Former Sudbury man now a leading voice calling for social justice in London
Galilee Harper, who was born and raised in Sudbury, is using his experiences to help make big changes in London, Ont., the city he now calls home. (Supplied)
SUDBURY -- A man raised in Sudbury, Ont., is now a prominent voice in the Black London Network, a group closely affiliated with the Black Lives Matter movement.
Galilee Harper is using his experiences to help make big changes in the city he now calls home.
Growing up as a person of colour in Sudbury, Harper knew from an early age he was part of a minority population in a city whose Black community had very little representation.
Harper is the youngest of five siblings who all were brought up with strong religious values.
“I was raised by my aunt and uncle, who are both white, and they were my parents and they raised me until I left the house as teenager,” said Harper.
As a child, he remembers specific scenarios and situations that led to curiosity about his identity.
“The furthest back I can remember -- as far as racialized experiences go – we were at a bakery and we were at the counter, you know, young child holding his mother’s hand and she’s white and this elderly white woman who is standing a couple feet away from us at the counter, she is giving me this scowl, the dirtiest of looks, almost as if she’s disgusted with what she sees. My mother notices and says ‘Can I help you?'” Harper said.
“As a child I didn’t really understand what was happening. I just remember this lady didn’t like us. Didn’t know why but later that night when my mom was tucking me in, I asked her ‘why was that lady mad or why was she mean to us?’ and my mother has this conversation where she explains not everyone is OK with Black people and white people together or getting married and they might think its dirty, and how the colour of your skin makes people see you differently.
"I just remember being so confused and her referring to it as ‘some people have hate in their heart and they don’t understand, but Jesus loves them all anyway.’”
He points to those experiences as the inspiration that led to some of the work he’s doing today – and said he plans on having similar conversations with his children one day.
After graduating high school, Harper gravitated towards business, an avenue he believed would help launch his music career. During his first year in Cambrian College’s Business Administration program, Harper worked closely with his older brother who was launching his own string of companies.
His passion for music, coupled with an interest in entrepreneurship, led him to London, Ont. where he hoped to enroll at Fanshawe College in the music production program. When he arrived, Harper immersed himself in the city’s entertainment scene and started making music with local producers.
“A lot of my music stemmed from pain that I had experienced whether that was as a young child or a teenager or whether it was current," he said. "That was really what I used music for. It was an outlet. It was therapeutic and I used it to express that.”
After becoming a business owner and then starting a family, music became a secondary focus for Harper. However, he recently rediscovered his passion for music, spawned by a tragedy that has energized a global movement.
Black London Network
Harper now lends his voice to the Black London Network – a group in London that aims to inspire social change for people of colour in the city.
While the group is not directly linked to Black Lives Matter, their objectives are one in the same: advocating for social justice, educating youth on social justice issues and bringing more accountability to law enforcement.
Black Lives Matter London spokesperson Alexandra Kane describes the group this way:
“Black London Network is really the community - it’s small business owners, educational representatives, it's public officials – it’s all of us. And I’m not saying Black Lives Matter isn’t, but that it is more of a resource or a parent group and then Black Lives Matter is the one to go out and fight and do the social justice work.
“I don’t see the Black London Network going out and calling a protest but they are, we are, in full support," Kane said. "You know with Black Lives Matter, they needed help creating a list of demands, they needed they needed a mailing list, social media management and because the network is there, they were able to really lean on it and really pick what they needed to focus on.”
On June 6, Black Lives Matter London held a rally to protest police brutality at Victoria Park. Based on the response through social media, organizers were expecting a significant turnout of around 1,000 people.
Instead, the rally saw nearly 10,000 people, and not just people of colour, but community members from all walks of life, committed to supporting change in their city.
“The event was organized by a few young black girls and we were not prepared for the overwhelming response," said Kane. "We weren’t ready for 10,000 people, but we did get a lot of donations of hand sanitizer masks, gloves - so much so we even have some leftover today."
At the rally, Harper was given the opportunity to perform an original song titled “I’m Still Breathing,” a piece he wrote following with death of George Floyd at the hands of police officers in Minnesota.
The song points to his emotions surrounding the death of Floyd, the systematic oppression of Black people across the world, their resilience and how the tragedy will be the trigger for change.
“For the longest time, I think, within the Black community we’ve operated as ‘well I’m here by myself, me and my family, maybe a friend or two’ and we definitely feel the same, we think alike – yes there is oppression, there’s systemic racism and there is police brutality but, you know, beyond our own personal networks, we haven’t really had the opportunity to really connect and really talk about these things,” said Kane.
“It’s so incredibly powerful, I still do not have the words. It is so moving. Kudos to musicians like (Harper) who are contributing to the soundtrack of this movement. It is phenomenal. He’s a stand-up person and his words are just so passionate, so powerful."
Since then, the movement has taken off in London, with organizers advocating for real policy change – and getting real results.
“Pride London has recently denounced their relationship with London police, because you know, they’re not listening to us," said Kane. "So upcoming, they have a flag ceremony where they raise the flag in front of the police building … and Pride London had send them a letter saying ‘no we don’t want that because here are the reasons.’
“I’m talking to other organizations and we’re trying to figure out how we can minimize police involvement in those organizations to really send a unified message.”
Earlier this month, the Thames Valley District School Board announced they will introduce new anti-racism policy and additional black history as part of the curriculum.
The London Police Services board recently announced they have cut funding allocated to hiring more police officers and have initiated discussions on other reforms within the department. The board also passed a six-part motion that included policy directing London Police Chief Steve Williams “to seek out cost savings in the police budget” and “to report on the volume and trends in mental health calls and on internal reforms to police transparency and discipline and to add anti-racism efforts to the business plan.”
In June, London City Council unanimously passed a motion that would make anti-racism policies a strategic priority for the city. Last week, the council amended that motion to “mandate the Strategic Priorities and Policy Committee to include Anti-racism, diversity, inclusion and anti Oppression as a new strategic initiative."
For Harper, this is just the beginning. He says the group will continue to enact change across the city and his contribution will only grow. While he was not raised in the city he and his family now call home, he believes his experiences in Sudbury, have built a voice he can use to help create a better way of life for all Canadians.