Toronto filmmakers pay tribute to six black activists in film series

Five documentaries will be screened at Ryerson University Thursday night that pays tribute to the lives and achievements of six of the city’s late Canadian black activists.

The films will premier at the inaugural Akua Benjamin Legacy lecture

Toronto Filmmaker Sarah Michelle Brown discusses her new short film Book of Love that pays tribute to black activists Gwen and Lenny Johnson. 1:35

Five documentaries that pay tribute to the lives and achievements of six Canadian black activists are being screened at Ryerson University Thursday night.  

The films will premiere at the inaugural Akua Benjamin Legacy lecture, which will focus on 50 years of black activism and resistance in Toronto, in honour of Black History Month.

Five female filmmakers were asked to produce the short films as part of the Akua Benjamin Legacy project, a five-year project named after a professor at Ryerson's School of Social Work.

Sarah Michelle Brown produced Book of Love a film that honours the legacy of Gwen and Lenny Johnson, owners of the Third World Bookstore in Toronto.

The store was located originally at Gerrard Street and Bay Street and then Bathurst Street and Bloor Street West.

It was where Toronto's African-Canadian community could go to learn about their heritage, according to Brown.

"In the Third World Bookstore you go in and get an education," Brown told CBC News. "You gain a community. People would go in there for a safe place to express themselves."

Brown used passages from a geography textbook that was used in Ontario schools decades ago, that described black people as "uncivilized or barbarous people."

Terms that Brown says shocked her.

"When you are told you are barbarous and uncivilized, you're being told your contribution is negative," said Brown.

The other activists that will profiled in the lecture are Charles Roach, Marlene Green, Dudley Laws and Rosie Douglas.

The films will be available on Ryerson University's website after Thursday night's screenings.

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