What motivated George Borden to write his poem Black Athletes?
That’s the question he was asked last night as he took to the podium to recite his lines and talk about his work at a launch for “The Great Black North” in Cherry Brook, an anthology of poems by African Canadians that includes his work.
His answer was that he saw what appeared to be, and what he believes really was, a superior athletic ability among African Canadians compared to their Caucasian counterparts.
He attributes that ability to two aspects: African roots where life was hard and physically demanding and years of slavery that produced people with robust athletic bodies.
He saw that edge in action while growing up in Pictou County and watching black people who played hockey, boxed and fought quietly for equality.
Racism, although easily missed by some who lived in the county in those days, was very real to people like George.
“There was this façade of evenness and fairness all the way along,” he said.
To be considered equal, the black athletes had to be better than the rest.
The way to get acceptance, Borden said, was to be so good they couldn’t help but recognize you and so talented they “couldn’t make you sit on the bench.”
For his part the place he found truly equal was the school system where the high-calibre teachers were more focused on the minds of their students than the colour of their skin. He’s thankful for that and for those who encouraged him to silently but strongly fight the racism in the area.
“All you have to do is get an education,” he was told. “It’ll take care of itself.”
And in many ways it did. Borden says he had a marvelous military career and has since been able to follow his interest in writing.
A lot has improved since the days when segregation was the norm and where blacks were silently treated as lesser people. Society as a whole has gotten over it, he believes, although there are still individuals who are racist.
For Borden, who now lives in Dartmouth, poetry is a way to express what he’s seen and felt and he’s happy that his work has been included in this anthology. He hopes to see more of it in the future.
“I think it’s quite a breakthrough and I think it’ll continue,” he said.
Seeds of Spartan fathers –
planted in the vineyards of love ...
nurtured from the rains of Mother Africa:
roots of rebirth,
blossoms of beauty,
flowers of fortune.
Gems of Amazon mothers –
adorned in a veneer of ebony ...
polished in the ways of Kunta-land:
pearls of pride,
jewels of justice,
diamonds of destiny.
Born of Hamite stock –
suckled at the fountain of hope ...
modeled after strengths of yester-year:
daring of Harriet Tubman,
spirit of Sojourner Truth,
conviction of Frederick Douglass.
Fruits from nature’s orchard –
plucked from the branches of life ...
preserved along the ‘passage’ of death:
food for fashion,
treats of pleasure,
banquets for gluttons.
Heirs to a mighty legacy –
descendants of warrior kings ...
children of a greater god:
trustees of time,
executors of excellence,
beneficiaries of Blackness.
By George Borden