2015: WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE
As the Yuletide season was winding down, I had a long conversation with a Sista. As conversations go, we invariably talked about the community. She said over the holidays she and a friend also had a lengthy conversation about the state of the Black community and where it’s going—or isn’t, as it were.
So we talked about the sorry state of our community and exchanged ideas of how it could be pulled out of the doldrums… We agreed that the community had indeed hit rock bottom and (there’s plenty evidence to prove that) there’s nowhere to go but up. But that is… will be a gargantuan effort.
That woman is truly interested in community; in fact she works in area where she’s in constant contact with people, helping them to find ways to improve their lives. A transferable skill that could be useful in certain areas of community building.
Among the things we talked about was the sale of the Black Studies Center and how, under different circumstances, it could’ve lived up to its moniker. Outside of a school, what community doesn’t need a center of learning, a place to study?
So I made reference to a Montreal Gazette article by Susan Schwartz, TD gives $50,000 to Jewish Public Library for young adult books, November 24, 2014. This was “in honour of the 100th anniversary of the Jewish Public Library…”
That’s a lot of years of reading books and other printed material, no doubt primarily about the history of Jewish people and their generations of trials and tribulations and successes. The existence of that library is another example of people… a community getting things done where others (this community for example) have failed. Our talk is always about doing things that rarely ever come to fruition.
The article continues “…The collection was officially launched with a presentation on Nov. 16 at the library’s 10th annual Girls’ Night Out, which brings together mothers and daughters to meet writers for the young adult crowd…”
The gift also provides for an endowment to allow the library to continue to expand the collection… And, according to the library’s executive director “will play a large part in inspiring a lifelong love of reading…”
What a lost opportunity and unfulfilled void (that could’ve/should’ve been filled at/by the now defunct BSC in downtown Montreal. A lot of studying and reading as well as viewing of [our historical artifacts] could’ve/should’ve taken place there, for adults and children alike.
Mind you, Montreal’s public libraries have filled the void over the years, but not quite adequately. There’s that missing component, those missing pages as it were—encompassing Black history. The hell with that old lingering asinine ‘Black people secrets and reading’ myth.
Here’s another lost opportunity, another lost space long neglected, the now defunct Negro Community Center [NCC], which finally died in 2014 after a long comatose state of existence, and painful extended deathwatch—at least by those who truly cared… Shame on all of us (especially ex. presidents) for allowing that place to die such an inglorious death. Its founders must be still spinning in their graves, restless as hell and wondering how subsequent, and ostensibly increasingly conscious, educated generations of descendants could allow the ‘guardians’ of Black community [historical] presence and legacy to crumble, naturally and figuratively, and finally under a wrecking ball.
Really, what a shame!
In her childhood years, that Sista in question used to frequent the NCC, taking piano lessons under the tutelage of one Daisy Peterson-Sweeney, sister of the late and great Oscar Peterson. No plaques, no portraits, no place/halls of honour to show off those who did so much for so many young and old in this community, especially in that demolished building, the NCC. Who needs Black history and legacy? Who needs owned and controlled places with recognizable names to exhibit… or when and if we ever have something of historic import (a town hall-type meeting for example) to talk about, say during Black History Month, when public places/spaces can be rented…
And by the way, while we’re at it, why don’t they kill that annual 28-day exercise of… of… whatever… People have lost interest in our [Black] history. It has become more of a commercial/entertainment occasion than anything else since its inception in this city. Then again no, just maintain the practice of renting a place, a space. That’s if others are not buzzing with activity, showing off, displaying their history and legacy in their own space.
Generally speaking there’s a sense of community disinterest, disillusion, hopelessness… but individually there’s always hope. But communities are not built on hope… a wasteful abstract.
But there’s one place still standing, Union United Church (the congregation is scheduled to return to their historical home – soon its current financial and other woes notwithstanding). It remains the only identifiable and recognizable historical landmark and trace of historical Black presence in the City of Montreal.
Sometimes one can’t help wondering if we have a history, does anyone really care. Well, yes we do; the historical evidence is there. Scholarly and other works and artifacts are there. They speak to a period before Europe got its way by imposing its will on Africa. It was an auspicious beginning for Africans people, once revered (see the Hidden Colours DVD documentaries for evidence, but there are also books…). But along the way 400 hundred years happened to put us where we are today… the rest is a centuries’ old historical legacy we’ve been striving to overcome and (re) appropriate. One that will have us standing shoulder-to-shoulder with historical and institutional forces that are wont to make us feel we’re not worthy. Problem is we continue to provide fodder by being divisive…
So yes, Sista, such was the state of the community on December 31, 2014, one that most of us agree crumbled and remains in the doldrums, but can and should be doing a lot better. As someone said a while ago, “We’re blighted!” Or is it blinded… by our history, social machinations, and our inability to fuse.
I for one have never bought that pessimistic sentiment.
So… what are we going to do this year to build a vibrant community?
By the way, best wishes for a personal and healthy community new year. With that primary life ingredient, good health, our hard work and perseverance – individually, and collectively as a community, – dreams can be realized.