Tribute 1995

Poem
Dedicated to the Endowed National
James Robinson Johnston Chair
in Black Canadian Studies

Out of the Dust and Out of the Shadows
by Shirley Small

At life’s busy central station
Underground or legal platform,
Trains arrive and trains depart,
People come and people go.
For some joy colours sorrow
And sometimes sadness dims the glow.
But every time that whistle thrills
Hope springs!

Once timid but intrepid,
Hounded but unyielding,
Fore parents fleeing tyranny
Flocked northward resolute,
Bent on finding space and freedom
Reaching sanctuaries secure,
Some found shelters;
But for many
Sanctuaries were never there.
Still they came
Claiming dignity.

From east to west
It was the same
Rage, anger and despair
Like Marie-Joseph-Angelique’s
Form part of the unfinished epic.
Enterprise, industry and hope
Of the Ware’s and the Rose Fortune’s
Chronicle another twist.
Rejection, frustration and resilience
of the James Robinson Johnston’s
Typify another dimension to our history.
We’ll convert that pain to energy
To search for the truth.

Now in its dawning
A national monument, A Chair
Gives an opening, a skylight,
A passage of air
A Chair to foster growth
To promote empowerment,
To uncover, recover and to explore

Out of the dust and out of the shadows
Distortions and ancestors
Long cloaked in silence.
To open a past defiant of seal,
To recover and honour
Memories long lost.
To bring into focus
Nation builders unacknowledged
In the general roll call.

Chroniclers have toiled before
Their records shelved, ignored.
A Chair is now anchoredÐ
A people’s collateral.
A national asset by national will.
Now each humble effort
Each inspired search
An added installation
In a cultural investment
Will add as we quest
For our east-west roots
Will bring dividends
As our truths are inscribed
In the public domain.

The pilgrimage will be humble
But the mantra will resound
In memory of ancestors
Whose stories will rise
Out of the dust
And out of the shadows.

The work of the Chair
Will progress and prosper
Made a permanent monument
By people power.

— © 1995 Shirley Small, Montreal.

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