Culture

'This belonged to my father': 6 Black creatives talk about the things their dads passed down to them

A photo essay and Q&As by Jacqueline Ashton celebrating the influences of fathers and father figures.

A photo essay and Q&As by Jacqueline Ashton celebrating the influences of fathers and father figures

(Photography by Jacqueline Ashton)

Father's Day has always been a sensitive day for me. I grew up watching the majority of my friends have both parents and always felt sad when this day came around because I didn't celebrate it with my father. I would call my mom's dad and say "Happy Grandfather's Day," but it never filled the void. I really yearned for an actual father figure. When my father, who lived in Jamaica full time, started coming back to Toronto more often when I was in middle school, he became more familiar with his family and children here. I began to see him more often and connect more with my Jamaican family. From the time he re-entered my life until his passing, I'd still think back and wish that in those crucial years of my childhood, I could have had a closer relationship to my Black family and my father. 

Everyone's story is different, not everyone is as fortunate as I was. I believe in discussing true relationships without sugar coating them, which clashes with the idea that father's day is a celebratory day for all. There are so many broken families who have lost their fathers, or for many other reasons don't have their fathers in their lives. But I still think celebrating and being grateful for the positive influences of our fathers and father figures is important, whether they're still with us or not. 

"This Belonged To My Father" is a series of photographs I took, highlighting six Black creatives in Toronto, including myself. Everyone shared a favourite item passed down to them by their father and answered my questions about the items and more. This series is a celebration of the positive influences they've had on us — no matter how involved they've been in our lives or for how long. 

In this time of action that is spurred by the killing of George Floyd, I'd like to dedicate this project to his memory, and to the memory of all Black fathers and father figures unjustly taken away.

Sandrine Somé

www.sandrinesome.com

Instagram: @santreezy

"I work as a social media strategist and art director for a cannabis company and do freelance branding and photography on the side."

Sandrine Somé (Photography by Jacqueline Ashton)

This belonged to my father...

A book my dad wrote about our village Ténugle (Burkina Faso) and family history. 

What's your favourite item your father passed down to you and why is it important to you? 

My favourite item that my dad passed on to me is his book. I got it in January while I was visiting family and it completely opened up my world and filled in a lot of missing gaps. I think that to know where you're going it is important to understand your past. It gave me much needed context on my ancestors, African spirituality and a deeper appreciation of the beauty in Burkinabé customs and traditions. 

When I think of my father I think of...

… community.

He loves entertaining! Every time I visit him back home we're constantly surrounded by friends, family, his colleagues and acquaintances from dusk till dawn. He's the guy that everyone in the village knows and can go to when they need a hand or just want to chat.  

What life lessons or advice did your father teach you that you still hold onto to this day? 

As a linguist by trade, my dad spends his time pouring over history and forgotten dialects. Because of this, he's always taught me to be curious about everything, which I consider to be one of my best traits. I make it a priority to try new things and explore different ways of being, instead of boxing myself into a single category. The more curious I am the more empathetic I become. 

Sandrine Somé (Photography by Jacqueline Ashton)

Cason Sharpe

Twitter: @casonsharpe

"I'm a writer."

Cason Sharpe (Photography by Jacqueline Ashton)

This belonged to my father...

An old shirt featuring an illustration of activist Dudley Laws.

What's your favourite item your father passed down to you and why is it important to you?   

My father passed away when I was in my early twenties, so I inherited a lot of his possessions pretty young. Some items have become more important to me over time. My current favourite is this old cut-off t-shirt featuring Dudley Laws, who fought against police brutality in Toronto in the '70s and '80s. It's a bittersweet reminder of the city's Black activist history, which I'm proud my father was a part of.

When I think of my father I think of...

His style. He used to get mad at me for raiding his wardrobe when I was a teen, but I couldn't help myself. He had all these treasures — suede vests, leather berets, batik button-downs. He always took his shirts to the dry cleaners, had his hair cut regularly, and removed his stubble with Magic Shave.

What life lessons or advice did your father teach you that you still hold onto to this day?

Don't worry about what everybody else is doing. Eat everything on your plate and do the dishes right away. Don't trust politicians — they're all crooks.

Cason Sharpe (Photography by Jacqueline Ashton)

Karim Olen Ash

Instagram: @karimolenash

"I'm a DJ and event producer focusing on providing space and opportunities for BIPOC + Queer artists in the electronic music and nightlife industry."

Karim Olen Ash (Photography by Jacqueline Ashton)

This belonged to my father...

This poster of Bob Marley.

What's your favourite item your father passed down to you and why is it important to you?  

My father gave me this poster of Bob Marley when I first moved out on my own at 21. It has been a sacred item for me and it sits in my house in a shrine like position. It's a constant reminder of the values of peace, love and unity that not only were intrinsic to Bob Marley but also the same values my father passed on to me. I also don't have any pictures of my father in my house so seeing it is a reminder of him and the sacrifices he made as an immigrant to allow me the privilege to live the life that I do.

