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Black Habits: A Revolutionary Evolution Black Habits Articles There was a time when black men and women accepted an invitation to meet regularly in Toronto for the sole purpose of discussing what was wrong and what was right in their lives.

Black Habits: A Revolutionary Evolution Penned by Saada STYLO   There was a time when black men and women accepted an invitation to meet regularly in Toronto for the sole purpose of discussing what was wrong and what was right in their lives. The gathering was called Black Habits (BH) and every two months, over a span of 10 years, people kept showing up. Oftentimes they brought friends. Other times they made new ones there. Thinking back to those days, Bentley Springer mentions a particular moment at a BH workshop. The topic: male-female relationships.   “We were talking about what doesn’t work and this woman said, ‘Men lie. That’s what the problem is. They lie,’” recalls Springer, president of BH. He says, at the time, people laughed but the woman was adamant. “She said it with such passion. ‘No I mean it. They lie.’” In remembering, Springer adds, “That’s where it started but that’s not where it ended.”   How exactly did it end?   Imagine a room, he says, with “dozens and dozens” of people announcing what they would commit to. “Some women said, ‘I’m now going to do something different so that men are different with me.’ Other women said, ‘I need to start choosing better men.’ It was phenomenal.”   That was the power of Black Habits. People walked away having expressed a personal promise. They would commit to changing a habit that in some way held them back from achievement.   -------------   All In The Name   Ask Springer how this idea for forming Black Habits came about, and he’s likely to mention the book. Ten years ago, he was working as a supervisor at Sprint Canada when a manager recommended he read, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen R. Covey. He did and shared its lessons with other employees.   He was inspired, so he got to thinking: “I want to share it with people in my life.” He admits that despite the book’s powerful information it was, “kind of boring.” There needed to be a space to personalize its lessons with real experiences and discuss the ensuing issues with friends, he says.   Springer found some people and together they became a “sort-of reading club”, going through 7 Habits chapter by chapter. Eventually one of the readers suggested keeping up the gatherings, but expanding what they had formed. So on November 13, 1998 the group had an official meeting to work out how.   Springer explains, “It was at that first meeting where we called some friends and said, ‘Let’s have some discussions about what it means for us to be successful in our lives. ‘“ They were men - friends who partied hard together - in their mid to late 20s, and eager to examine the obstacles. They fleshed out how they would collectively look at personal and communal issues. They aimed for progress, and they thought solutions. They aspired to do a lot, but they needed a name. “We figured out it had something to do with managing our habits and when we looked around the room, everybody was black. And we thought …Black Habits.”   The message was simple. “The power of a successful life is about controlling your own habits, your own perspective on things, versus trying to apply it by changing everybody else,” explains Springer.   ----------------------------   Celebrating 10 Years   It’s a chilled Saturday night on Bathurst Street. Inside Trane Studio, the party to celebrate Black Habits’ 10th anniversary is warming up. Springer, a DJ by night, spins on his stereo system. From the speakers, “Be Here” by Raphael Saaddiq and D’Angelo bumps off the walls, filling the room. It’s still early and a handful of keeners are enjoying the vibe, ordering delectable dishes from the Trane menu. Patrick Morris sits at the front of the room with an eye on the door. He’s remembering at what point people became open to the persuasion of BH.   “We were partying every single night. We would change our work schedule so work would not interfere with our partying,” says Morris. He’s Bentley Springer’s long-time friend and BH’s vice-president of operations. They realized every good thing eventually grinds to a halt. Morris says the nights out dancing got tiring. The men started looking at their lives and, in some cases, relationships that were going nowhere. “We wanted more,” he explains. Apparently they weren’t the only ones. Once it launched, BH ascended almost immediately.   “I’ve always said that there was a point in time when we black people wanted our freedom. There was another time when it wasn’t so much freedom anymore, but we wanted to be treated as equals,” says Morris, about emancipation and the civil rights movement. “We believed that there was, and still is, a need for more. So we were saying, ‘I want more from my life than what my parents had. My parents brought me this far, so now what will I do about that?’ We were in the midst of this discovery.”   BH recognized that people wanted to talk through issues in a safe environment. It helped that workshop rules called for respecting each other, and for agreeing to disagree. Moderated by Springer and Morris, BH covered a lot ground over the years. Topics ranged from financial security, relationships, abuse, skin care, sex, health, self-love and more. Springer’s father, a Toronto teacher, was once a guest speaker. The men say most popular were the workshops on how to love a black man and how to love a black woman.   “There was a lot self-discovery. We realized we were bringing different things to the table and expecting others to know about them,” says Morris. “But we really didn’t know.”   ---------------------   Evolving In Stages   BH workshops were first held in company boardrooms, specifically places where Springer worked. Once the not-for-profit status was established, the duo moved their workshops to Toronto’s City Hall.   It was 1999, a time when the technology and the Internet had transformed the way people connected. At first, BH relied on phoning friends with invitations to sessions. That didn’t last long. ““Technology was enabling us to communicate with people,” says Springer. “People started getting their own e-mail addresses at this point. And we started collecting to let them know when the next workshop would be. We had 20 e-mail addresses, then 100 and then over the years it grew to thousands.”   The workshops worked so beautifully, the next natural step was to build a website. It became the space to post their newsletters Springer says. “We said let’s make it interactive so people can actually post their own products and services, events and opinions all from the black community. We called that version 2.0. That was before Facebook, before Craig’s List. The time where Da Kink In My Hair was just starting out. You could pick up a Now Magazine or go to BH and get a review on what it was about.”   --------------------   Staying Power   Demand forced BH to evolve. “After a couple years we started to realize people didn’t want to go home after. We had to kick them out because the cleaners were coming in and security was closing the building. People had a hunger for that positive energy,” says Springer. He describes it as: their “eyes lit up hearing other black people talk intelligently from the heart.” They opened up about personal experiences, even broke down and sobbed as they shared what was going on with themselves. “People were just deeply touched by that environment we created. Everybody wanted to know who everybody else was.”   BH responded by developing two other events, one called BH Lyme and another BH Interactive. Both events charged entry fees and were set up with intentions of helping people to connect, Springer explains. “I got Lyme from the West-Indian term, a kind of hang out. We featured black artists in black-owned establishments and allowed people to party and have a good time. I got to be the resident DJ as well.” The BH Interactive was more recent, similar to the Lyme with greater focus on linking people professionally and personally.   The best part?   “Everybody got a different view of their black community other than the one created for us through general media. “   --------------   Other Voices   D’bi Young, story teller, founder and artistic director of anitaAfrika! Dub Theatre, became an integral presence at BH workshops. In turn, the spirit of BH was present in her own work to raise dialogues around, “self-love, communal love, prosperity and responsibility.” Young says she remembers being invited to Black Habits. At the time the topic was interpersonal relationships between Black men and Black women.   Q: What do you remember most about BH?   Young: The intensity and the severity and the seriousness with which people came to the table. So the participants were so committed to exploring and dialoguing and talking with each other about what they considered to be priorities. That was also something that really warmed my heart and gave me a launch pad as a storyteller there. Over time I ended up going back to that space on a number of occasions when the topics were different. So I participated in its growth and its movement and it’s a necessary space. Ten years and now like anything, the cycles close so that new cycles can begin.   Q: To see young black men in their 20s commit to organizing a safe space for people to discuss these issues, was that strange at the time to you?   Young: Not strange. I think particularly where I’m located in the community I have this beautiful privilege of being among people who are conscientious. And so to see these young black men who took this initiative, to be surprised is to buy into the idea that there are no more of these spaces, something which I think is a media tool that comes out of colonization and racism and imperialism. In our populous community there are people who are playing revolutionary roles in different ways. Some are visible and some are not so visible.   Q: Which BH workshop left the biggest impact on you?   Young: The one that stands out the most is the love relationship between Black men and Black women. It really resonated with me at the time. It was beyond the year 2000. We as a community have always been negotiating and will continue to negotiate how we give and receive love. And so that’s a recurring topic of discussion. And I know BH covered it on numerous occasions because of this urgency. Because we are still unlearning so many of the painful ways that we’ve inhabited from oppressive systems like gender oppression and class oppression, so we’re still unlearning and dissecting that. To have a space that’s intellectually able to sustain that kind of discussion because the black people who go there are impassioned and because they care to take the time out of their day to do that, that’s a representation of the community. I think that’s a point of celebration.   