In Montreal’s Black community the name Nancy Mackenzie has been spoken of for generations.
Those who have met and come to know her speak positively and proudly of the person; others have never met her, but readily admit to hearing of her Black and extra-community initiatives.
It comes as no surprise then, that after her many years of grassroots work Nancy Mackenzie’s name is among the list of recipients at Black Theatre Workshop’s 2019 Vision Celebration Gala. She will be honoured with the Dr. Clarence Bayne Community Service Award.
Always soft-spoken and humble, Ms. Mackenzie admits to being quite surprised when she received a phone call informing her that her name will be among the list of honorees at the annual Black Theatre Workshop Vision Celebration Gala which will be held at the OMNI Hotel in downtown Montreal on February 2, the beginning of Black History Month.
In a nutshell, Nancy Mackenzie’s has been a life and legacy of community activism, volunteerism and social justice. The resume of her life’s work verges on overwhelming, evidence of how much at this stage in her productive life she has done in the pursuit of her humanitarian ideals and service for those with whom she has come in contact.
Born in the small university town of Wolfville, Nova Scotia, Nancy graduated with a bachelor’s degree and, being someone with a big vision, ventured to Toronto, but eventually settled in Montreal to pursue a career in teaching. While exploring child-centred learning, she landed a job at FACE, an alternative fine arts school.
(As a FACE founding parent and teacher, realized that the whole world is a child’s classroom… all experiences are learning tools.)
Being a woman with a global view and propensity for helping (she calls it “wanderlust”), Mackenzie soon found herself in Inukjuak in northern Quebec, and soon the global extreme, Bobonong, Botswana, where she “found her niche in specializing in developing a cross-cultural curriculum.”
She then went on to teach in Swaziland (“at the same school where Nelson and Winnie Mandela’s two older girls were educated–Our Lady of Sorrows School in Hluti, Swaziland,” she explains) before returning to Canada to pursue graduate studies and develop a media studies course for the University of Zimbabwe Teacher Education Department. She ended her formal teaching career in Lac Rapide, an Algonquin community northeast of Montreal.
Her formal classroom teaching may have ended, but Nancy Mackenzie’s skills background, including her leadership and experience in indigenous and African settings, served her in good stead and were evident in her initiative of fine tuning the United Church of Canada Racial Justice Workshops taught by her team throughout Quebec to “heighten awareness of rampant racism, as well as to provide guidance in dealing with white privilege and fragility within the church community,” she emphasizes.
She became more deeply involved with the Church as a member of the JGER (Justice, Global and Ecumenical Relation) Committee of the United Church of Canada for several years.
Reflecting on her association with the Church, she says the project she was most pleased with was when she “[…] worked with two other people as the core committee who resolved to create a school in Haiti in memory of the father of a United Church member who perished in the 2010 earthquake.”
The three did fundraising, speeches and workshops to raise awareness, as well as raised funds to build a schoolhouse, equip it, provide uniforms, send a water filtration unit, and feed (initially 25, now 60) children. (N.B. Interested parties can visit the Beaconsfield United Church website for details).
A perennial community warrior, Nancy became involved in the NDG Black Community Association’s Patrice Lamumba summer camp.
She coordinated various programmes and services, including the after school programme where she used photography as a means of documenting the children’s activities, and a seniors’ computer program.
She also volunteered with the Little Burgundy Coalition as an assistant coordinator with the Youth Coop summer program and the Strengthening Black Families initiative.
She was also a member of the Board of directors of the NCC in its latter years, working with the city of Montreal in an attempt to reinvent the historic building as a museum and community cultural space.
At Union United Church as interim Outreach director, hers was a constant presence. She coordinated prison ministry visits, food bank programme, Christmas baskets, seniors’ programmes, etc.
She also created several power point presentations, such as the 100th anniversary celebration, Capital Campaign launch, Mandela memorial and honouring elders in the church community: Ms. Emily Robertson and Mrs. Gwen Husband.
She also researched and made presentations on WW1 veterans and Viola Desmond who was recently honoured on the $10 Canadian note. She’s presently developing archives of church members and activities.
Nancy Mackenzie is a doer, indefatigable, a product of Nova Scotian doers whose names are now etched in Canadian annals.
She is the sister of former Canadian Senator Hon. Donald Oliver, and Rev. William P. Oliver; founder of the Black Cultural Centre of Nova Scotia, niece of contralto Portia White, 2nd cousin to well-known Montreal Sherwoods of singing and acting fame, and writer-poet George Elliot Clarke, among others.
As Heritage Founding member of the Martin Luther King Jr. Legacy Committee, Nancy Mackenzie is committed to the creation of a Beloved community.
Meanwhile, as she continues to do, her personal legacy is been written. She’s a freelance writer for Montreal Community Contact, particularly arts and culture reviews and miscellaneous feature articles. She can be periodically read in this journal’s pages.
Her life’s work is ongoing. She’s currently working on a project for a Black and Indigenous peoples’ publisher: family memoirs committee member assisted in getting guest Black films and directors for Black History month.
And she’s a diehard P.K. Subban fan, travelling to Nashville, TN, a couple seasons ago (for some R&R) to watch her favourite NHL hockey player in action.
Ms Mackenzie will be an award recipient at the BTW Annual Gala on February 2 not just to be among the honorees, but as she says because she loves the BTW and the work they’ve done over the years, “especially with the young people.”
She takes “great pride in seeing the ‘up and comers’ in the arts being recognized…”
This year, for her continuing selfless contributions she will be deservedly among those on the receiving end of audience adulation.
Fabienne Colas, founder of the Montreal international Black Film festival will receive the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Achievement Award.
Dayane Ntibarikure will receive the Gloria Mitchell-Aleong Award and Jared Worden-Joseph gets the Victor Philips Award.
Global Television’s Elysia Bryan-Baynes, along with AngeLo Cadet.
Cocktails at 5:30 Dinner 6:30
Tickets are available at 514-932-1104 or visit: www.blacktheatreworkshop.ca