CBC Quebec is highlighting people from the province’s Black communities who are giving back, inspiring others and helping to shape our future. These are the Black Changemakers.
Gemma Raeburn-Baynes says if you only pay attention to what is in the mainstream media, you would be hard-pressed to believe anything good ever happens in Montreal’s Black community.
“It’s always negative!” says Raeburn-Baynes, who is originally from Grenada. “We have so many positive stories in our community that [are] not told.”
Raeburn-Baynes, a community activist who spearheads the annual Spice Island Cultural Festival and many other events in Montreal’s fashion and food scene, has been writing part-time for The Montreal Community Contact for 25 years.
The Contact, a biweekly newspaper and online resource, is a place where Black Montrealers can go to read positive, uplifting stories about what is happening in their community, Raeburn-Baynes said.
It is also a place where the accomplishments of Black youths are showcased.
“It makes everybody feel wonderful to see young Black people in the community that are doing great things,” said Raeburn-Baynes.
Keeping Montrealers informed
The Contact has been reporting on issues relevant to Montreal’s Black and Caribbean community since its launch in 1992.
Board member and columnist Yvonne Sam has been writing on policy and immigration for the Contact for 20 years. Asked what the paper had done for the Black community, Sam replies, “What has it not done?”
“Without it, we would be adrift,” she said.
The newspaper helps Black anglophones keep on top of policy matters relevant to the community, she said. Sam, who is Guyanese-Canadian, has written about feeling unwelcome in Quebec due to her skin colour. But she said she has long found a sense of belonging at The Contact.
The newspaper has amassed a dedicated following over the years, she said.
“Our papers are distributed right across Montreal,” said Sam. “People look forward to it.”
It is free, paid for mainly by advertising. Corporations often take out full-page ads because they know it is a sure-fire way to reach the Black community, said Raeburn-Baynes.
A paper that goes against the grain
Pat Dillon-Moore, who has written for The Contact, said that the paper fights against prejudice.
The newspaper is a counterpoint to the lasting effects of the transatlantic slave trade, she said, which forcibly removed Black people from Africa and relocated them in the Americas, dispersing them from their ancestral homelands.
“The diaspora was designed to ruin us — that crucial community-building and sense of self,” said Dillon-Moore. She said publications like The Contact bridge “knowledge and relationship” gaps within the community.
What’s more, the newspaper’s archives will serve as a record for future generations, she said, to help them better understand the experience of Black Montrealers at this moment in history. She says that the newspaper has shown the community “what is possible when you dare to dream.”
She encourages the Black community to come together to support the newspaper, a publication “by us and for us,” in an era when print news media is struggling.
‘More similarities than differences’
Everyone who contributes to The Contact soon finds themselves embedded in the team and in the wider Black community, said Sam. They are not just friends — they are closer than that.
“We get along like a house on fire with no fireman in sight,” Sam said.
Though they hail from across the Caribbean, at the Contact they are connected by the common experience of being Black in Canada.
“Here, we recognize that even though we’re from different Caribbean islands, when we’re together as a group, there [are] more similarities than differences,” said Trinidadian-Canadian Wendy Davidson, who used to write and do bookkeeping for the paper.
She fondly remembers having heated debates in the newsroom.
“Like families, you have differing opinions. You had the opportunity to debate in a safe environment.”
At the centre of it all is the editor-in-chief, Egbert Gaye, who is known for his receptive leadership style, intelligence and sense of humour.
“Egbert is the funniest guy you’re ever going to meet,” said Raeburn-Baynes. He’s part of what keeps her writing for the newspaper. “He’s wonderful to work for and to work with.”
Gaye was unavailable for comment, due to a recent death in the family.
The Black Changemakers is a special series recognizing individuals who, regardless of background or industry, are driven to create a positive impact in their community. From tackling problems to showing small gestures of kindness on a daily basis, these changemakers are making a difference and inspiring others. Meet all the changemakers here.
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here