When I met Desmond Cole several years ago, I was immediately drawn to his strength of character and ability to truly cherish life and revel in the moment.
We acknowledged each other at first with just a nod that day. That nod, shared between strangers, spoke a lot more than just a greeting. It is an acknowledgement, an unspoken recognition that even though we don’t know each other, we share an important common experience and obstacle.
That nod suggested a knowing that we have at least this one thing in common, the struggle associated with navigating a world dominated by a culture that views you as not just a minority, but often a threat.
As our friendship grew we realized that we had both needed to learn at a young age how to act and react in any given situation to differentiate ourselves from the perceived image put upon us as black men, a skill shared by all those who have been marginalized.
Later, when I became a new teacher, I took much inspiration from Desmond as a friend, leader and ally. I admired his determination and focus, especially because he had to carve his own path. There is no guidebook that leads to becoming a widely recognized voice for the Black Community. His path was entirely of his making, built on the back of his passion and determination to challenge the status quo.
One Sunday as we were watching football together and learning about one another, I asked Desmond what subject he would wish to tackle if given the opportunity. Without hesitation, he said the issue of police carding.
I was surprised and worried by his choice. I worried that he would alienate himself from a mainstream audience. I admired his bravery and willingness to express his views and although worried for him I was relieved that someone like Desmond was going to take on this important issue.
When I saw him on the cover of Toronto Life, I felt hopeful – a feeling that I haven’t felt for a long time. I felt the winds of change blowing and I was excited about what would happen next.
Desmond’s candor in sharing his story of frustrating violation of rights struck a chord not only with me and the Black community but with his growing audience of people who empathize and realize that injustice is injustice, even if it’s not applicable to you.
By being an advocate, taking a stance and putting his professional career and future on the line, Desmond became a face and a voice for those who may not have been heard or seen in the media before. Demonstrating that he was not just an advocate typing behind the safety of his workspace and a laptop keyboard, Desmond went straight into the fray, travelling south to Ferguson, Missouri during the height of racial tensions, writing of his experiences and expressing the bitter emotions of the community.
He has since become a unifying force and voice of the Black Lives Matter movement. He has effectively used all his platforms – writing for the Torontoist, his radio program on Newstalk 1010, his Canadaland podcast with Andre Domise, social media, and now as a columnist for the Toronto Star – to bring important issues of inequity to the mainstream.
Desmond is the epitome of what it means to be an agent of change, his efforts and hard work have allowed his story and those of so many others to be brought into the greater discussion of what it is to be Canadian and how we envision a future of equity for all of us.
Desmond embodies everything that Harmony Movement sets out to teach our youth, modelling how to be an effective advocate for change, making a significant difference for the better. I couldn’t think of anyone more deserving of this award.
Kirk Morris is a high school teacher at Peel District School Board. He is a longtime friend of Desmond Cole and they bond over Sunday football and political chatter.