A spirited auditorium of high school students welcomed Passages Canada on February 4th to hear the compelling stories of Montreal’s Black communities.
The students from École secondaire Antoine-de-St-Exupéry in Montreal’s eastern borough of Saint-Léonard are themselves a very diverse group. Our MC, TD Bank regional manager and Senegalese-Canadian Clément Ndiaye, quickly caught on to the students’ pride and had them hooting with glee at the very mention of their countries of origin.
A silence fell over the students as our first performance by modern dance troupe Nyata Nyata began. Their routine involved a lone drummer playing an African-inspired rhythm and two barefooted dancers leaping around the stage with a powerful energy and stern gaze. The piece, Lwaza, “chatting” in the African language of Kikongo, is full of personality and mystery.
The dancers were followed by Filomena Rotiroti, Member of the National Assembly of Quebec and Official Opposition critic for immigration, who introduced the Passages Canada video interview with Michael Farkas.
In the video, Michael speaks of his passion for telling the stories of Black Canadians, stories which he says have been all but forgotten because they were poorly documented. His interest in these stories was sparked by his own experiences. He was adopted and raised by European immigrant parents on Montreal’s South Shore in a multicultural family with siblings from different backgrounds. He became curious about his own roots; he wanted to discover who he was and pass this knowledge on to his own children. Ancestral research brought him to New Brunswick in the 80s and then again in the early 2000s where he learned that his biological parents were among the Black families that settled in the Fredericton area.
After his video played, Michael took to the stage to answer some hard-hitting questions from the students. For instance, they asked why so few Canadians know about the history of slavery in Canada, and about the origins of Black Canadians. Michael had clearly lit a spark.
Marie-Denise Douyon, a Haitian visual artist, was our final speaker. We watched her video, which tells the story of her arbitrary arrest and incarceration in Haiti by the military junta, and her move to Montreal where she sought refuge and regained strength through art, family and friends.
Marie-Denise’s story resonated with the students immediately. They asked Marie-Denise about her art and how she uses it to express her identity. An Algerian student asked about her time spent in his country and what her impressions were.
All in all, this was a great opportunity for Passages Canada to do what we do best. We provided a platform for thought-provoking stories in order to inspire dialogue that we hope these students will continue in the hallways, in the street and out in their communities. Thank you to the kind administration and staff at École Antoine-de-Saint-Exupery for welcoming Historica Canada into their school once again!