This week, I attended my first R.I.S.E. open mic. For those not in the know, R.I.S.E., which stands for Reaching Intelligent Souls Everywhere, is an “edutainment” movement led by a community of young artists and activists. It provides a platform for self-expression and healing through the performance arts. R.I.S.E. is based primarily out of Scarborough’s east end, but draws young people from across the GTA. Its open mic takes place every Monday night at Burrows Hall Community Centre near Sheppard Avenue East and Progress Avenue.
I’d heard of R.I.S.E. and met its charismatic leader Randell Adjei at other events in Scarborough, but this was the first time I witnessed first-hand the power of the R.I.S.E. community in action. Despite the rain and several empty chairs in the audience on Monday, Burrows Hall was buzzing with an electric energy. A diverse group of people — ranging in age from high school students to young professionals (and some not so young, like yours truly) — listened intently to the performers, holding on to their words long after they were uttered.
I met more Scarborough-based artists the following day, including Natasha Ramoutar, Adrian De Leon, Chelsea La Vecchia and Leanne Simpson, four members of an informal writers collective that emerged out of the University of Toronto Scarborough’s English department. I spoke to them for my first story surfaced by our community vote: To challenge the stereotype of Scarborough as only a place of crime and grime, I’m spotlighting its vibrant and diverse — but overlooked — arts and culture scene. My goal is to unpack what some outsiders have described as “Scarborough’s burgeoning cultural currency.”
While interviewing these writers, who spoke about using art to tell stories that counter stereotypical narratives about Scarborough, I got to thinking about the power of storytelling. My colleague Anita Li and I plan to host a “Story Circle” in late November, where interested community members participate in facilitated discussions, share stories about their lived experience and brainstorm solutions to issues confronting Scarborough residents.
If you’re interested in joining the Scarborough Discourse Story Circle, want to help us plan the event and/or have suggestions for Scarborough-focused issues we can explore, please email me. I look forward to hearing from you.
Trying to capture a moment of time in Scarborough — that’s how Natasha Ramoutar describes her current approach to writing. Natasha is part of a writing collective that emerged out of the University of Toronto Scarborough’s English literature program. Like her peers, Natasha’s work is informed by childhood memories of growing up in the area.
“[I write from the perspective of] what it means to come of age in Scarborough, those personal and intimate experiences — of going to class at UTSC or having a bonfire at the Bluffs — what actually happened here with your family and your friends,” Natasha, who currently leaves near Meadowvale Road and Sheppard Avenue East, told me. Her latest story involves a Scarborough urban legend about a bridge at Old Finch Road and Morningside Avenue, near the Toronto Zoo. “It’s supposed to be this haunted bridge,” she said. “The idea behind it was that you’d go and park your car, and kids — ghosts of children — were supposed to push it over.”
Let’s meet up
Nov. 10. United Way Ride to Tommy Thompson Park. Organized by Scarborough Cycles, this 13-kilometre ride to Tommy Thompson Park will help raise funds for Access Alliance’s United Way campaign. The group ride will take place rain or shine. Meet at AccessPoint on Danforth at 10 a.m.
Nov. 10. Free Community Soup Lunch. If you want to volunteer your time for a good cause, consider this free monthly lunch for those in Scarborough who are in need. The lunches take place on the second Saturday of every month, from 12 to 2 p.m., at Grace Church.
Nov. 11. Lights of Healing Fundraising Gala.This fundraiser hosted by the Canadian Tamil Medical Association (CTMA) will help fund a new position for a Tamil-speaking mental-health therapist at Scarborough and Rouge Hospital. It takes place at the Scarborough Convention Centrefrom 5:30 to 11:30 p.m.
What I love about the discussion that Raizel’s comment generated is the real sense of community that comes through. I especially appreciate that several members said they wanted to coordinate a candy strategy for future Halloweens in Scarborough. Let me know if you want to get in on this treat of an idea.