B. Denham Jolly greets visitors to his home in Cabbagetown, Toronto with a smile, calm demeanour and robust laughter.
The award-winning businessman, civil rights activist, and former publisher and broadcaster, has sold his popular radio station, Flow 93.5, and nursing home business saying, “It was time for stepping back but not at all for stepping out.”
These days his major interest is in developing 200 acres of beach land that he owns in Negril, Westmoreland into a hotel and resorts.
He’s also looking forward to the launch of his memoir, In the Black: My Life, published by ECW Press, in Miss Lou’s Room at the Harbourfront Center on February 11.
After almost sixty years as a clerk, technician, teacher, businessman, publisher and broadcaster, he also plans to travel with his life companion, Janice Williams.
The memoir traces the struggle of this 81-year-old Jamaican Canadian to succeed in the face of anti-black racism in Canada.
Jolly, who was born in Industry Cove, Hanover and named after a British governor of Jamaica, came to Canada in the mid-1950s to study at the Ontario Agricultural College (now University of Guelph) and continued his education in Truro, Nova Scotia and Montreal, Quebec.
His first job out of Cornwall College was working at the West Indian Sugar Company plantation, Frome, in Westmoreland, which he considered the microcosm of colonialism.
The whole colonial system was abhorrent to him and as a result he spoke out whenever he perceived any form of inequity, even at his first job in Jamaica and subsequent ones in Canada.
“My father was a very proud man too. He used to challenge authority so I had all that in me when I came here and saw the overt racism that was handed out here.”
Early in life, his father, Benjamin Augustus Jolly, who operated various businesses, told him – “Don’t work for anyone but yourself. And always own property.”
His mother, Ina Euphemia Jolly, a justice of peace, made sure that he and his siblings knew the value of helping others.
In Canada, he countered discrimination by enlisting the support of white allies when he wanted to buy a house for his growing family – wife, Carol; toddler daughter, Nicole; and the arrival of twins, Michael and Kevin.
“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out there are different treatments for different people. Even I myself noticed that in certain circumstances I was treated differently so I paid attention to that and learnt from it.”
Alongside community activists like Bromley Armstrong, Al Hamilton, Charles Roach, Jean Augustine and Dudley Laws, he would protest publicly the police killings of black people like Buddy Evans, Albert Johnson, Lester Donaldson, Sophia Cook and others, starting in the 1970s to now.
He says his speaking out came from a sense of fairness, fearlessness, and pride.
SPEAKING FOR THE VOICELESS
“It doesn’t have to be done to me. I have to speak for the voiceless if I have the power to do it. They can’t fire me; they have to listen to me.”
When the policeman who killed Buddy Evans was exonerated in an inquest, Jolly was asked for a comment and said it was”a judicial abortion.”
In the Black: My Life opens with an encounter that he had with a police officer over a fender bender involving his car a few years ago.
At the time, he was living here for over 60 years, at least 55 of which was as a citizen, but the police report referred to him as “a seventy-seven-year-old Jamaican immigrant” which Jolly says is “code word to say we just talking about a black man here; don’t worry about him.”
Regarding his applications for a license to operate a radio station, Jolly says the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) was full of politics.
“They would never give me a license if I hadn’t cut in some of the established broadcasters in on the action. They wouldn’t have given it to me so part of it is working with them to a certain extent, give them some of what they want to get what you want.”
“They didn’t want to provide a voice for black people; they didn’t want that,” he says.
After 12 years, three applications, and busloads of money, a license was granted in 2000 thus creating Canada’s first black-owned radio station launched in 2001.
Jolly was surprised that his daughter, who studied at the London School of Economics and worked with Ford Motor Company, applied for a position at the station. Nicole was hired to work on a marketing plan for the new broadcaster.
With regard to the protests of Black Lives Matter Toronto (BLMTO) over issues like police shootings of black men and carding, Jolly is very pleased with the group’s action.
“I’m very happy but at the same time I’m disappointed that the more things change the more they stay the same. I’m disappointed that they still have to and so I give them my unconditional support.”
He has met with Sandy Hudson, one of the founders of the group, to encourage her.
“As somebody who has gone through the ropes here, I wanted her to know that she had my support. Because you think back on the Dudley Lawses of the world, there were people in our community who objected to him. And they’re people in our community that object to Black Lives Matter and I wanted to let her know that as what I think, a substantial member of our community, that you have my 100 per cent support. And, in fact, here is a contribution.”
“Don’t let those among us who object influence you because you’re doing the right thing,” he told her.
When BLMTO camped outside police headquarters last year, Jolly went over to show them his support.
Sitting in his kitchen, he says he is pleased with his memoir. It started with the help of his friend, Fil Fraser; then historian, Dr Sheldon Taylor; and finally with Peter McFarlane, a writer from Quebec.
“I’m not sure if people have any interest in my life,” laughs the founding president of the Black Business and Professional Association and former publisher of the groundbreaking Black newspaper, Contrast.
He’ll know if they do when the book is out next month.