The NCC Saga: “Rallye and Petition”

The NCC Saga: “Rallye and Petition”

By N Oji Mzilikazi

April 28, 2014

A “Rallye and Petition” email from an ad-hoc group of concerned citizens interested in preserving the Negro Community Centre (NCC) building in Little Burgundy, and soliciting input and support for a monster rally on Saturday May 24, 2014, is currently in circulation.

As much as I would like to see the NCC preserved, I find the desire and intent to make the NCC a cause célèbre to mobilise the community around to be ill-conceived, a knee-jerk reaction, and misdirected.

Are we never going to accept ownership for our self-oppression through organizational infighting, incompetence, sins of omission and commission, and our penchant to recruit, empower, and recycle egotistical, selfish, poorly-educated, visionless, and untrained soldier-leaders to lead troops on the front line of a war in which Blacks are attacked on all fronts, and we are perennially victims?

No wonder we overwhelmingly die from self-inflicted wounds.

There were no calls for a rally or petition when Centraide withdrew its funding from the NCC over issues of accountability and transparency. There were no calls for a rally or petition when the door of the NCC was locked in 1989. But now that bricks are on the street…

It is not the first time in the history of the NCC a wall buckled. This collapse points to underlying structural issues with the building. Furthermore, in accordance with the law of use and disuse, buildings and houses rot and crumble when empty. 20 plus years of abandonment must prompt decay.

A more detailed inspection has to take place. Any which way, the collapse drastically increased the price tag to renovate.

Given that our newly elected mayor voiced that the state of the City finances warrants austerity, the only way the City might contemplate bailing the NCC out is if the community can raise at least $500, 000 on its own strength.

Better than a massive rally is contemplation of how the community could raise at least half a million dollars, and an action plan to do so. Then we can approach the 3 levels of government saying this is what we have, we’d like them to at least double if not match it — and the NCC can be reborn, rise like the mythological phoenix.

Dr. Clarence Bayne, the long-serving president of the Black Studies Centre (BSC) has been quite vociferous in the emails exchange in regards to the NCC. Since Bayne has the BSC building up for sale, and it could fetch at least $500,000, it makes sense for the ad-hoc group to ask him to make the Black Study Centre part of the Negro Community Centre. Invest the monies from the sale of the BSC into the NCC.

That is social pragmatism, a phrase Bayne enjoys throwing out, and at the same time Black empowerment, we doing for self.

I would like to think that the Board of the BSC would have no problem throwing their lot in with the NCC. After all, they both have the same goals, the empowering of community.

The August 14, 2007, Gazette informed thata $2.5-million grant from the city of Montreal was recently approved to renovate, restore, and reopen the NCC.

The article stated: “A new board (under the presidency of Shirley Gyles) started working to reopen the NCC in 2004. They presented a feasibility study to the city of Montreal and got their grant. They are hoping to get the rest of their $6.5-million budget from the provincial and federal governments.” And all went quiet until a wall collapsed on April 13.

Rather than demand the resignation of Shirley Gyles and the entire NCC board over them being asleep at the wheel, 2007 to 2014 without progress reports, fund-raising activities, and keeping the restoration of the NCC front and centre, commentators in the email want to make Gyles and company a part of the equation.

I’m sorry; Gyles can bring nothing to the table.

Didn’t none of them read the April 14 Gazette article in which reporter René Bruemmer stated about Gyles: “She was at a loss about what to do next.”

You mean to tell me that in the face of that “disaster,” Gyles couldn’t take the time out to consult with anyone and craft a well thought out and solid statement inferring that the Board still has things lockdown, instead of appearing clueless?

Hasn’t she never seen CEOs and “big boys” on tv engaging in crisis management or executing a mea culpa?

To add insult to injury, Bruemmer’s article contains the following: “We were not all slaves,” she said, a hint of anger in her tone. There were a lot of educated blacks who came here and did good things. Not just musicians and tap dancing.” How ignorant is that?

Slavery legally ended for those in Europe, North America, and the West indies approximately 150 years ago. Apart from continental Africans, all Blacks in those lands native-born or otherwise came out of the cauldron and legacies of colonialism and slavery – that has us still traumatised, mentally enslaved, suspicious and distrustful of one another, given to undermining one another rather than unite in pursuit of organizational growth and success. Thus we create and recreate weak organizational structures that accounts for our stagnation and deterioration.

Gyles articulation reeks of island tribalism/intra-racial discrimination, personal insecurity and self-hate.

When the white racial superiority belief package and baggage that extols the homogeneous and evil nature of Blacks pretty much consigns people of African descent to the back of the bus and the hold of the ship, self-hating Blacks love to differentiate and engage in discourse as to who came here by birth, and who arrived by boat, as well as jockey as to who is a superior Black.

The again, conflict between native born Blacks and Black West Indian immigrants to Canada has long plagued the NCC. And in many cases, the parents or grandparents of native born Black Canadians were West Indian immigrants themselves.

