Takudzwa Lavin Nyariri shares about the joys and challenges of keeping one’s culture of birth while making space within Canada society.

Writer Takudzwa Lavin Nyariri
Credit: Courtesy of Takudzwa Lavin Nyariri.
Published On: February 19, 2024

This blog post is part of our series for Black History Month 2024. 

This is my story. It is my contribution to Black History Month in The United Church of Canada. It is rooted in my heritage as an immigrant from Zimbabwe. It is also pained by experiences of structural racism in Canadian society where its history is born from a White majority exercising their colonial power. In this blog, I attempt to demystify the challenges Black immigrants face due to structural racism, a wrong that affects economic racial disparity. 

My parents have not been spared from this common pathway. My mother works as a nurse in the Northwest Territories and Alberta, and my father works as an equipment operator in rural Alberta. Both sacrifice the comfort of their home and the joy of spending time with their grandchildren here in Edmonton. This is the story of most Black immigrants, who sacrifice family time in search of better lives for the next generation, while racing against the pressure of achieving some financial security for their own retirement. 

I moved to Canada in 2014, and I have had the privilege of serving in various communities.

I had the opportunity to serve as a Delegate of the Grand Prairie-Mackenzie Region in the House of Commons through “Daughters of the Vote,” sharing the experiences and challenges of youth in rural Alberta. For this I referenced perspectives of youth from my region, as well as my own experience as a Black immigrant.  

My mission is to create safe space for young people who come after me, keeping the beauty of the culture of one’s birth while incorporating mainstream Canadian culture and traditions. 

Having grown up with the philosophy of Ubuntu (an African philosophy emphasizing interconnectedness, compassion, and communal harmony, often summarized as "I am because we are."), I was required to navigate the diametrically opposed idea of individuality within the predominantly White Canadian context. This has been extremely challenging. I have had to invent a third culture of some sort to find a sense of belonging. It has been my mission to create that safe space for young people who come after me, keeping the beauty of the culture of one’s birth while incorporating mainstream Canadian culture and traditions. 

 As a young adult, I served Youth President at the Zimbabwe United Methodist Church under The United Church of Canada. With the leadership and support of Rev. Tazvionepi Nyarota, I was tasked with creating a space of belonging and support for Zimbabwean Christian youth. Through The United Church of Canada, I was also invited to join in conversation with Black clergy members across Canada. I was able to share the struggles and needs of youth, alternative methods to support and meet those needs, best practices to increase youth participation in churches, and how to create cultural pride and lasting connections across generations. This discussion opened me up to a better understanding of, and strategies for, how to live out my faith in a way that is relevant today. It also paved the way for even greater opportunities, like the work I did as Youth Director for Southgate Baptist Church, helping youths navigate their identity in Christ in the context of the community. 

All these opportunities that have enabled me to become a member of this Canadian society did come at a cost, with me and my family experiencing several occasions of racism. During my third trimester of pregnancy this past year, I suffered from severe chest pains which led to two hospitalizations. After having to undergo a 10-hour fast due to various medical assessments, I requested a meal from the nursing staff. Here I was, six months pregnant, and a nurse stereotyped me as having come from an abusive home and being incapable of taking care of my unborn child.  

Similarly, after locating to Canada, my husband also faced some struggles in his efforts to penetrate the job market in his field of study. Despite being Canadian-accredited with both work experience and a master’s degree, most organizations would only offer him full-time volunteer opportunities, giving the paid positions to individuals with lesser qualifications than his. Like many Black immigrants, he had to accept a career shift in order to provide for his family.  

The worst fear, as a parent, is for the safety of your children, especially in the context of a Canadian society that oversexualizes and criminalizes Black men/boys. Almost two years ago, that fear became personal. While we were out shopping, my eldest son, who was two years old at the time, opened a fifty-cent lollipop and started eating it. When we were at the till an older White woman approached the sales associate who was assisting us. She had been following us through the store and accused my son of being a thief.  She continued with the accusations, until finally, the sales associate informed her that we had already paid for the lollipop. 

It is my wish that as my boys grow up, society will become more accepting, that the world will be a place where they can live out their childhood in innocence as other children do, and that they can wear their Black identity as Zimbabwe-Canadians with pride in mainstream society and its institutions. 

In conclusion, let us all turn away from the evil ways of oppression and discrimination. And, in our areas of privilege, let us serve others in love, as Jesus Christ loved us, because this is what he commanded us to do, and is what identifies us as his own. The United Church of Canada’s creative programs, such as the multicultural workshops, the multicultural Christmas carols, and its work in housing different ethnic minority groups, have served to bring people together to worship in their native tongues to preserve not only their languages, but their cultures as well. 

— Takudzwa Lavin Nyariri is a wife, mother, poet, and a storyteller. She is the author of Written on Stone: Aroma of Love, and coauthor of Prodigal, both collections of Christian poetry. She has a strong passion for social justice issues, youth ministry, making resources accessible, and her work a social worker. Above all, Takudzwa is a lover of Jesus Christ and enjoys sharing his love with all, as she has experienced it by his grace. 


The views contained within these blogs are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of The United Church of Canada.

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