When I think of my father I think of...

His ability to light up the room. His ability to make people laugh. I think of resiliency. He wasn't handed anything growing up and it's what I can attribute to the part of me that enjoys working hard.

What life lessons or advice did your father teach you that you still hold onto to this day? 

Both of my parents instilled this in me but my father in particular has been very independent, and that's something I grew up watching and most definitely picked up. Also, on the more practical side, he taught me how to ride a bike lol. 

Karim Olen Ash (Photography by Jacqueline Ashton)

Rahnell Branton

www.rahsthetics.com 

Instagram/twitter: @rahsthetics

"I am a freelance Makeup Artist & I've been doing this for just over five years now."

Rahnell Branton (Photography by Jacqueline Ashton)

This belonged to my father...

The items I have here are a Steel Pan that was given to me years and years ago, a necklace [not pictured], as well as a Calabash purse [not pictured], all from Trinidad. 

What's your favourite item your father passed down to you and why is it important to you?  

I think my favourite thing my father has passed down, besides the love of sound, is all these pieces really. They are reminders of my culture and the people I came from, reminds me of my grandmother and her cooking, as well as the Parang or soca music playing as I'd be eating. It's important to me because as I've gotten older my culture has begun to mean a lot to me and because I've only been to Trinidad once — I guess I felt distanced so these things help me feel close. 

When I think of my father I think of...

Sometimes when I think of my father I think about my childhood and how blind I was as a young girl. I loved my dad so much and looked forward to seeing him all the time and playing and spending time with him. I thought he was the best, but now when I think of my father it's with disappointment. The younger me, who believed he was someone else, is very disappointed.

What life lessons or advice did your father teach you that you still hold onto to this day? 

There's a specific time my father and I were walking through the mall. He'd always see people he knew and once, after seeing someone, he turned to me and said, "Don't trust anybody... not even me." As recent events have unfolded this statement shakes me more and more because he explained that anyone… can turn on you. You have to hold yourself down and never put it past someone to disrespect you. The "not even me" is crazy because, to me, it was a moment of foreshadowing that neither one of us was aware of. 

Rahnell Branton (Photography by Jacqueline Ashton)

O'shane Howard

oshanehoward.com  

Instagram: @oshane.howard

"[I'm a] photographer, videographer, and creative director that specializes in shooting commercial, editorial, and product work."

O’shane Howard (Photography by Jacqueline Ashton)

This belonged to my father... 

Sweater

What's your favourite item your father has passed down to you and why is it important to you? 

This sweater is from the '90s which is pretty cool, but it holds more importance knowing it came from my father.

When I think of my father I think of…

Compassionate and loving.

What life lessons or advice did your father teach you that you still hold onto to this day?

What my father has taught me throughout his life experiences is that you aren't free until you forgive.

O’shane Howard (Photography by Jacqueline Ashton)

Jacqueline Ashton

www.jacquelineashton.com 

Instagram: @goodgyaljj

"I'm a photographer currently based out of Toronto, I focus mostly on capturing diverse female-identifying subjects, displaying intimate moments of confidence and natural beauty. I am also a model, curator, creative collaborator and music enthusiast!"

Jacqueline Ashton (Photography by Jacqueline Ashton)

This belonged to my father…

A Minolta 5000 

What's your favourite item your father has passed down to you and why is it important to you? 

My favourite item my father passed down to me is my very first film camera, a Minolta 5000, that he bought at a garage sale for really cheap. I've been using it ever since and it's been an integral part of my growing journey as a photographer. It's really important to me because with that camera I actually started practicing shooting, which is ultimately one of the main reasons that led me to becoming a photographer. I still use it on certain shoots to this day and it will always remind me of him. 

When I think of my father I think of...

Jamaica, his house in the mountains, the beach, the tropical landscape and yummy Jamaican food. I also think of the singer Sade and my dad's music taste in general. As my father passed away two years ago June 26th, I also think of the few very special moments we shared. I definitely had a better relationship with him within the last seven years, throughout my young adulthood. I think of his laugh, his comic verbal expressions, his face and how much I looked like him. And his style — flat caps/baseball hats, a gold wrist bracelet and a gold ring. I also think of the movie Little Miss Sunshine, which was randomly one of his favourite movies, and banana bread, which he loved. 

What life lessons or advice did your father teach you that you still hold onto to this day? 

My dad was really ambitious, mysterious, funny and stubborn. He always encouraged me to be creative, which I've embraced. Also, I recognized that having more than one interest or career goal shouldn't be seen as a bad thing, he had a variety of ventures which led him to meet a lot of people in his community and have a lot of different life experiences. My dad also showed me a lot about healthy eating and showed me how important your health is because it truly is a blessing. 

Jacqueline Ashton (Photography by Jacqueline Ashton)

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