Over two centuries after the Act to Limit Slavery was introduced right here in Niagara-on-the-Lake, young Black creatives are showcasing the progress that has been made.
Fifteen-year-old honours student Tamiya Cox has been deeply involved in music her entire life, beginning her musical theatre training in the Grade 4.
At Sunday’s celebration of the 230th anniversary of the Act to Limit Slavery, Cox sang Rihanna’s “Lift Me Up” at Voices of Freedom Park, along with a song about Chloe Cooley written by Barbara Worthy specifically for the anniversary.
Cox said she and her vocal coach worked closely to choose which song would be appropriate for the celebration and landed on Rihanna’s track for both its powerful message and how it complemented her vocal range.
“I’ve sung the song since it came out because I loved it so much. I love Rihanna and I love the message it sends,” she said.
Cox also shared the honour of being able to tell Cooley’s story through art.
Cooley was the catalyst for the formation of the Act to Limit Slavery, which came into law on July 9, 1793, prohibiting the importation of new slaves into Upper Canada.
Cooley was abducted and taken across the Niagara River by her enslaver in March 1793 to be sold in the United States.
However, by screaming and fighting to get away, her abduction was witnessed by multiple people, bringing its attention to the executive council of Upper Canada and leading to the act’s creation.
“Knowing Chloe and her story and her struggle and being the one to represent her and feel her in the song, it was a major deal,” Cox said.
Growing up in Niagara, she explained that showcasing Black artistry and excellence while honouring history is important.
“In elementary school especially, there was not a lot of Black representation in my life,” she said.
In Grades 7 and 8, her class was assigned to do TED Talks on topics of their choice.
“The first year I did slavery and the Act to Abolish Slavery and I educated my very predominantly white school,” she said.
The following year, Cox presented on the Black Lives Matter movement.
“I’ve kind of taken it upon myself – because my community is so small – to be an activist and to be a voice for the Black community,” she said.
The hour-long celebration also featured words from artist and CFL running back Wayne Moore, who presented a piece of artwork inspired by Cooley, which will be on display at the NOTL Museum, before joining its permanent collection.
Moore said that he usually prefers to let his work speak for itself: The painting, depicting Cooley holding two flowers – the African daisy and the primrose – is meant to symbolize her wisdom, strength, determined attitude, positivity and courage.
“I wanted to give Chloe Cooley her flowers,” Moore said during the presentation.
Other guests included Shaw Festival musician Jeremiah Sparks, Lord Mayor Gary Zalepa, Rochelle Bush of Harriet Tubman Tours, Black scholar and NOTL Museum representative Jan King-Watson, MP Tony Baldinelli and Shannon Mitchell, on behalf of MPP Wayne Gates.
The Chloe Cooley “Bound and Determined” exhibition is on at the Niagara-on-the-Lake Museum until Nov. 13.