Black Lives Matter TO express themselves via ‘Art Creates Change’

Art is essential to helping to imagine what might be possible.

– Syrus Marcus Ware, Black Lives Matter TO

On October 26th, OCAD played host to two members of Black Lives Matter TO – LeRoi Newbold, and Syrus Marcus Ware. The two-hour panel touched on issues such as the protests at Nathan Phillips Square and the Toronto Pride Parade, both earlier this year. The presentation was part of the University’s Art Creates Change series – established in 2004, it is intended to bring awareness and evoke thought through creativity in the name of social justice.

Within the Black Lives Matter movement, art plays a huge role – by showing the world as it is, as well as what it could become.

LeRoi Newbold (left), and Syrus Marcus Ware.


The panel also included an unveiling of the first in a series of four banners created for future parades/protests. The first states ‘WE WILL WIN’, quoting Assata Shakur, and took a total of 5 hours to complete. Ware explained that the next three banners will read:

  • “AFRAID OF THE DARK” – a statement made by Nat King Cole when he was performing on a stage to an all-white audience. They booed him, threw things at him, and screamed and wouldn’t let him perform, to which he responded “some people are just afraid of the dark.”
  • “All that you touch, you change and all that you change, changes you”, a quote from American science fiction writer Octavia Butler.
  • “BUT WHAT IF WE DON’T” – “…because that’s actually implied with what [Assata] said”, Ware explains. “She said, ‘We will win, we will win our liberation.’ She was saying it for our future generation, hope for a generation ahead of her, knowing that we might not. So this is a positive message, and an incredibly pessimistic message, because she knew, and we know that when we say it, there is always a possibility that we won’t.”


Aside from the creation of the banners, Syrus and LeRoi demonstrated how art can be tied in with social justice, providing examples of artistic representations from various afro-centric artists such as Amber Williams-King, and Adrian Piper with her hand-out “calling card” which she would give to people to call them out on their racist remarks.

Adrian Piper, My Calling (Card), 1986.


Of course, with all the talk about how to make a better world, we have to think of the children – sometimes, it may seem like we are crossing a line when it comes to what we expose them to, and how early we do it. Yet as Newbold points out during the Q&A session, as much as we should be aware of the proverbial wound we’re opening in children, we should also look at the reality of it all. They are just as affected as we are, and it is important we equip them with the knowledge and skills to make sense of all parts of the world them live in.

I remember when we were searching for spaces for freedom school, we had approached this all-girls’ school about using their space and they were saying, “I don’t know if this curriculum is really accessible for kids- a lot of these concepts are really abstract.” And we’re like “it might be abstract for you, but for us, it’s life, and it’s reality. And when kids are speaking, they’re not gonna give a trigger warning, because they’re children.

-LeRoi Newbold



After the insightful two-hour presentation concluded with a Q&A session, the entire room lauded both speakers with a standing ovation. There are still numerous questions to be answered, including issues pertaining to the police-related deaths of Andrew Loku and Abdirahman Abdi, as well as a potential cop-out (no pun intended) from the organizers of Pride. However, these are challenges which Black Lives Matter TO hopes to address and resolve moving forward, through peace and creativity.

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