Q: How important is it to do*****ent our history?   Young: I’m an avid supporter of do*****entation. It’s important simply because we live where we live. This idea of having proof is real because proof is power. The beautiful thing about do*****enting is that it’s not relegated to one medium. Do*****enting is also the way that the oral traditions function. And granted we’re in a technological age, so the oral retention of information is not so much valued, but it is valuable.   Q: Anything else you’d like to add about BH?   Young: I’m sad to see it go. Because I think it was a crucial resource, but for there to be new beginnings, there have to be endings, so I’m sad but I’m also happy.   Young recently opened a new art centre, anitAfrika! Dub Theatre located in Toronto’s Liberty Village at 62 Fraser Ave. Check out their programming at or call 416.434.1823.     Richard Ausar Stewart is an actor enthralled by language. He attended his first BH meetings on January 19th 2001. At the time of his first encounter with BH, Stewart was a member of the multiracial, multinational organization, Men’s Division International. As a member, he was empowered by one of its workshops held days earlier. He recalls that first BH dialogue on relationships, where the men were in one room and the women in another.   Stewart: It was momentous day for me as well. I had recently gone to a men’s meeting weekend. It was transformational for me. And it began to impose to me what real healing looked like and felt like and how it was changed. I was still very fired up and very present with that, and my heart was really quite open. I got up and spoke about my experience.   Q: What did you say?   Stewart: I spoke about what I feel ails the black community. And I spoke about psychological, emotion and spiritual factors and the whole room fell dead silent. I spoke about the fact that we can’t necessarily heal these things through North American intellectualization. That we need communal wailings; we need what types of approaches to healing that are not in our world or we are privy to. We need those avenues of human expressions, ritual and ceremony and everything that is associated with that transformational process. Life possesses many challenges and if you are individually or communally healing fractures to the spirit, heart, body, and mind, then you can’t address those things purely through conversations or through literature or academia. You have to be willing to go through some other processes that our ancestors went through.   And I spoke very passionately about it, and I didn’t know at the time that it was the first time I expressed verbally to a group of people what was important to me around the black community. My voice was breaking, I was very emotional, I was barely holding on to myself. But I was heard in the way that I think few people get heard. They didn’t hear me with their minds, they heard me with their bodies. You could hear a pin drop. They knew in their bones that what I was saying was true.   And I began to investigate ways black men in particular can heal themselves…. my perspective of using our ancient wisdom and the ancient wisdom of indigenous cultures in this country was for them to do exactly what I was speaking about: heal themselves. Redefine their masculinity; hold on to what was important to them; determine their place in their families and their place in society.   Q: What was BH able to achieve?   Stewart: What they were able to do was create a safe place because context is everything. What kind of energy you establish in the room and where you’re coming from and why are you doing what you’re doing. Bentley and his team at that time had a very strong context and they were coming from a place of: ‘We are very interested in serving our community and doing what we need to do and building our community. And we would like to include as many people who are interested in this as possible.’ It was an open invitation made to anybody of like mind, of like spirit of like heart. As far as the African-Caribbean community in this country, we were the first generation to be uniformly poised to make a difference. We were educated we were astute and many of knew what the problems of community were and are and we just need to find solutions and creative ways and sustainable ways of addressing those problems. And Bentley knew that.   Q: What was your most memorable BH gathering?   Stewart: I think one of the most common sessions was how do you love a black man how do you love a black woman. I think that was the topic on that particular night. This is where we’re still stuck as a community. Unless we can embrace one another as men, and as women and as human beings in a respectable way and begin to raise children in a loving relationships and nourish those children in a context of a loving family, the kind of economic and political power we seek as a community, people will continue to lose; because the source of economic power is the family. And this is why we continue to be disenfranchised, because in essence, we haven’t learned to love each other yet. You can’t love the other unless you can love yourself.   