This year, the Montreal Black History Month Round Table chose to nominate the Jamaica Association of Montreal as a laureate, one of the 12 associations to receive the honour this year.
The association was founded in November 1962, three months after Jamaica gained its independence. According to its website, the association aims at “the social, political, economic, educational and cultural integration of the Jamaican Community and by extension the Black Community within Montreal, and the Province of Quebec.”
In an interview with The Daily, Michael Smith, president of the association, said that he hopes to encourage people “to be proud to be Jamaican; not to hide [their] heritage.”
The association celebrates contributions of the Jamaican community to Montreal and plans social events. It also offers community support programs.
“For any young mother, it’s challenging. I noticed there have been issues with the parents. Some of them have problems when their young daughters are pregnant.”
The Au Futur program for young mothers is one of these programs. Speaking to The Daily, Susan Hamilton, coordinator of the Au Futur program, cited racism, difficulty in finding jobs, and living in a French-speaking province while not speaking French as some of the most common challenges faced by Jamaicans in Montreal. According to Hamilton, young mothers face further challenges, one of which is isolation.
“Well, for any young mother, it’s challenging. I noticed there have been issues with the parents. Some of them have problems when their young daughters are pregnant. Some are disowned, kicked out of the home. [This] makes it very difficult for the young mother who then becomes somewhat isolated and may end up in even more difficult situations, you know, without family support,” Hamilton said.
The Au Futur program aims to address some of these problems by helping young mothers find jobs or return to school, as well as by offering various activities such as group cooking classes, which teach practical skills in a social setting, and gatherings like reading circles.
Black History Month
Speaking to the importance of Black History Month, Smith said, “The history books need to be rewritten a little bit more truthfully. […] The way Canadian history books will present it, you’d think there was only slavery in the U.S.. […] There needs to be a greater acknowledgement of the Black community or African community through history.”
McGill Law student Brittany Williams also spoke to The Daily about Black History Month as well as about her experiences as a half-Jamaican, half-Trinidadian student at McGill.
Williams told The Daily in an interview that Black History Month is a source of inspiration and pride for her because she learns about new Black role models every year.
“I remember in elementary school and high school seeing those people, and not even the Martin Luther Kings and the Rosa Parkses, but hearing about people here, in the same context as you, who were doing amazing things. If they can do that, so can I,” Williams said.
“I remember in elementary school and high school seeing those people, and not even the Martin Luther Kings and the Rosa Parkses, but hearing about people here, in the same context as you, who were doing amazing things. If they can do that, so can I.”
Smith warned that learning about Black history, however, should not be restricted to a single month. During Black History Month, Smith said, “The focus is really on slavery, but there’s so much more to it than that, and you can’t address it all [in a single month].”
Williams added that Black History Month can be “a great time to start conversations.” While the conversations might be difficult or uncomfortable, Williams maintains that they are always worthwhile.
Speaking to her own experience at McGill, Williams said, “Sometimes [there are] ignorant people, sometimes naive people. I’ve never met anyone outright racist in school, but [it’s] just constantly having to teach people, or help people unlearn.”
Williams noted that intentionally acknowledging privilege can help. “I don’t know if a lot of my classmates who aren’t minorities consider the kind of work minorities have to do to be in a classroom that wasn’t really built for them. […] I’m oftentimes uncomfortable in class because of something someone says or what we’re learning, and I don’t think that’s a reality for everyone.”
Williams gives McGill students this advice to avoid making racialized students uncomfortable: “Recognize the way that you think and how you grew up and how that might shape the way you interact with people” and “be open to difficult conversations.”