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Reflections from the Contributors of Where They Stood
A collaborative anthology by young Black writers and the Black Community Resource Centre,Where They Stood (Linda Leith Publishing) showcases the evolution of the Black Anglo community in Montreal. The collection features essays by nine writers exploring the rich histories of immigrants, labourers, and activists who built the cultural, social and political community that exists to this day.
We had the opportunity to hear from some of the contributors of Where They Stood about representation, inspiration, and how this project helped them learn more about their own histories.
All Lit Up: What inspired your contribution to the Where They Stood anthology? Any anecdotes or learning experiences that stood out to you when you were writing your piece?
Donna Fabiola Ingabire: My contribution to the Where They Stood anthology was inspired by how little Black Montrealers’ history is known, and how our contributions are often ignored and erased in this province. For example, a few years ago in my Public Policy and Politics of Equality class at Concordia University, a professor played a documentary on the 1969 Sir George Williams Affair. After the documentary, most of the students mentioned how they had never heard of this event before. I found this so extremely shocking. Not only did the Sir George Williams Affair uncover and demonstrate to the world the racism and dehumanization that Black people went through in Canada, it also lead to the creation of Concordia University’s Ombuds Office and the adoption of the university’s Regulations on Rights and Responsibilities as mentioned by Amanda Georgina Ghartey Asomani-Nyarko in chapter six of our book. These are rights that are still enjoyed by Concordia students today, yet very little effort has been made to ensure that every student within the university knows this important part of Concordia’s history.
The way that the English Black community came together in the early 1990s in what finally led to the creation of the 1991 Table de Concertation really stood out to me. The community’s intention was to pressure municipal and provincial governments to recognize the existence and contributions of Black people in Quebec, and to also create policies for the betterment of our community. I found this ability to recognize that though Black people in Quebec are not a monolith, it is important for us to come together and demand better policies and treatment from our various governments at all levels.
Anna Joseph: I saw an ad for the Black Community Resource Centre in 2021 on social media. At that time, I felt an urge to contribute to my community and was looking for ways to do so. Since the resurgence of Black Lives Matter in 2020, I had been looking for a way to contribute to the black community in some form and help tell our stories. It also happened that I just finished my undergraduate in literature around that time and thought that this program might be a good way to put my passion to use. Fortunately for me, I was chosen to be part of the program.
As a second generation immigrant, with a family that hails from the Caribbean, I didn’t know much about the Black Canadian history and I wanted to learn more about the history of Black Canadians. I was astonished all along the program to discover how many resources and organizations there were in Montreal and how I almost knew nothing about any of them. I had the chance to go to some of these organizations and meet with the people in charge of those organizations, and It has been a truly wonderful experience that I will cherish all my life.
I think that the thing that stood out for me the most about my experience with writing my chapter was discovering the need for people to tell their stories. A lot of elders in the community made themselves available to us to share their stories or to help us with our writing. They had anecdotes and stories to share about themselves, family, friends or events that happened in Canada. I think it made me realize how important the work of the BCRC is to the black community. An old African proverb said that “When an elder dies, A library burns to the ground” and I believe this to be very true in the context of history. If it was not for books like ours or other authors that shed light on history that is often forgotten by the institution of school.
I believe that a lot of history from communities would be lost. I myself had little knowledge of this history and was never taught about any of this history in school. Since the book, I’ve also helped with another documentary project with the BCRC and wish to continue to contribute in some form to elevate voices with my passion.
ALU: What does it mean to you to have your voice and perspective represented in a book that will be read by others in the Black community and beyond?
Matthew (Zack) Mullone: To have my voice represented in a book that plans to stand the test of time, means more than to me than words could explain. To continue the fight of positive representation of the Black community in our society will aid in the perspective shift of the community at large. Where They Stood helps forage a path for the unheard while simultaneously helping to fill the gaps in history, that mainstream society tends to ignore. Personally, I fill that it is my duty to continue to tell the stories of our past to aid in the education of our youth. By doing this I believe this will help individuals build a stronger identity of oneself in our society that suppress cultural diversity.
Anne Victoria Jean-Francois: Having my voice and perspective represented in a book gives me a lived understanding of the importance of valuing inherited experience and power. Through writing a chapter of this book, I understood that it was vital for me and other community members to share how our elders have paved a path for us, which has impacted our current experience with the city. To have my voice represented and published is a reminder of the power and responsibility invested in me to shine a light on what is essential for the evolution of future generations.
ALU: How do you see Where They Stood contributing to ongoing conversations about diversity and representation in Canadian literature and history?
Jessica Williams-Daley: The most impactful aspect of the Where They Stood project was the fact that it granted me the ability to delve deep into the rich, diverse, and untold stories of compelling English speaking Black figures in Montreal. This sparked a refreshing new outlook on the importance of Black narratives, and the ways in which it grapples the reader into realities that seemed almost foreign.
You see, the predominantly white history teachings that deviated from the lived experiences of people of colour in the Quebec school curriculum alienated me, and aroused the assumption that maybe Black stories indeed held no relevance nor standing in terms of the shaping of Quebec, or even Canada as a whole.
