Concordia’s steady path to a positive environment for the Black community

Since the 2020 Black Lives Matter surge, Concordia University’s initiatives to create a welcoming space for Black students and minorities alike have picked up steam

The world is now nearly three years removed from the massive wave of civil unrest sparked all around the globe by George Floyd’s tragic death. The sorrowful event also kicked off Concordia’s long-term commitment to creating a more welcoming and safe environment for minorities on campus. Today, student services like the Black Perspectives Office (BPO) are finally starting to find their footing within Concordia’s environment. 

Designed to connect and advocate for Black communities, the BPO came into effect in October 2020. The service is a way for Black students to find mentorship, support and funding opportunities to accompany them through their academic endeavours. 

Most recently, the office underwent a change with the arrival of its new manager Maurice Riley Case, who was appointed in January. Riley Case has a long history of advocacy for minorities and social work all around the country. 

“I hope to bring an even greater attention to the diversity and intersectionality of Black identities,” said Riley Case. “My colleagues and I look forward to collaborating with various units in order to design and sustain the conditions for Black Concordians to flourish across the University.”

Black students are a minority at Concordia. The BPO aims to help Black students reinforce and recognize their identity while connecting them to other members of the community. Riley Case calls this “Black Flourishing,” the celebration of range of experiences of the Black community. 

The BPO manager explained that the establishment of a “Black-specific student Resource and Success Centre” is essential for Black students, faculty and staff. The reform at the head of the BPO is only one of many signs that the future is bright for Black flourishing. A Black Student Centre is also set to open in the Concordia Hall building in Fall 2023, which will create a space for Black students to connect on campus. 

The President’s Anti-Racism Task Force also aided the creation of a positive environment for the Black community, a group created after Black Concordians demanded the University address systemic racism against Black people. With the task force’s two-year mandate now over, several recommendations have been submitted to the University.

Concordia Professor and former task force member Dr. Jacqueline Peters explained that the problems encountered by the task force were somewhat similar to the struggles for black people at Concordia. 

“Getting information is hard. Getting numbers of how many of us there are here[…] those were some of the things that we were sort of stuck on,” 

Said Peters.

According to Peters, the task force’s work was hindered by the severe unavailability of ethnic statistics, complicating the possibility of locating Black faculty, staff and students to conduct a thorough examination.

Despite the difficulties, the task force had a positive outcome, according to Peters. “We did word of mouth, we put out notifications which also worked well,” she said “One of the most positive aspects of working on the task force was all the Black people that got to know each other. Most of us have been here for many years and have never seen each other.”

While the creation of an inclusive environment is still a work in progress at Concordia, the sense of community among Black Concordians is starting to find a positive rhythm.

Do we properly engage with Black History Month?

Black Concordia students on BHM, allyship, performatism, and how Concordia’s administration and non-Black student body can do better

Special thanks to Sundus Noor, freelance journalist, and Amaria Phillips, co-founder and president of the Black Student Union for their contributions

On Black History Month 

Amaria Phillips  – “We should be able to do that all year. And that they believe that if we accept the month, we are basically accepting the bare minimum, and we’re accepting the fact that that’s okay.”

AP –  “I feel like this is a great way to focus in [on Black History]. I agree it should be for the whole year, it shouldn’t just be limited to one month.”

AP – “[February can be] a moment where we learn so much. And we get to celebrate and just really have this moment for us. Obviously when February ends, yes, of course — continue the celebration. Let’s continue recognizing the people who made contributions in this society, in this world and in history.”

Sundus Noor – “Over the past couple of years, I haven’t really felt very connected to the holiday, or felt like it resonated with me, simply because of how it is perceived in Canada. [It feels as if] the attempts of education sometimes come across as very disingenuous. People just kind of don’t really see it as an important month most of the time and they just sort of scramble for content.”

On performatism in allies 

AP – “Tap in as much as you can now, during Black History Month, so that you’re informed as much as you can be for the rest of the year.”

AP – “I don’t mind the [post] resharing. But I just really hope that like, it’s being actually read and meditated on and understood. But also I hope that they’re not just relying on that one post for education or whatever. Because there’s only so much you could put in a post, right?”

AP – “Reposting — that’s like the bare minimum. It’s great, but it’s the bare minimum as well. […] Are you having those difficult conversations? Are you speaking up for Black people when you hear something racist, or whatnot, like, what are you doing actively, right?”

