge of Cooley is related to her aggressive and vocal resistance to her abduction and sale across regional boundaries; a resistance that brought her plight to the attention of Lieutenant Governor John Graves Simcoe who moved to pass a law in 1793 prohibiting the further importation of enslaved Africans into Upper Canada. Although Cooley’s whereabouts after her abduction and sale have yet to be determined, her memory lives on through her valiant resistance.
Canada Post Chloe Cooley stamp issued 2023
3. If you recall, Canadian media experienced a game-changing event in 2022 with the release of Hungry Eyes Media’s BLK: An Origin Story. While other documentaries have explored aspects of black Canadian history, this four part docu-series – created by the dynamic duo, husband and wife team David “Sudz” Sutherland and Jennifer Holness – was the first to tackle Canadian participation in Transatlantic Slavery. With a focus on four provinces (B.C., Ontario, Quebec, and Nova Scotia) this film featured beautiful cinematography, gripping reenactments, and interviews with celebrated artists and scholars like Esi Edugyan, Natasha Henry, Lawrence Hill, and our fearless leader, Charmaine A. Nelson. With 2023 came five Canadian Screen Awards for best writing (documentary), best direction (documentary series), best original music (documentary), best photography (documentary or factual), and best picture editing (documentary). We’re hoping these much-deserved accolades will prompt even more people to see this can’t-miss series.
Jennifer Holness (centre) and David “Sudz” Sutherland (right) with award-winning colleagues at 2023 CSA
4. Superstar MLB player, face of the Toronto Blue Jays franchise, and proud Dominican-Canadian Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (he was born in Montreal when his papa Vladimir Sr. played for the Expos) gave us something to cheer about in July with his powerhouse performance in the Home Run Derby at the All-Star game in Seattle. Supported by Coach John Schneider who pitched to him, a group of African-Latino and other elite players cheering him on, and Blue Jays’ Bo Bichette on the mic with play-by-play and comic relief, our Vladdy prevailed across three rounds defeating Mookie Betts, Julio Rodríguez, and finally Randy Arozarena by the score of 25 to 23. That he accomplished this sixteen years after his father makes Vladdy’s victory even sweeter. All hail the home run king!
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (left) and Vladimir Guerrero Sr. (right)
5. You may not have heard, but our fearless leader Charmaine A. Nelson, has more than one “day job”. Besides serving as the editor-in-chief of Black Maple Magazine, she is also a provost professor of Art History at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and the founding director of Slavery North: a one-of-a-kind academic and cultural destination where scholars, thinkers, and artists research and build community that transforms society’s understanding of the neglected histories of Transatlantic Slavery in Canada and the U.S. North. While there are a handful of other academic institutes devoted to the study of Transatlantic Slavery, they are almost universally focused on tropical or semi-tropical regions, and none share a dedicated focus on art and visual culture. Slavery North gained official initiative status at UMass in 2022, the first step towards becoming an institute. However, we have it on good authority that Slavery North has received funding from a renowned US philanthropic foundation. (Stay tuned for a huge announcement in 2024!) With this well-earned support, Slavery North will re-launch its fellowship program and build upon the incredible research outcomes of the past few years. As Charmaine’s research contributions prove, academic research truly can be socially justice work!
Slavery North Initiative, UMass Amherst logo
6. The end of the year is a time to think about those we’ve lost and, sadly, 2023 was a year when we bid goodbye to some legends of film, music, and TV who broke barriers, defied obstacles, and dazzled us with their brilliance. In April, we bid farewell to the groundbreaking actor, musician, TV host, and Civil Rights activist, Caribbean-American Harry Belafonte (1927-2023). Not long after in May we lost the genre-defying, feminist icon, and global music superstar Tina Turner (1939-2023). Finally, Norman Lear (1922-2023) who transformed the representation of the black family on American TV with unforgettable sit-coms like All in the Family, The Jeffersons, Sanford and Son, and Good Times, passed away in December. Lear’s innovative and loveable characters like the conscientious and devoted Florida Evans, the rascally Fred Sanford, and the brash and outspoken George Jefferson also made honest, even combative conversations about sensitive topics like race and racism possible in a way that we’d never seen before (and sadly, haven’t seen since). Here’s to lives well-lived!