Q: What were some of the lessons at BH that you were able to carry on in your own life? Stewart: I met my wife at that first meeting. A number of people came up to me as I mentioned and I spoke to them, men and women. And then I turned around and there was this one young woman standing in front of me. And I was immediately struck by her presence. I didn’t know what it meant but I knew it meant something. It began as a mutual friendship because the things I was speaking to she heard. And she sought me out. We began to have dialogues about those things. I was 22 and she was 24... In fact she went through a similar experience called the women’s weekend. She went on her own transformational journey healing as a woman. We married October 27, 2001 and we now have a boy and a girl.   Q: Anything else you’d like to add about BH?   Stewart: The next BH meeting that I remember was this was at the height of the crisis within the black community around the guns and the recent shootings, I got up and spoke again about the responsibilities of black men in our community and in particular our responsibility to young black men. And we formed a circle around the young black men, a physical circle. I made a call to arms to the men that we need to stand for ourselves and each other so we can be there for our young black men. It was physically represented by the young men being called to stand in the centre of a circle created for them by black men. It was profound, even for the women who were there. Women realize that as incredible mothers they are not equipped to be fathers and children need to be fathered.   It was a bit of a homecoming and the things I spoke about at that first BH meeting were actually happening. Black men had come together and had begun to do this work, and were interested in being there for each other and their women and their children. That work is beginning. It’s happening.   Richard Stewart is returning to the Shaw Festival’s 2009 Season, running from April 1 to November 1 in Niagara-on-the-Lake. The playbill includes full productions of each play in Noël Coward’s Tonight at 8:30, a collection of ten brilliant short plays brought to life on all three of the Festival’s stages. Stewart appears in Bernard Shaw’s, The Devil’s Disciple, also included in the season. Contact the Shaw Festival Box Office for tickets or information: 905.468.2172 or 1.800.511.7429.     Dayo Kefentse is a writer, broadcast and communications professional working in Toronto. A journalism graduate from Humber College, Kefenstse has reported news for Rogers Television, Global-TV, and the CBC. She also worked as a reporter and associate producer for CBC Radio. She remembers attending between three and seven BH meetings.   Q: Tell me about your most memorable BH gathering.   Kefentse: It was a few years ago. There was a young man and it was related to young black men and crime. We ended up talking to a young black man who was in and out of jail and he was being mentored by one of the guys there who brought him. That was compelling at the time. To hear his perspective on why he was the way he was and his plans to work, at the time, in music.   Q: What were your impressions of BH?   Kefentse: It was good to be in a group of people who were like-minded. People I could relate to.   Currently Dayo Kefentse is working as a communications consultant on an education project with the Toronto District School Board. She also reports for Toronto Living, a popular local program on Rogers TV which showcases vibrant dimensions of art in the city.   ---------     Did you Know Blurbs   1. Did you know? When BH’s first set of meetings got underway, Springer snuck everybody into his employer’s boardroom. “I did it at one company S&P Data and also when I worked at Merrill Lynch. I just hoped that I wouldn’t get in trouble. I waited for people to finish working and leave then I snuck people in. I actually was putting my job on the line.” - Bentley Kwaku Springer, president of BH         2. Did you know? Patrick Morris met his wife, through Springer. Lana Morris who is Springer’s cousin was also one of BH’s first guest speakers. In her workshop she tackled skin care. “Bentley was planning a move to Barbados. He ended up not going, and I realized, had he gone, Black Habits may not have happened and I wouldn’t have met my present wife, Lana.” - Patrick Morris, v.p. of operations   3. Did you know? Other people dedicated their time to helping BH organize. They were Colin Skerritt, Ricardo Young and Jacquie Cohen.   “Colin was instrumental in taking it to the next level in terms of a marketing perspective. He helped us create the newsletter and have a professional image. That was critical time of growth. Defining our brand.”   “Ricardo was a great support and was an important reminder that we had to charge for something. He had a business head for things. Patrick and I just wanted people to show up. Ricardo, in attending our planning sessions, always asked the questions “how are we paying for that?”   “Jacquie kept us organized and professionalized us on another level with press releases and even more professional newsletters.” - Bentley Kwaku Springer   4. Did you know? While BH Lyme and BH interactive charged an entrance fee, the BH workshops were always free. “My number one goal was about strengthening the black community which would strengthen Toronto, the country, the planet. I didn’t want any barrier in between someone hearing about BH and someone showing up.” - Bentley Kwaku Springer       Copyright © penned by Saada STYLO, All Rights Reserved 2008.
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