British Columbia

Texas-born Marcus Mosely says he found more acceptance in Canada — but there's systemic racism here, too

Like many members of the black community, Vancouver-based gospel singer Marcus Mosely is disillusioned by ongoing acts of police brutality in the U.S. and beyond. The current unrest in his home country is a moment in history he says should give Canadians pause, and a chance to reflect on racial injustice on their side of the border.

Vancouver-based gospel singer says protests in U.S. should make Canadians think about racial injustice here

Marcus Mosely was born in racially segregated northern Texas in 1952. He moved to Vancouver in the 1980s, where he became a part of the award-winning music group The Sojourners. (David Gifford)

When Marcus Mosely first set foot in Vancouver, he was carrying more than just his bags. Tucked away inside him were memories of a cruel past.

Like the time he first noticed a "Whites Only" sign tacked above the town church.

Or the days when his dad's boss would drop by the family farm and toss spare change into the dirt.

"He enjoyed watching me scurry to pick it up," said Mosely, who was born in northern Texas at a time when local law enforced racial segregation.

"I got the message very early that I was not acceptable, that something about me made me undesirable, that I was not worthy."

Mosely, 67, is a Vancouver-based gospel singer and B.C. Entertainment Hall of Fame inductee, part of the award-winning musical group The Sojourners.

He came to visit a friend in B.C. in the 1980s and never turned back, finding what seemed to be a community of greater cultural acceptance in the province.

"When I came here, breathing the air felt different," he said.

A protester gestures in front of a fire during a demonstration against the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

Like many members of the black community, he's disillusioned by ongoing acts of police brutality in his home country and beyond, conflicts that have sparked widespread protests and civil unrest.

It's a moment in history Mosely says should give Canadians pause, and a chance to reflect on racial injustice on their side of the border.

A man holds a skateboard bearing George Floyd's name above his head as thousands of people gather for a peaceful demonstration in support of Floyd and Regis Korchinski-Paquet and protest against racism, injustice and police brutality in Vancouver on Sunday. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

'Things have not changed'

Mosely grew up in a pre-civil rights era United States. He left home after high school and spent years travelling the globe before ultimately settling in Vancouver in 1985.

He says the memories of a racially divided United States still linger. Many of them came flooding back as he watched videos of a white Minneapolis police officer press his knee on the neck of George Floyd, who died in a matter of minutes — scenes that sparked a wave of unrest across major cities in the U.S.

"I can't see those pictures without imagining myself being in that very same position, and that same situation," said Mosely.

"It's just a shame that a person can't go for a jog, a person can't go to the store, a person can't stand on their front porch and enjoy the sunshine on their face without fearing that someone might get scared and call the cops, and they'll end up like George Floyd."

"It's weighing heavily on my psyche... things have not changed. In my 67 years, some things have gotten better, and some things have not gotten better. Police brutality is one of those things that continue to survive."

Tony L. Clark holds a photo of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 28, near the scene where Floyd died in police custody. (Jerry Holt/Star Tribune/The Associated Press)

Time to reflect

Concerns over COVID-19 kept Mosely at home while crowds flooded the square outside Vancouver Art Gallery to protest racism and police brutality on the weekend.

But he says he's heartened to see so many Canadians take an active role in fighting hate and oppression.

It's something he hopes will ignite greater social change — not just when it comes to police violence in the U.S., but also systemic racism in Canada, particularly when it comes to Indigenous communities and other marginalized groups.

"Systemic white supremacy is a problem," he said. "It has been a problem in western culture for centuries, and we have to address it or we'll continue cycling through this over and over again."

Ruby Lewis, 17, raises her fist and cheers as thousands of people gather for a peaceful demonstration in support of George Floyd and Regis Korchinski-Paquet and protest against racism, injustice and police brutality in Vancouver. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

As to how a just and equal society can be achieved, Mosely says there's no clear path — but it starts with those in positions of power and privilege acknowledging their wrongs, and asking those they have hurt for forgiveness.

"We need for white Canadians to, rather than being defensive and afraid, to be honest and open, and acknowledge what is true, and talk about how to work through it," said Mosely.

"If you won't acknowledge it, you can't fix it."

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