GO WHOWHATWEAR True colours
Marlene Thomas-Osbourne has made Hamilton aware of its rich cultural heritage. Her wardrobe is multi-textured, too
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.
I must have jackets, I love silk so I must have silk and I must have black.
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.
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.
(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.