“But where do I start?” 

AP – “You gotta know who to ask. For me, I don’t mind personally. Yeah, I’m just that type of person.”

AP – “For [a lot of Black activists], the work is draining enough. And to have someone on top of that [asking a bunch of questions], you know, kind of like asking a teacher for extra help after hours. It’s like, it’s after hours, you’re technically done, you know? […] If people are out there willing [to help], you can see that the person is willing to educate, then gravitate towards that person. But if you come across someone who, you know, they’re not really super willing to do that, respect that.”

SN – “It’s okay to be ignorant on certain situations or things. I think educating yourself, taking the time to learn, ask questions, [or] look[ing] at a lot of the resources that are available at Concordia is the step to educating yourself.”

AP – “Things are posted, things are out there. But people just decide not to listen or read or take in the information.”

AP – “I would like to see people participate in more active conversations. Not invading Black spaces, but when we do have […] these conversations where we’re actually saying, ‘yeah, come in, because we need to talk,’ be there.”

When trying to amplify Black voices 

AP – “So either you give the [opportunity to write/educate/create] to a BIPOC person, a person of colour, or if no one’s able to do it, then [do it yourself], but in a way where you’re saying, ‘this is not even about me, this is like me, amplifying the voice of someone who if I don’t do it, nobody’s gonna do it.’”

AP – “We can’t be saying we want changes, but no one is willing to actually be present to, you know, to help those changes move forward, right. So feel free to engage and be present when those [opportunities] are being offered.”

SN – “When it comes to any month, or any celebration that is centered around a specific group of people, [people who are not a part of that group may] feel very uncomfortable, when it comes to, you know, not wanting to step on people’s toes. […] With that in mind, they often leave [the event planning] towards the Black student population to, you know, organize and do the events and do everything. A lot of [the responsibility] is sort of on us.”

SN – “If people can work together, I think there would be like a way to collectively contribute and create events that are very much inviting to everyone, and also cater to Black students without feeling very awkward.”

On Black experiences in the academic realm 

SN – “I feel like the [Concordia] student body and the institution are two separate entities. In terms of [representation], the student body has the Black Perspectives Office, different clubs and even the student papers are always very diverse, and represent the student body, but I feel like the institution doesn’t really feel like it’s their job to do anything.”

SN – “A lot of the programming for Black History Month is curated by people of different clubs. And with all that going on, […] I feel like the most the university does is sort of share what’s going on as opposed to, you know, amplifying people’s voices.”

SN – “Concordia, the institution – I don’t really think that they’re doing the most that they can do for [Black] people. And I don’t know if there’s, like, an interest for that. Anytime I get an email from Concordia, I just see it as incredibly disingenuous.”

To communicate to the non-Black Concordia student body

AP – “I’m not saying that you have to be a full-on advocate and speak as a spokesperson or a panelist about Black affairs. That’s not what we’re saying. […] Because please do not speak for us. But there’s so many things that I feel like, you know, allies could do, that they’re not doing and yeah, and it goes back to like, are you speaking up? When you see that there’s only one Black person in the room, are you questioning that? […] Did we take the chance to invite [Black people]? Did we give them equal opportunities?”

AP – “That is what I’m talking about when I’m talking about allyship. Actively speaking up and doing things with your privilege that helps out the BIPOC community.”

AP – “There’s a lot of things that I would like to speak to, you know, non-Black people about that I don’t really fully understand. And it’s going to be a vice-versa thing. So having those conversations are necessary.”

AP – “Speak up when you see things that are not right, speak up when you’re, like, in a space and it’s just predominantly white.”

SN – “I think making the effort to educate yourself is like the first step of being an ally.” – Sundus Noor

Time to reflect

If you take anything away from his article, it’s that you need to take the time and read, truly listen, and watch every marginalized voice you come across.

You need to sit in the uncomfortable feelings of being a white person, complicit to the centuries of ongoing oppression still overwhelmingly present today.

You need to do whatever is in your power to create an equitable world, where people can re-learn and accept history, and grow in spaces that encourage cultural heritage.

You must create a space where marginalized voices can thrive in the absence of fear, persecution, assimilation and violence.

Take a minute and think of what you can do to make things better — and how to be better.