This was proven to be false as I conducted my research, learning of the various military efforts and artistry of Black revolutionaries. I both read, understood and internalized the emotion, hardships and struggles that they went through, as well as celebrated their successes, and recognitions. I became a part of their stories just as much as their stories became a part of me. I also held the privilege of writing the facts into a history book that would solidify and amplify the once silenced voices, with the aim of stimulating once deafened ears.
By just understanding the ways in which Where They Stood has impacted me as an author, researcher and reader, one can see how much it altered me both physiologically and psychologically. I can only imagine how another individual would feel when reading a Black novel that polarizes the predominantly white Canadian history teachings.
Such a polarization is bound to raise the curiosity of individuals who may now seek to learn more about rich Black histories, or to even incite change in their own curriculum. Already I see teachings of Indigenous histories being implemented further in the classroom, to educate our young Canadian populations of Truth and Reconciliation. Hence, I only hope that such change can continue progressing nationwide.
In all, this entire experience was truly a gift that I would surely cherish for the rest of my life, as I was able to become a vessel of recognition and information to foster a new understanding of compelling Black figures who deserved a right to be heard.
ALU: What role does the Black Community Resource Centre (BCRC) play in your life and what impact do you think it has on Montreal’s English-speaking Black community?
Ayana Monuma: We often feel powerless when looking at the broader global view of things as a lower income marginalized individuals. The Black Community Resource Centre offers a platform for Black youths to be seen, heard, and have control over certain outcomes. Personally, the BCRC has provided me an outlet to channel my passion for social justice. Seeing, watching, and experiencing repeated verbal, physical, and psychological assaults takes a tole on the human psyche. Before joining the non-profit, I yearned for purpose. Today, I can say that I am proud of the work I have and continue to do for the community.
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Donna Fabiola Ingabire is a Montreal based writer, policy analyst and proud feminist. She grew up in different countries in Eastern and Southern Africa, and finally settled in Montreal in 2008. Fabiola graduated with a double major in Community, Public Affairs, Policy Studies and Political Science from Concordia University. For her as an English-speaking immigrant and Black Montrealer, the familiarity of the erasure of the contributions made by those who came before her in this city were not shocking. It was the extent of this erasure that she found most surprising. Fabiola believes that by participating in this project, she is ensuring that Black Montrealers’ contributions receive the recognition they deserve. She also wants future generations of Black Anglo Montrealers to know that they too matter and belong here. Her chapter explores various Black community organizations and social groups created between 1980–99. Her research focuses on their histories and the needs that their founders were trying to address.
Anne Victoria Jean-Francois has focused her career on projects that aim to provide equity to marginalized communities. Their Bachelor’s degree in Art Science has driven them to utilize different forms of communication to change the world around them. Singer, writer, designer and community worker, Anne Victoria understands the importance that community plays for the art scenes of Montreal and their need for advocacy and protection as one of Montreal’s most important culture shifters. Anne Victoria seeks the freedom to establish communication for projects that utilize her passions for art and equity to accomplish social transformation.
Anna Joseph is an undergraduate in literature at the University of Montreal and a published author. She is passionate about history and storytelling. As a second-generation immigrant, Anna wanted to learn more about the history of Black Canadians and contribute to elevating the voice of the people that came before her.
Ayana Monuma is a project coordinator at the Black Community Resource Centre (BCRC). She played a vital role in creating their published book, Where They Stood: the Evolution of the Black Anglo Community in Montreal. She continues to work at the BCRC, currently heading the animation project. Outside of the BCRC, Ayana is a full-time Concordia student completing a Bachelor’s in Child Studies. She aims to pursue a Master’s in Educational Technology the following year. Prideful of her Haitian heritage, her ultimate goal is to give back to Black students by equitably impacting the current pedagogical educational curriculum.
Matthew (Zack) Mullone also known as MAZA is a multidisciplinary artist based in Montreal. Using his music, photography and writing to connect himself to his environments. MAZA is an artist who plays into his vulnerabilities which can be heard through his music. MAZA holds an Anthropology degree from SFU and is constantly trying to understand the foundations of society, in order to help build up his community.
Jessica Williams-Daley is a first-year McGill University student Majoring in Psychology with a Double Minor in Behavioural Sciences and Anthropology. Since childhood, she has always showcased a profound connection to the brain, emotions, and social interactions and utilized this gift to provide emotional support to others through her psychological teachings. Delving into prominent psychological, medical, and sociological research at the young age of twelve, she discovered how the perpetual cycle of discrimination, inequality, and injustices (evolving into transgenerational trauma) in the Black community negatively impacted them in various domains and gravely disproportionately in the health and wellness sector. Jessica hopes to shed light on this through this project by informing readers of the silenced stories of Black Montrealers that have shaped the city’s cultural landscape and history. Her section discusses the 1940s, spanning from Black enlistment in the Royal Canadian Air Force to Black musical milestones.
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Thanks to the contributors of Where They Stood for their thoughtful responses to our questions.