Canada

Brownstein: Gala Dynastie recognizes Black Quebecers fighting for change

The gala acknowledges the arts, but also among the 11 awards to be presented Saturday is one for activist of the year.

Frantz André and Tiffany Callender are among the nominees for activist of the year at Gala Dynastie, honouring Black excellence in Quebec. The category is new at the gala, which holds its fifth edition on Saturday, March 6.

Awards shows tend to focus on actors or recording artists. But activists?

The fifth Gala Dynastie, honouring Black excellence in Quebec, is an awards show unlike most others. Yes, the gala acknowledges those who have made strides in the arts and other cultural fields, but also among the 11 awards to be presented Saturday night in a largely virtual show from Place des Arts is one for activist of the year.

It is a first for this award at Gala Dynastie. Same for prizes to be given to the community organization and business of the year. These awards are all in keeping with this year’s theme, The Rise of the Engaged, highlighting the contributions of individuals and organizations that distinguished themselves in 2020 through their social initiatives and actions.

This year’s gala marks the official close of Montreal’s Black History Month, one of the most significant editions since its inception three decades ago. For obvious reasons.

This past year has been particularly trying and sobering for Black communities here and around the continent, with racism compounded by the pandemic. The senseless killings of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery, among other racial travesties in the U.S., will resonate for years to come. But we can’t feel smug in Quebec — despite denials of systemic racism in some circles — after learning of the horrid, wrongful detention of Mamadi Fara Camara, not to mention the myriad accounts of those stopped for driving while Black.

So Carla Beauvais, co-founder and executive director of Fondation Dynastie, felt it was imperative that this year’s gala honour those individuals on the front lines for change. Such as community leaders Tiffany Callender and Frantz André, nominees for activist of the year along with Marie-Livia Beaugé, Anastasia Marcelin and Will Prosper.

“It’s quite an honour to be considered among such wonderful nominees whom I respect for their contributions to the cause, because I understand the role I play in the community is one that also stands on a very strong history of activism and advocacy,” says Callender, co-founder and CEO of the Federation of African Canadian Economics and executive director of the Côte-des-Neiges Black Community Association since 2013.

“I am the child of immigrants to this country, who came into a community that faced a tremendous amount of exclusion and a tremendous amount of discrimination. But they built mechanisms and institutions that I now benefit from to carry on that long legacy of advocacy and community work and to push the system for society to be better and inclusive.”

Callender’s parents emigrated here from Barbados in the mid-1970s, so she was an anglo Bill 101 child integrated into the French school system. She learned to navigate her way through and open her mind to another culture.

André was taken by surprise at his nomination, although he shouldn’t have been, in light of — among other human rights causes — his extensive advocacy for Haitian asylum-seekers here. He feels the situation now is particularly dire with respect to Haitian migrants who have been working in Quebec long-term care facilities through the pandemic and are seeking permanent resident status.

“I feel that promises were made, but have not been kept,” André says. “This has created a lot of distress and mental health issues in the community. Hopefully, my nomination for this honour can bring attention to the cause and these (health care) workers will be appreciated for contributing to the lives of others.”

André can somewhat relate to the plight of Haitian asylum seekers. During the turbulent times of the Duvalier dynasty in Haiti, his parents escaped and started new lives here.

“I’m so appreciative of living in Canada, particularly in Quebec, so I can understand how desperate these people are now to become citizens. They’ve had to go through so many countries — like Chile, Cuba, Brazil — to get here in the hope of being received and accepted as human beings. They’re doing jobs that others here don’t want to do. And then COVID comes, and they’re putting their lives on the line. Still, I really must remain positive.”

Callender also strives to remain positive when it comes to better race relations on the local front.

“We haven’t come far enough, that’s for sure. Little has changed over the years. But I can’t afford to lose hope, so I’m placing my energies into finding solutions by collaborating with others, because I have to continue to work to get us to a better place.”

Gala Dynastie will be streamed live online from Place des Arts Saturday, March 6 at 6 p.m. Tickets cost $20 at galadynastie.com.

bbrownstein@postmedia.com

twitter.com/billbrownstein

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