Jamie Knight, co-chair of the town’s diversity, equity, and inclusion committee, and with support of the committee members, spoke to councillors about the remaining and importance of a rainbow crosswalk, and the council’s support to date.
Making his presentation Monday night, he said he spoke of “rainbows, Black history, and valentines.”
He had “written some words” that so impressed and deeply touched Lord Mayor Betty Disero. She spoke of some of what is going on “in our community and country” that make his words especially appropriate on Valentine’s Day, including the celebration of non-profits in Ontario, and the annual Feb. 14 march to raise awareness of missing and murdered Indigenous women and children in Ontario. “We’ve had a lot of discussion recently about diversity, inclusion and equity,” she said, and thought Knight’s words “are so appropriate and so impactful that I wanted them to be read that she asked him to read.” She asked him to read what he had written for the benefit of councillors and the community.
The diversity committee, he said, has recommended that a few spots around town be painted the colours of the rainbow, with five benches and a crosswalk, and also appreciates recent town motions to support public consultation regarding the location for the rainbows, benches and crosswalk and encouraging private funds to help offset the cost.
The modern rainbow flag has six colours, he said: red for life, orange for healing, yellow for sunlight – also meant to stimulate new ideas, green for nature, indigo for serenity and violet for spirit.
In recent years, the design of the flag has been enhanced by the BIPOC, and Trans triangle. Pink and blue are traditional colours for boys and girls, he said, “and in my interpretation, white can represent two concepts: intersex, trans, or those outside the gender binary, and also people who are not of colour, but are allied to the DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) concepts.”
Brown and black, he said, is added to represent the BIPOC community, Black, Indigenous and people of colour.
This is very much a pride flag, but is also a progress flag and, in my view, at the end of the day, it is essentially a human flag.”
February is Black History month, Knight reminded councillors. “We have a vibrant Black history in Canada. Indeed, Niagara-on-the-Lake has had Black residents since the 1780s. In 1793, the first anti-slavery legislation in the British Empire was introduced here, although it did not immediately end slavery.”
Until the early 1800s, he said, “there were both slaves and free Blacks. NOTL was a key destination for freedom-seekers from the south. The journey from enslavement to freedom and equality is still continuing. Today, NOTL honours our Black history and also going forward, through the Voices of Freedom Park.”
Going further afield, he continued, “I want to reflect on some lesser known words from the “I Have a Dream” speech delivered by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on Aug. 28, 1963:
He said, “We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvellous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers and sisters, as evidenced by their presence here today, who have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. And
they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone. And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back.”
While Dr. King’s words focused on racial issues in the U.S., Knight said, “the same noble call for dignity, discipline, allies, and freedom applies to inequity wherever we face it.”
Acknowledging the passing of Archbishop Desmond Tutu on Dec. 26, 2021, Knight quoted some of his sayings, including “Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”
Tutu also said that the “ordinary act of love and hope point to the extraordinary promise that every human life is of inestimable value,” and that “exclusion is never the way forward on our shared paths to freedom and justice.”
Neutrality in the face of injustice, Tutu said, “you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”
And, said Knight, one of Tutu’s sayings with religious overtones, but very appropriate: “Isn’t it amazing that we are all made in God’s image, and yet there is so much diversity amongst his people?”
Finally, since it was Valentine’s Day, Knight said, he would close on the topic of love.
“While each of us may aspire to – and achieve – different types of love at different times of our lives, I trust we all may embrace agape, which is the unconditional love for others, regardless of such characteristics as race, place of origin, age, gender, gender choice, sexual orientation, religious belief or non-belief, or disability – to name some of the more prominent differences. Agape lies at the root of the DEI committee and I trust it will continue to be the guiding light for our committee, whoever may be the members.”
To end, he returned to words from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr: “I have decided to stick to love … hate is too great a burden to bear.”
“On behalf of all of us,” Coun. Gary Burroughs thanked Knight for his “excellent presentation,” with other councillors nodding in appreciation and some looking like they wanted to clap — Coun. John Wiens did applaud Knight’s words.