On June 16, 2016, the BCRC went down in history as the hosts of the, second only, Black Community Forum in Montreal. Held at 6767 Cote-des-Neiges, where the BCRC offices are located, the Forum brought together individuals and organizations that hold, as their mandate, the goal of meeting the needs of the Montreal Black Community. It was here that the Forum addressed what had been done in the past, what was being done in the present, and what should be done in the future.

The goal of the Forum was to inspire unity within the organizations so that we can better serve the Community. Issues that are prevalent within the Community were presented and, as a group, strategies were discussed on the ways in which we can address them. However, before we get into the issues that were presented at the Forum, it is important that we look to the first Black Community Forum, which was held at Val Morin, Quebec, in 1992.

Val Morin Community Forum

The 1992 Val Morin Black Community Forum, the predecessor of the recent Community Forum in Montreal, certainly set the stage for the 2016 Forum. Preparation for the 1992 Forum actually began in 1990/1991. This began when the activists and organizations from the Montreal English-Speaking Black Community met with the Quebec government and the city of Montreal to demand that the presence of Blacks in Quebec be recognized. In response to this demand the Quebec Government created the “Table de Concertation for the English Speaking Black Community” in 1991/1992. It was due to this Table de Concertation that the first Black Community Forum was held at Val Morin.

During this Val Morin Forum, the Community identified issues within the Black Community and came up with six priorities in order to address these issues: support for the Black Family, anti-racism strategies, economic development, reinforcement of community structures, education, and art/culture.

The main purpose of the 1992 Forum, as with the 2016 Forum, was to unite the Community Organizations in order to better serve the community. Due to this, the Forum had no charter and received its authority and power from the organizations within it. This was because the main purpose of the Forum was to foster unity. Other purposes of the Forum included: to develop an internal agenda in the community; strengthen and reinforce community structures; get more resources into the community; and help organizations use resources effectively. The Forum was also an important aspect of the BCRC, since it was the catalyst that shaped BCRC into the organization that it is today and made it into the secretariat of the community leadership Forum.

English-Speaking Minorities

We began the Forum with the topic of the “Status and Future of the English-Speaking Minorities in Montreal and Quebec.” As the Forum focuses on the English-speaking Black community, it seemed appropriate to begin with this topic.

The session began with a presentation from Sylvia Martin-Laforge, from QCGN. QCGN is an organization that works to understand the issues that face the English-speaking community in Quebec. Ms. Martin-Laforge spoke about policies that affect the English-speaking community in Quebec and how we can use other acts and policies to protect our rights as a minority. Since unity is such an important sentiment in this Forum, Ms. Martin-Laforge also mentioned ways in which we can use Official Languages core funding to end the fragmentation that the federal government has subjected us to. Without the need to compete for project funding, which, at the moment, is needed for our very survival, we would be able to become a more unified front. As Ms. Martin-Laforge told us, we have to be willing and open to change policy, because it will not change on its own.

We then heard from Lorraine O’Donnell, from QUESCREN, which deals in research capacity and community development for the English speaking community of Quebec. Ms. O’Donnell also called for unity, as well as collective research and sharing of knowledge. It is through this knowledge and partnerships that we will be able to support, sustain and strengthen minority cultures and communities.

 

Settlement and Development Model

During the second part of the Forum presentation, “Exploring the English-Speaking Black Communities Settlement and Development Model: Education, Development and Employability,” I noticed that throughout all of the presentations, no matter how different these organizations were from each other, the same problems and issues were being addressed. These presentations mostly focused on programs that are being offered to the community, especially in regards to youth programs. We heard from Corey Seaton and Alex Adrien from QBBE, Tamara Hart from DESTA, Sean Seales from BCRC, and Quincy Armorer from the Black Theatre Workshop.

QBBE, which is an organization that deals with education, the family and community development, presented one of their newest family programs, as well as a successful summer program. DESTA, which is an organization that works with at-risk, marginalized youth, between the ages of 18 and 25, in the areas of education, health, personal development, and employment, presented some of their programs as well. These programs include: tutoring, prison outreach, and mental health support. BCRC, which is a resource based organization with a holistic approach, presented their newest program for at-risk youth, “House of Kings and Queens.” Finally, we heard about school tours from BTW, which is an organization that gives recognition to Black culture and community through the theatre.

