Arts·FreeUp!

'Hold your tender, tender heart': d'bi.young anitafrika's stirring tribute to Black women everywhere

The Rosemary Sadlier Freedom Fighter Award winner pays tribute to the women who inspired her by performing "Black Woman."

d'bi.young anitafrika's performance is a part of FreeUp! Emancipation Day 2021, now streaming on CBC

'Hold your tender, tender heart': d'bi.young anitafrika's stirring tribute to Black women everywhere

10 months ago
Duration 6:49
The Rosemary Sadlier Freedom Fighter Award winner pays tribute to the women who inspired her by performing "Black Woman."

This year's recipient of the Rosemary Sadlier Freedom Fighter Award is African-Jamaican-Tkarontonian, London-based dub poet, theatre interventionist and decolonial scholar d'bi.young anitafrika. This annual award recognizes individuals whose work and passion contributed to the advancement of equality and expression in the community.

You are boundless and transformational.- Ngozi Paul on d'bi.young anitafrika

In her acceptance speech, d'bi.young anitafrika called out some of the inspiring women who paved the way for her and many others: Amah Harris (founder of Theatre in the Rough), Ahdri Zhina Mandiela (founder of b current Performing Arts), Rhoma Spencer (founder of Theatre Archipelago), Lillian Allen (founder of The Dub Poets Collective), and Djanet Sears (founder of the AfriCanadian Playwrights Festival).

"These women — they became my mentors, my colleagues, my comrades," says anitafrika.

"I would like to dedicate my Rosemary Sadlier Freedom Fighter Award to these freedom fighter women."

She also included her mother, dub poet Anita Stewart, among these powerful and inspirational figures.

To celebrate this year's Emancipation Day and the women she dedicated her award to, anitafrika fittingly recited her poem "Black Woman" — a seminal ode to Black women and their enduring resilience, strength and capacity for love.

Poem begins at 2:00; read the transcript below.

Black Woman

Calling all the Black Woman from across the land.
African, diasporic, academic, intellectual,
Cisgender, transgender, no gender.
Queer, lesbian, two-spirit.
All spectrum, all abilities,
Middle class, working class, wealthy, labourer,
Activist, scientist, soca-ciser, farmer, doctor,
Healer, architect.

Come! Me said fi come! Come!
Come take a seat and sit down 'pon the ground, Black Woman.
Let me and you have a long, long, long conversation
About
Your
Heart.

The health of your heart in the nation, Black Woman.
Black Woman,
Do you know how your heart's strong, Black Woman?
Big, open, wide like the Nile is long.
Absorbing human misunderstanding, appropriation.
Dissolving human micro and macro aggression, Black Woman.
In a world that refuses to acknowledge that humanity
Spring up, spring up, spring up like springtime,
From the loins of an African woman.
Black Woman, you understand? 

Black Woman,
Your tender, tender, tender heart.
Tender like rain cloud, ready to swell up, swell up
And burst open with tears ready to fall to wash, wash, wash, wash, wash away
The troubles of misogyny and classism, and homophobia and bigotry.

Whether you're in front or behind.
Whether you're a frontline worker, are ya doing quiet manoeuvres from the corner?
Black Woman, your tender heart.
Your tender, stubborn heart refuses to stop beating.
Your tender heart just resists erasure and resists exclusion, violence and poverty.
Your heart
Steady, steady, steady, steady
Like generation upon generation of freedom fighters.
When one falls, Black Woman,
Another warrior is born.

Black Woman, you understand?
Your heart beats its way through feelings of ostracization and isolation,
Because your Black Woman heart honours collective action.

Black Woman,
Sometimes, the weight of your heart is heavy that it crack, and break underneath the strain.
But remember, Black Woman,
Remember that resilience and excellence is your heart's middle name, Black Woman.
That sweet sugar dumpling, kele-wele, fufu, ackee and saltfish, rice and peas heart of yours.
That heart of yours, Black Woman, is full like a full moon
Beaming.

Black Woman,
I want you to hold your heart right now. Yes.
I want you to hold your tender, tender heart, 
Somehow, I want ya to breathe in.
And breathe out.
Feel your heart, Black Woman, expanding.
Feel your heart, Black Woman, receiving the gratitude of "I love you."

Say it, Black Woman.
"I love you."

Black Woman,
Keep the whole world turning.
Keep growing, keep living, keep learning.
Integrity, humility; these are your power source.
And when you're feeling anger, Black Woman, just stay your course.
And when you're feeling lonely, Black Woman, just stay your course.
And when you're feeling hate, still stay your course.
And when you're having a day that's not going great, Black Woman, stay your course.
Because you keep the whole world turning.

FreeUp! Emancipation Day 2021 is a youth-led celebration of spoken word, dance, theatre and music, as we gather together to celebrate freedom. Stream it on CBC Gem and YouTube.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

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