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A decidedly Canadian take on the civil rights struggle

Caribbean theatre group Flex We Talent will put on My Place is Right Here: Hugh Burnett and the Fight for a Better Canada. Back row: Aaron Haddad, Kevin White, Lannois Carroll-Woolery. Front row: Lisbeth Haddad, Joan Blackwood, Anandi Carroll-Woolery. [Submitted]

An unforgettable performance in Elmira this weekend will not only entertain audiences, but provide unique insight about an African-Canadian civil rights leader who changed the course of history.

My Place is Right Here: Hugh Burnett and the Fight for a Better Canada was written by Kitchener’s Aaron Haddad, who was inspired by Burnett, a regular man with extraordinary fire.

Burnett, based in rural Dresden, Ontario, was dedicated to creating an atmosphere that promoted equality at a time when discrimination was rampant.

“We also have our own Canadian heroes. We want to highlight our country because this is who we are, and these are our stories. The one from the United States is beautiful, but it’s not our story. This is our story,” explained Lisbeth Haddad, member of the Hymn to Freedom Project and mother of the playwright.

The show will be put on by Caribbean Canadian theatre troupe Flex We Talent, and brought to life with a skilful cast of five amateur actors between ages 32 and 72. Following the performance will be an engaging Q&A session between players and members of the audience that provides information not known to many Canadians.

Historically, Burnett was a carpenter who was active in the National Unity Association, an anti-discrimination group founded in 1948. At that time, blacks were regularly refused service in stores, restaurants, and barbershops.

“Sometimes we don’t even recognize that we’re enslaved,” said Haddad. “We don’t even realize it’s been handed down to us. So if we don’t see images that don’t give us a visual and elicit a visual response from us, we just take things for granted, and the status quo remains.”

Burnett fought for racial equality and social justice throughout his life, challenging discriminatory practices in Dresden, and stayed the course, even when the journey became dangerous.

He made appeals to Ontario Premier Leslie Frost in the early 1950s that resulted in two pieces of legislation outlawing discrimination in the province: the Fair Employment Practices Act (making discrimination illegal in public-access areas) and Fair Employment Practices Act (outlawing workplace discrimination).

Joining the performance will be special guest Jim Walker, a professor of history at the University of Waterloo and a personal friend of Hugh Burnett.

Proceeds raised from the play will go towards the Hymn to Freedom Project, a community collaboration to create content to be used by educators across the country to tell the stories and make known the contributions of Black Canadians like Burnett.

“There is a lot more to Canadian Black history that is not taught in the schools,” said Lauris Dacosta, member of the planning committee of the Hymn to Freedom Project. “I think we need to get to the point where people are people – and we shouldn’t have to be explaining our nationality or colour.

“The play is really well-written by Aaron Haddad and very well demonstrated. It’s unique and informative. He really did a very good job. His work speaks for itself.”

There will be music by Acoustic Steel, and Caribbean refreshments will be available at the performance. The play takes place August 10 starting at 3 p.m. at the Elmira Theatre Company’s venue, 76 Howard Ave. Tickets are $20, available on Eventbrite at https://burnettplay.eventbrite.com or at the door.

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