Mar­lene Thomas-Os­bourne has made Hamil­ton aware of its rich cul­tural her­itage. Her wardrobe is multi-tex­tured, too

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - SH­ERYL NADLER

Cham­pion for the city’s African Cana­di­ans, Mar­lene Thomas-Os­bourne in­fuses her wardrobe with bold pat­terns and tones

IN 1976, MAR­LENE Thomas-Os­bourne had been in Canada for only a year when she asked her daugh­ter’s teacher a ques­tion that set in mo­tion a se­ries of events that would change the course of Hamil­ton his­tory.

“I knew Black His­tory (month) was com­ing so I asked, do you (teach) Black His­tory in school?” re­calls Thomas-Os­borne from her desk in her down­town Hamil­ton apart­ment. “And she looked at me and said (and I’ll never for­get it), ‘This is for­eign.’”

So Thomas-Os­bourne, a teacher in her na­tive Do­minica, went home and clipped out a few images of Dr. Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks and other prom­i­nent black lead­ers. She then re­turned to the school and asked her daugh­ter’s teacher if she would hang the photos at the front of the class­room.

“So the chil­dren can ask ques­tions,” says Thomas-Os­bourne of her first steps in com­mu­nity ac­tivism in Hamil­ton. “She told me, thank you very much. That’s how it started.”

And yes, the teacher did hang the photos. And yes, the chil­dren did ask ques­tions.

Thomas-Os­bourne would go on to hang photos of prom­i­nent black lead­ers and ac­tivists in the dis­play

cases at the for­mer Hamil­ton-Went­worth District School Board’s of­fices on Main Street West.

Her ac­com­plish­ments in the com­mu­nity are nu­mer­ous and sig­nif­i­cant.

Founder and chair of the Hamil­ton Black His­tory Month Com­mit­tee, founder and chair of the John C. Hol­land Awards, she ran the Hamil­ton Cul­tural and Eth­nic Mo­saic As­so­ci­a­tion, Equal­ity For All, has sat on the Hamil­ton Com­mit­tee Against Racism and Dis­crim­i­na­tion, worked with at-risk youth … and much more.

In its in­au­gu­ral year in 1996, about 500 peo­ple at­tended the Hol­land Awards, says Thomas-Os­bourne.

This year, they are ex­pect­ing more than 700 peo­ple to the cel­e­bra­tion of “rich cul­tural her­itage of our com­mu­nity, with a par­tic­u­lar fo­cus on the con­tri­bu­tions of African Cana­di­ans to the so­cial, eco­nomic and cul­tural life of our en­tire city” in the words of the web­site.

And Thomas-Os­bourne’s own wardrobe is a tes­ta­ment to her abil­ity to make con­nec­tions with every­one around her. Nearly every­thing she is wear­ing was gifted to her by a friend or fam­ily mem­ber.

The mul­ti­coloured ny­lon top with faux leather sleeves she wears over red flowy pants are from her friend An­drea. Her orange and red pure wool shawl was a gift from India from her friend Mila. Her cuff bracelet with ebony stone is from her sis­ter in Texas. And her daugh­ter, Avril Fran­cis, made her teardrop pen­dant neck­lace and match­ing ear­rings.

Di­a­betes has taken its toll on Thomas-Os­bourne in re­cent years, rob­bing her of one leg and the sight in one eye. So af­ter tak­ing a bit of a break from a hec­tic sched­ule, she is now back, more de­ter­mined than ever to push for­ward.

“It was tough be­cause I am com­mu­nity,” says the 64-year-old. “I love be­ing out in the com­mu­nity.”

The John C. Hol­land Awards will be held Satur­day, Feb. 25 at LIUNA Sta­tion on James Street North. You can buy tick­ets at john­hol­lan­dawards.com or by phon­ing 905-865-1027 or 905-921-9646.

Thomas-Os­bourne is not sure what she’ll be wear­ing to the awards din­ner yet, but chances are it will be one of her beloved long flared skirts. Or some­thing bright and colour­ful — red, fuch­sia, blue are her favourites.

“I am Miss Sim­plic­ity, but I’m also Miss El­e­gance,” says Thomas-Os­bourne. “And be­cause of my dis­abil­ity … I don’t wear high heeled shoes any­more. I used to have 60 pair.”

Most eye-catch­ing piece

I have a black dress — it’s long and it has a jacket and (the jacket) has a tiger (print). I love tiger (print). I wear it so of­ten, peo­ple must think I don’t have any other clothes. It’s so beau­ti­ful. It has tiger (print) on the col­lar and on the trim.

Quirki­est wardrobe item

I wear bras when I have to go out, but I do not like bras. I never did like bras. That’s the woman part of me, now. To me, it was in­vented by a man. Now why would a man in­vent some­thing that is so (con­strict­ing)? It re­ally is.

I don’t (wear a bra when I’m at home). I have (ny­lon un­der­shirts) and that’s what I wear when I’m in my house, on the com­puter. ’Cause it’s very com­fort­able.

Wardrobe must-have

I must have jack­ets, I love silk so I must have silk and I must have black.

Best pur­chase

The piece I spoke about ear­lier (with the tiger trim). Be­cause I felt good pur­chas­ing it and I love it to this day. I was at Pen­ning­tons when I bought it.

Re­grets buy­ing

I don’t think I’ve ever re­gret­ted buy­ing any­thing … what­ever I buy, I like.

Loves to shop at

I used to love to go to Adele’s but she’s now closed, and other lit­tle bou­tiques, even in Jackson Square, the odd ones. But my main shop­ping is Pen­ning­tons. I can go in there and I can get what I want … every­thing I want, I can get it there.

Rid­ding her closet of

Any­thing I have not worn for four or five months to a year.

Splurges on

(El­iz­a­beth Ar­den Iced Grape) lip­stick. Very proper lip­stick … that is suited for black pig­men­ta­tion. And my (Avon) eye­brow pen­cil.

Beauty prod­uct she can’t live with­out

My lip­stick. And my foun­da­tion … I also get it from Avon.

Mar­lene Thomas-Os­bourne wears a mul­ti­coloured top with faux leather sleeves over flowy red pants, punch­ing it up with an orange and red wool shawl from India. She ac­ces­sorizes with bright turquoise rings, a gold and ebony cuff bracelet, and a teardrop pen­dant neck­lace and match­ing ear­rings made by her daugh­ter, Avril Fran­cis.

Bright turquoise rings, gold and ebony cuff bracelet.


This teardrop pen­dant neck­lace and the match­ing ear­rings, not shown, were made by Thomas-Os­bourne’s daugh­ter, Avril Fran­cis.


Mar­lene Thomas-Os­bourne’s ac­com­plish­ments in the com­mu­nity are nu­mer­ous and sig­nif­i­cant.

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