While these organizations spoke about their projects, there were also some common grievances that were mentioned. We see concerns for education, youth, family, self-worth, representation, and in some cases a concern about the lack of core funding which is a dividing factor between the organizations that work toward the same goals.

Do Black Lives Matter

In this third section a topic was introduced that captured the attention of every audience member: “Do Black Lives Matter?” The session was introduced by Yvonne Sam, who has worked tirelessly to bring this matter to the attention of the Quebec and Canadian governments. We then heard from Rolf Francois and Fo Niemi (CRARR), as well as discussants Tiffany Callander, Pharoah Freeman, and Tamara Hart. This was also a topic that many people in the audience contributed to.

Many major issues were brought up, such as government policy, civil rights, and representation in positions of authority. However, the biggest issue, and the one that has consistently been mentioned throughout the Forum, has been unity. As Ms. Sam had said during her presentation, “we are only as strong as we are united; as weak as we are divided.”

It was on this issue of unity that many hands were raised in the audience. As we all know, it is hard to be a unified front when there are government policies that are working to divide us. There are policies on funding, and lack of core funding, that set the organizations against each other; lobbying for grants and financing in order to survive. There are also language laws that divide us from the French-speaking Black communities. As well, a deterrent to unity can sometimes be the term unity itself. Will becoming unified mean losing all individuality? As one of our audience members pointed out, we are not all made up of one identity. We are made up of identity based on gender, skin colour, and family ties, among others. However, as our panelists cautioned the audience, “unity does not equal uniformity.”

Black History Month Round Table Plenary

In this section we heard from Michael Farkas, the president of the Black History Month Round Table. He not only spoke about the future, but the past as well when he explained the link between the Val Morin Forum and the Round Table.

Although Mr. Farkas spoke about practical issues, such as events and plans for a virtual event page, he also spoke about the meaning and purpose behind the Round Table. The Round Table works to preserve the Montreal Black Community’s history and culture. It gives us a voice, in that we are able to write our own history. It also gives the community visibility and credibility. As was the trend in the Forum sessions, Mr. Farkas also spoke about unity. He ended his presentation by suggesting a virtual portal for cultural events that would be accessible by all the community’s organizations.

Closing Discussions

To close out the event we looked at topics such as health and historical preservation. We began with a presentation from the ad hoc community committee for health care in the Black Community. We were informed about sickle cell anemia, diabetes, hypertension, and prostate cancer; medical conditions that statistically have a higher percentage in the Black community. We were also informed on mental health and the effects that this can have on a minority community, who faces additional challenges and has less resources to address these issues.

We then heard from Greg Pink, in collaboration with Dr. Bayne, on the new archive being constructed on the BSC website in order to preserve our long and rich history.

Conclusion

I think that it is important to give our thanks to the people who helped to make this Forum a reality. We have the BCRC who hosted and financed the Forum in itself, as well as the BCRC staff who organized things behind the scenes; Dr. Bayne who called the Forum after all of these years and put together the material; all of the panelists and discussants who shared their knowledge and ideas with us; and Patricia Dillon Moore, our moderator, who kept everyone in good spirits, and of course for made sure everyone kept to the time table as closely as possible. A big thank you also goes to the individuals and organizations that came to listen and give their opinions.

As we have seen throughout this Forum, there are many issues that remain unresolved in our community. The BCRC and our partner organizations are working tirelessly to address these issues; however, these issues also effect the community at large. So, please let us know your opinions! You can leave comments under the Semaji on the BCRC website (https://bcrcmontreal.com/semaji-june-2016/), on our Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/BCRC-765045140262703/), or e-mail me at editor@bcrcmontreal.com. Also, we will be featuring a new page in all future Semaji issues, titled “The Community Voice.” So if you would like your opinions or questions to be featured in the Semaji let me know in your e-mails. And remember, as Ms. Martin-Laforge has said, change will not happen spontaneously, we must make our voices heard to affect change.

