Constance Barnes celebrates diversity in Emery Barnes Park
In a talk over the weekend at ceremonies marking the completion of a park named after her dad, Vancouver park chair Constance Barnes spoke not only as her father’s daughter but also as a true child of the city.
Folksy, witty, and clearly filled with joy, Barnes paid homage to the diversity of the city, a richness to which her father, the late Emery Barnes, made his invaluable contributions as a black athlete, politician, and community leader.
“When I look out into the crowd and I see people of every colour, every nationality, every language, every age, able, disabled, well-bodied, struggling," she said, "I see a couple of the homeless folks that I see from the Downtown Eastside and I see some people that are going to get into their BMWs and drive home—this is what my father was about.
“It doesn’t matter where you come from,” Barnes continued. “It doesn’t matter what language you speak. It doesn’t matter how much money you make or if you’re living on the streets. It doesn’t matter if you’re rolling, you’re walking, what you’re wearing, what your heart, your religion, your sexuality. It doesn’t matter."
“We’re all human beings,” she said. “We are all here for a reason. We all need to respect each other, not judge each other, work together to achieve the bigger picture. And that was what my father was about.”
Barnes’s father was elected Speaker of the B.C. legislative assembly in 1994, the first black person to hold such a position in Canada. The late Barnes came to Canada from the U.S., and played with the B.C. Lions football club.
The Vancouver park chair also paid tribute to her mother, Laverne, who was among those present in the crowd at the dedication rites of Emery Barnes Park at Davie and Seymour streets on April 28.
“This is a woman that, against all odds, as a white woman, married a black man in the '50s, was pretty much disowned, fought and fought and fought—with my father, Emery Barnes,” Barnes said. “She raised five children. She raised us to be truthful, to be honest, to be fighters.”
Emery Barnes Park is in the middle of Vancouver–False Creek, a provincial electoral district that may be closely contested in next year’s general election.
In March, Barnes told the Straight that she is considering seeking a nomination from the NDP to run in Vancouver–False Creek.
If she proceeds with her plan, she can count on the support of many who knew her late father, people such as Shirley Young, who attended the Saturday event at the park.
Young is the mother of the late Dr. Peter Young, founder of the Dr. Peter AIDS Foundation in Vancouver. Barnes's father chaired the fundraising effort to build the Dr. Peter Centre, which provides care for people with HIV/AIDS.
“Oh, wouldn’t that be wonderful,” Young told the Straight when asked what she thinks about Barnes possibly running with the NDP. “The city would love it.”
Last night, Young accepted an AccolAIDS "legacy award" on behalf of her son from Positive Living B.C., which is composed of HIV-positive people from across the province.