When Greg Fergus, arrived at the Côte-des-Neiges Black Community Association (CDNBCA) for one of the group’s Saturday activities, children attending a weekly class on Black history and culture were intrigued.
Fergus is the first Afro-descendant person to be speaker of the House of Commons in Canada. One child wanted to know if he’d met former U.S. president, Donald Trump.
“I have not met Mr. Trump, no,” replied Fergus, “but I have met other presidents.”
“Did you meet Mr. Obama?” the child, who’s Black, wanted to know.
“Yes, I did meet Mr. Obama,” the speaker replied.
“For real? I thought he was dead,” the child answered, to laughter from the rest of the crowded room.
The CDNBCA invited Fergus as part of Black History Month events, just one in a number of activities the group does to serve the city’s Black communities, according to the board of directors chair, Ayanna Alleyne.
“The way that we do it, it allows us to have a whole family be served under one roof,” she explained.
The CDNBCA was founded over 50 years ago to help Black Montrealers find the help they had trouble getting elsewhere, because of racism and cultural barriers. Services include summer camps, programmes for seniors and even support for small businesses. Fergus, who grew up in Montreal, argues that community groups like this are vital.
“Hugely important, for a number of reasons,” he told Global News. “One, it gives confidence to kids to know that they’re supported. That there are other people, aside from their immediate family, who are looking out for their welfare.”
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He added that community groups serving Black communities can also help young people form networks that can become useful later in life, as it was for him.
CDNBCA’s main clients are English-speaking Black Montrealers. Alleyne, who’s a volunteer, points out that another way they support members of that community is by helping them learn about their heritage. Her first contact with the centre was at the age of 14, where she learned about her Caribbean culture. For example, she recalls how she learned from other kids at the centre how to eat a Jamaican meat patty, which is usually served in a paper bag.
“The first time I ate a patty I took it out of the bag and everyone was laughing at me,” she exclaimed chuckling. “You’re (supposed to) eat the patty in the bag.”
Parents, like Ebonie Levers who brought her daughter to meet Fergus, stress that the things children and teens can learn just by being at the CDNBCA, goes beyond what can be taught in books.
“To have that sense of community and belonging,” she pointed out. “It’s so important, especially as a young Black child.”
Many young people who took advantage of the centre grow up to become volunteers and employees wanting to share what they learned. Like Alleyne, who volunteers, as well as Lisa Stanisclaus, who is now employed as a programme manager at CDNBCA.
“If you benefit from (coming here) you realize that, ‘Hey, maybe my children might need this.’ But not just my children, other children need this, other people need this,” Stanisclaus pointed out.
The hope, say volunteers and workers who spoke to Global News, is to hopefully produce other leaders to inspire future generations.
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