Graphic by Lily Cowper



Books & articles:

Montreal celebrates Black History Month 2022

“I am Black 365 days a year” by Myrialine Catule

“The Skin We’re In” by Desmond Cole

“Policing Black Lives – Violence in Canada from Slavery to the Present” by Robyn Maynard

“Anti-Racist Ally – An Introduction to Action & Activism” by Sophie Williams

“A depoliticized and realistic portrait of hijabs” by Sundus Noor


A Conversation About Growing Up Black | Op-Docs | The New York Times

Do All White People Think The Same About Race?

“Blue Eyes/ Brown Eyes” Anti-Racism Exercise

When “Allies” Pass Their Place..

Ted Talks – link here for all their round-up of Black voices to uplift this month


Black Perspectives Office Peer Support Team

Black Mental Health Connections Crisis Hotlines

Black Healing Centre coming in Spring 2022

Resources to support against Anti-Black racism in Montreal list

Events list

Testimony: Visual and Embodied Gateways to Black Histories – Feb. 23

The Power of Our Stories: Black Families, Intergenerational Connection, and Belonging – Feb. 18

Distinguished lecture with Dr. David Herman Jr. of Temple University – Feb. 23

Black Dance in Black Dance in Focus – Feb. 24

Visions Hip-Hop QC – Phi Centre – Until March 26

Massimadi – Afro and LGBTQ+ film and arts festival – Until March 11


The 30th Black History Month in Montreal

Montreal’s Black History Month is fully virtual for the first time

February marks the 30th Black History Month in Montreal. This year’s theme is 30 years of success and highlighting individuals who have over 30 years of achievements in areas such as art, media, business, and community.

Black History Month is an annual event, yet with the pandemic, the entirety of Black History Month is virtual, with events being held on Zoom. The launch event was streamed on Facebook on Feb. 1, with over 250 people attending.

One of the twelve laureates selected by Montreal’s Round Table on Black History Month, Kemba Mitchell. They are chosen from numerous candidates, which are nominated by the broader Montreal community for their outstanding achievements.

“Usually there is a huge event of celebration,” said Kemba Mitchell, a social community activist, Chairperson of the West Island Black Community Association, and Concordia alumni. “We are getting our awards in the mail, there is a disconnect.”

Mitchell believes that while there are cons, Black History Month being online created an opportunity that would allow more people to view the events as well as reach people that had no idea about Black History Month in Montreal.

Mitchell is one of 12 laureates who are representatives and spokespersons of Black History Month, nominated by the Round Table in coordination with each year’s theme for their involvement in the community.

“I was taken away,” said Mitchell, explaining how she felt about being nominated. “Sometimes you are in the grind, you are going and going, and don’t have time to reflect on your work. I was humbled by what the acknowledgment meant.”

I celebrate being Black all year round, it doesn’t start in February,” she said. “But I think it is important we have a moment to shine a light on Black history.”

Mitchell explained that conversations about Black history should not be limited to slavery and that Black History Month is to honour the contributions of Black people that are omitted from the education curriculum.

Round Table’s President Michael Farkas was also chosen as this year’s official English spokesperson for Montreal Black History Month, for his decades-long dedication into organizing this event and community work in the city.

“In history books, the beginning of Black people always starts with slavery, that is not where we come from, that is not our origin,” she said. “Black History Month is a way to shine a spotlight on our accomplishments through history.”

Mitchell stated that there was no reason for people not to go to an event this month, learn about the accomplishments of the community, and join in on the celebration.

There are a large range of events happening throughout Black History Month, varying from workshops for children, poetry jams, discussions on Bob Marley, a virtual book launch, and many more.

The president of the Round Table, Michael Farkas, said the major message of Black History Month is to learn about things such as Black inventors — contributions that the Black community made to society that have been swept under the rug.

Quebec can not hide that they were racist, that they come from a society that saw Natives and Blacks as commodities. As slaves, as savages,” said Farkas. “And that’s the foundation until Quebec chooses to change it.”

“The history of Black People is not about slavery, there was a time before, there’s a time during, and there’s a time after,” he said.

Farkas said a good way for people to involve themselves in the community is to simply go there and learn the history, to see the landmarks of Black history throughout Montreal.

Farkas recommended taking a tour with Rito Joseph, who does Montreal Black History walks. It states on Airbnb that he provides a way to deepen people’s knowledge of the Afro-descendant community in Montreal and learn more about its members’ ancestors.


Photographs of Kemba Mitchell and Michael Farkas are courtesy of Kétiana Bello. Montreal Black History Montreal logo courtesy of the Round Table on Black History Month.

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