For full version of Semaji June 2016 Click Here

A Summary Report from the BCRC Forum Secretariat

By Dr. Clarence S. Bayne

 

24 years after the First Black Community Forum at Val Morin (July 3-5 1992), key Black Community organizations were called together by the Black Community Resource Center (BCRC), at 6767 Cote-des-Neiges. The general purpose of this Community Forum was to review the Val Morin recommendations and priorities, to inform and to invite participation in the development of a community agenda. The BCRC, which acted as the Secretariat of the Community Forum, worked in collaboration with key organizations in the French and English speaking Black communities and ad hoc community committees to develop the agenda and set priorities for the future. The Community Forum thanks the BCRC for staffing the Forum and for providing the materials, space, equipment, and refreshments. It also thanks the Black History Month Round Table for organizing four of the ad hoc community committee meetings and the preparation and distribution of minutes and reports. Thanks also to Yvonne Sam, Fo Niemi of CRARR, Rolf Francois of UNIA, and Dave LaPommeray for their research contributions and for organizing the Rights and Freedoms ad hoc Community meetings.

Different organizations took turns at hosting the meetings of ad hoc community meetings, giving many organizations and individuals the chance to participate in and contribute to the process. Thanks to the Black Youth in Motion, the BCRC staff, DESTA Black Youth Net Work, and the Black Theatre Workshop for hosting those meetings. Finally a great debt is owed to the Black Studies Center (BSC)’s Archive technical staff, in particular Roythan Pink who, with the able assistance of Raeanne Frances and Ashlie Bienvenu (BCRC staff), conducted the technical scripting and operations.

The introductory and opening speakers, Patricia Dillon-Moore and Dr. Clarence S. Bayne, pointed to the fact that the BCRC has historically played a significant role in keeping the Forum mechanism in place and operational since 2000. Minutes in the BCRC Archive, dated April 2004, shows that BCRC has consistently used its resources, and access to resources, to administer and facilitate this process. One example of this process was the hosting of the meetings of ad hoc community meetings, in order to address priority issues and the collective needs of the community. One such significant instance is the City of Montreal Black Task Force chaired by Marcel Tremblay in 2004. BCRC has indicated that it will continue to provide administrative resources and to house the Secretariat of the Community Forum. It has informed the Forum that it is willing, in collaboration with the ad hoc community committees and key organizations, whose missions and mandates address the priorities set by the Form, to call and host meetings of the Community Forum, prepare the agendas, inform the community and organize subsequent community forums.

A Message to the Federal and Provincial Governments from the Forum

For years the Black community organizations have made the case at the Federal and Provincial levels of government, that it is incumbent upon the government to facilitate partnerships between its various Ministries and departments and the appropriate Black community organizations. However, Dr. Bayne, in his welcoming address to the Forum, expressed the view that both the Federal and Provincial governments have abandoned the Black communities in Quebec. This is especially true of the English speaking Black communities, making the members of these communities effectively “constitutionalized field niggers” of the Trudeau “notwithstanding clause” and the collateral consequences of Bill 101. In Session 1 that followed, the Executive Director of QCGN (Sylvia Martin-Laforge ) astutely pointed out that, under the Canadian Constitution, linguistic communities have inalienable rights that are provided for by certain funding agreements. She argued that Blacks in Quebec should cash in on their linguistic rights enjoyed here, as elsewhere in Canada, and from the benefits of Multiculturalism as a state policy. Following on these discussions the following general recommendations from Val Morin 1992 were reaffirmed.

GENERAL RECOMMENDATIONS

A permanent mechanism

The Forum is to be used as a permanent mechanism in the community to ensure that the groups/organizations whose missions and mandates are directed at finding solutions to the priorities established by the Forum, develop strategies and take actions to meet the demands of those priorities. It states, “Community organizations must make efforts to access the range of government resources and services as other communities do on a regular basis.”

Demands for long-term core Funding

A recurring theme in the committee meetings was the administrative instability and discontinuities in the services of organizations, resulting from lack of core funding due to shifts in government policies and biased private and institutional corporate funding. This Forum, like the Val Morin Forum, recommended that the Government of Canada, and the Provincial Government of Quebec, provide sustaining funds for Black organizations with a long-term mandate serving the community and Canadians. It also recommended that, in particular, Heritage Canada, Immigration and Cultural Communities, Library and Archives Canada and other ministries and departments provide long-term recurring funding to mandated Black community based organizations. In addition, it was also suggested that they assist in strengthening Black community based organizations, and facilitate in the creation and transfer of knowledge. This can be accomplished by providing core funding to ensure the implementation and maintenance of professional communications network centers and digitized archival system.