The Iconic Tina Turner (1939-2023)
7. With the publication of her book Worthy, African American Hollywood staple and host of Red Table Talk Jada Pinkett Smith also became a best-selling author. In her memoir, Pinkett Smith opened up about a life of trials and triumphs including details of her unconventional marriage to and separation from African American film and music superstar Will Smith. Although they routinely appear in public with their three children, we learned that many other parts of their lives have been separate since 2016, including Jada’s residence; a Los Angeles mansion that she purchased for herself on her 50th birthday. While the couple has previously shared deeply personal elements of their sometimes painful journey with the public – remember their public discussion of Jada’s “entanglement” – they have also managed to co-parent three talented and ambitious children (no easy feat these days, especially in Hollywood). As with all memoirs, the gifts come from what we can learn from other people’s mistakes and how we can be inspired by other people’s triumphs. Pinkett Smith’s honesty and bravery have given us access to both.
Jada Pickett Smith’s memoir Worthy (2023)
8. The black maternal health crisis is hundreds of years in the making; a result of the ongoing assault on black sexuality, fertility, maternity, and family that was orchestrated across 400 years of Transatlantic Slavery. Slavery’s deliberate matrilineal organization ensured that any child born to an enslaved female, regardless of the sex, race, or social status of the father, became a slave at birth, the possession of the mother’s enslaver. This incentivized rape and sexual coercion. As such, slave fertility, sexuality, and “natural increase” were open topics of so-called polite debate amongst enslavers and were written about in printed journals of the day. Recent reporting in the New York Times has revealed that in California, while 173 of every 100,000 babies born to the richest white mothers die before their first birthday, the number increases to 350 for poor white mothers, and to 437 for the richest black mothers. A McGill University study from 2016 concluded that in Canada, 5.9 per cent of babies born to white mothers were premature, compared to 8.9 per cent of babies born to black mothers. As such, this health disparity is clearly not about class, but race and racism. While the tragic deaths in child birth of high profile figures like African American Olympian Tori Bowie have attracted some media attention, this multinational crisis will not end without a dramatic shift in government policy, medical training, and healthcare resources, and an urgent interrogation of the stereotypes that underpin the crippling myths of black brutishness and insentience.
Olympian Tori Bowie (1990-2023)
9. Of the handful of Canadian NBA players, Jamaican-Canadian Jamal Murray is definitely a star on the rise. In 2023, he and his Denver Nuggets teammates, including Nikola Jokic (reigning NBA Finals MVP), netted their first NBA championship when they defeated the Miami Heat. But the path to the championship was not a cakewalk. They first had to dispense with the Minnesota Timberwolves, Phoenix Suns, and none other than record-setting, legend LeBron James’ Los Angeles Lakers. But Murray and teammates were more than equipped for the job when they powered through the potentially seven-game finals in just five. At only twenty-six years old, this Kitchener-born, versatile shooter is on his way up. We think he’s got a few more rings and some all-star games in his future.
Jamal Murray celebrates with the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy
10. When our fearless leader, Charmaine A. Nelson, first launched Black Maple Magazine last year in December 2022, we knew it was something to write home about! But now, over ten Scholar’s Couch interviews, twenty Self-Care Circle entries, and fifty Pop List articles later, we certainly have something to celebrate! As one of the only black-owned, black-Canada focused publications, and one of the few Canadian platforms – period – bridging the academic and the popular, we know our out-of-the-box approach is contributing something timely, lively, unique, and inspirational to the media landscape. So, here’s to Black Maple Magazine on its first birthday! Thank you for reading, exploring, and growing with us. We look forward to delivering more vibrant, uplifting, funny, and thought-provoking content in 2024. Happy New Year!
Black Maple Magazine turns one!