Politics matters, ideas matter, democracy matters, because all of us need to be able to make a difference.
— Jack Layton
As Sunday morning rolled around, many Brandonites followed through a routine like any other Sunday.
It may have included time with family or friends, venturing out on a snowy morning heading to church, hockey practice or spending time at a local community centre. Time well spent in most eyes, time spent living an intimate connection with your community. Time I’m sure close to the heart of a lifelong Brandonite devoted to social change and community. A time feeling the heartbeat of that community and when it was weak doing all you could to strengthen its rhythm and when strong being there to champion the charge of fierce loyalty to the cause.
As the news broke on that same Sunday morning of the passing of Errol Black, a piece of the community he helped build left with him, and as a makeshift memorial began to take shape at the park, that would be his namesake, Brandon began to come to grips with a life cut short but a life lived to the fullest.
I can’t remember the exact time I first knew of Errol Black. Unfortunately, I did not have the good fortune to know him as an educator but did follow closely his career as a councillor on behalf of the Riverview ward. It was around the time I started to first follow politics and took great interest in civic politics, as it was an opportunity for those around the table to enact real change for their community.
Admittedly, he seemed by my first impression to be antagonistic, always questioning an action or the reasoning behind a decision of the day. At face value you may have taken that stance as merely a person with a particular axe to grind, but there always seemed to be a second level to the argument with Errol. He often had a deep understanding; he had an innate skill to hammer down to the point of an issue and through careful consideration weigh the options for the best interest of his community. If he had a possibility or not, he pushed for gain at the table in the name of that very same community.
Mr. Black sat at the council table at a time of great change and growth in Brandon, and with a collection of fellow politicians from all stripes and ideologies.
Often seen on the social side of issues, he would act as a voice in question to various pressures that may have swayed decisions. He did what we hope of our politicians — he scrutinized policy and carefully thought out procedure and how it would affect the residents.
The funny thing, with Errol, and his time at the council table, was I don’t believe he ever thought of himself as a politician. He was a voice for the community, he was a voice for his ward and he was a voice for Brandon and the issues at hand.
I spoke to Errol on a couple occasions but the lasting memory I will have was seeing him at the celebration for Brandon East NDP MLA Drew Caldwell following the 2011 provincial election. I ran in the election for the Liberals and knew as the night progressed, the NDP would hold onto the seat and the province.
I stopped in at the campaign celebration for Mr. Caldwell to congratulate him and his party for receiving a mandate for four more years at the helm of the province.
I had a moment with Errol at the event. He smiled, spoke softly and whispered a word of encouragement to me on the end of the run. You see he didn’t see that as an attempt to divert support or politic but an opportunity to speak on his community and those who continue to carry on a legacy of doing good for their city.
Kudos to those who recognized Errol Black and his contribution to the community by recognizing him with the park site at First Street and Rosser Avenue. A tribute to a man who worked hard to be a voice of reason sometimes and a voice of need at others.
As his days drew to a close he continued to find ways to draw from a newfound voice, leading the charge when the need arose or seeking to craft finely worded doctrine calling for social change in his community; Errol met the challenge much like others he had faced along the way, with dignity and stoic resolve.
I leave you with words from a friend’s tribute to Errol via social media:
"What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us; what we have done for others and the world remains and is immortal."
— Albert Pike
With Errol, his legacy will have had a further reach in the community than he may ever have known and for that I remain thankful and somewhat in awe.
» Shaun Cameron is a lifelong Brandon resident. He has dabbled in politics and is now chair of Renaissance Brandon, the city’s downtown development corporation. His column appears regularly.