Consensus forming functions of Forum

The current Forum, like the Val Morin Forum, agrees that during a crisis in the Black community, or when decisions are to be made that impact on the entire community (such as decisions relating to toponymy), we will agree to meet to determine the policy goals, to decide how best to inform and involve the wider community in the decisions, and to mandate spokes people to speak on behalf of the community on the issue.

There is general agreement that the Forum be used to create a consensus of opinion and to identify who will speak on behalf of the Black community in times of crisis. For the June 16 Community Forum, the main focus was on rights and freedoms and the seeming failures of the Human Rights Commission; issues of systemic racism; the action taken by key community organizations to deal with the development of the Black child in the triangle of home, school and the community; issues of mental health; culture and identity, and approaches to the management of different cultures and identities in the Black communities. Economic development was not addressed at this Forum.

Black Community Business and Economic Development Summit

The Forum Secretariat felt that, based on the research available, this topic merited a Forum or summit to address it properly and in a productive and creative manner. Thus, the Secretariat proposed that a detailed review be done of the Current Status of Black employment and employability in the Black communities to measure the changes, if any, that have taken place since 1992. To give authority to this decision the Secretariat revisited recommendation 6.2.1.9 of the Val Morin Forum Report which states:

“A FORUM BE HELD TO INFORM AND INVOLVE THE WIDER BLACK COMMUNITY IN ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT.” This recommendation was, in part, implemented by the McGill Study of the “Evolution of the Black Communities of Montreal” (2001). Professors Bayne and Saade have also published a series of papers on the rise of the business and social entrepreneur in the Black English speaking communities of Montreal, the use of information and communication technologies in community development, and the Yolande James Task Force (2006).

Over the last ten years there has been no formal investigation of the measured impact of the initiatives of all levels of government, private and public institutions, and social and private entrepreneurs in the Black communities on advancing the objective of the Yolande James Task Force: to bring about a full participation of the Black Communities in Québec Society. In particular, special attention needs to be given to the status and future of the English speaking Black communities over the last 25 years.

Black Community Priorities

Based on a review of the minutes of meetings of the ad hoc community meetings, a survey of key organizations conducted by ICED, the Yolande James Task Force Report, published research by Mc Gill Consortium for Ethnicity and Social Planning, and the presentations and discussions at the Community Forum June 16 2016, the following are identified as priorities for our communities :

  1. Support for the Black Family
  2. General and Mental Health
  3. Youth, Education, Employment and Employability
  4. Arts and Culture
  5. Rights and Freedom: anti-Racism Strategies
  6. Economic Development
  7. Reinforcement of Community Structures and organizations
  8. A Black Community libraries, archive and communication network system

Structure and authority and functions of the Forum

It has been noted that, while the Forum is not an organization in itself, it is a facilitating mechanism. Thus, the Forum recommendations and the subsequent amendments are priorities/guidelines for us to move on and work on. The responsibility for implementing these policies, therefore, goes to the community organizations. Thus, the role of the Forum will be to provide a meeting place for the community to identify policy issues, to review options, to attempt to develop a consensus whenever possible, and to effectively communicate this consensus. Subject to budget constraints, the Forum Secretariat will be responsible for specific tasks assigned to it by the Forum: the creation of specified sub-committees for dealing with community priorities; making the community, the government ministries and departments aware and informed of the priorities and needs of the communities; monitoring the implementation and encouraging organizations to participate by observing and integrating the recommendations into their practices; determining the date of the next General Black Community Forum.

Recommendation 6.5.1.14 of the Val Morin Forum requires that the Forum (Secretariat) “resolve, in its future consultation with the wider Black community, ensures that a proper and timely system of notification and communication be employed to allow for more meaningful participation from groups. Other groups are encouraged to also share this objective.”

Information gathering and Communication

With respect to the gathering, archiving and communication of information, there is already in place the Black Community Library and Archives project developed by the Black Studies Center in collaboration with the QBBE, the BCRC and ICED. It specializes in processing the archives of the English Speaking Black/Pan African communities. The Forum also agrees that the Black History Month Round Table will be responsible for promoting Pan Black/Pan Afrique identity defining events as defined in the Manifesto of identity events approved by an ad hoc community committee meeting. The Forum requires that this sub-committee be responsive to all groups within the larger Black and Canadian communities for information and knowledge about the pan-Black/pan Afrique peoples and communities.

 

For full version of Semaji June 2016 Click Here