A commentator made the point that Reverend Gray and Dr. Dorothy Williams are perhaps the best political spokespersons for the group. I disagree. They already had their bite on the apple, give someone new the opportunity to step forth and lead.

Given it was under Williams’ watch the NCC was locked shut, is it wise to have her as a spokesperson? Surely with her insight and knowledge she could function more effectively as a strategist, consultant and resource person.

It was under Gray’s watch the 40-year-old NDG Black Community Association (NDGBCA) closed its doors. Yet, Gray had no qualms stating to CBC Daybreak (April 14), and posted on line, on CBC website that: “We can no longer sit by and let our community institutions crumble and collapse.” How ironic.

Gray told Daybreak: “Montreal’s black community lacked the financial infrastructure to see the project realized.” But it was under Gray’s watch that the CDNBCA became NDGBCA fiduciary -the Côtes-des-Neiges Black Community Association (CDNBCA) had to step in and assist the NDGBCA in setting up a management and financial structure to ensure the sustainability of the NDGBCA. And Gray dares to utter the word finance.

Gray was also part of the NCC rebuilding process in the early 2000s. He was the chair of the NCC Board. Gray’s baggage is too much. Having him as a spokesperson is definitely problematic.

Pointed out was: “Unless we present a united front, the people in power will view us as divided and this will hurt our appeal.”

The people in power have long known Montreal Black English speaking community to be divided, impotent and given to infighting.

Three years ago there was no Carifiesta. While infighting between two competing groups is said to be the cause, Everiste Blaize, the president of CCFA that puts on Carifiesta explained: At the suggestion of City Hall, CCFA called upon a group of community elders to go to City Hall to lobby on their behalf. The elders then decided they were best suited to run the carnival, and threw their hat in the ring.

Three groups vying for the carnival resulted in its suspension. Blaize identified Dr. Clarence Bayne as one of elders that went to City Hall.

For the past couple years, the Jamaica Association has been celebrating Jamaica Day on the same day as Carifiesta. Given that both festivities more or less tap into the same pool of people for support, and the music for each is remarkably different, doing so ensures that our food vendors and party promoters have one day and not two days to “eat ah food.”

Jamaica Day falling on Carifiesta hurts the community economically. It denies our businesspersons, entrepreneurs and hustlers the chance to turn a profit. Furthermore, Brand Jamaica is too big to have to feed off Carifiesta, but no one at the Jamaica Association is listening to sound arguments as to why they should return to having their own day.

Just as we in the community have the inside story on our exemplars who are divisive, shady, “smart man/smart woman,” and who wear masks of integrity, competence and so on, but are far from, so do the people in power.

On account of community pettiness, infighting, and lack of strong and visionary leadership, and the record of past and current leadership, those in power are never going to truly extend a helping hand to our community, or seek to empower it.

Thus, our concerns are never taken seriously or acted upon. As a result, our members continue to be discriminated against, marginalised, not treated fairly by officers of the law and the courts, and find themselves beached on the lowest rungs of the economic ladder.

We do not need to present a mythical united front to get the NCC back up and running. What we need to do is to clean house, bring in new leadership — fresh voices, and a fresh voice (preferably female) that understands Black empowermentto articulate community needs, demands, and positions, and a game plan/business plan that has been analysed to death to ensure it is truly solid. Anything less and the NCC would never rise.

To Rectify Damage, Reverse Paralysis

To Rectify Damage, Reverse Paralysis

By N Oji Mzilikazi

Originally appeared in the Montreal Community Contact Volume 24, Number 08 April 17, 2014

The partial collapse of the historic Negro Community Centre in Little Burgundy on Sunday, April 13, 2014, accurately reflects the state of Montreal’s English speaking Black Canadian and Black West Indian/Caribbean community.  It shows that in spite of personal achievements and individual successes of many, there is an underlining rot in our community.

The collapse couldn’t but make clear that if community members in abundance do not stand up to be counted, and the current crop of long-serving stewards and interceptors of funding continue to stay in place, along with those whose ambitions outweigh their talent, skills and abilities, things will worsen. There will be no arrest to community bleeding; this generational dysfunction that have so many at their wits end.

Underperformance, stagnation and dissolution of institutions, organizations, and businesses will continue – unabated, and there would be no English speaking Black community to glowingly speak about.

Our long-serving stewards ought to be put out to pasture.

They are bankrupt of ideas, addicted to outdated rhetoric, have added no new knowledge to expand their intellectual capacity, are out of step with the ever-changing environment, command no respect, and lack the necessary energy to be effective, as well as the skills to advocate, agitate, educate , organize, communicate, and most importantly, strategize and negotiate.

They have become obstacles to progress. Everyone knows it, including those in power and with access to power in the non-Black and wider community. But since they are entrenched gatekeepers, the power brokers and media repeatedly go to them.

Anytime there is criticism of stewards (long-serving and otherwise) under whose watch there is devolution; mismanagement, misappropriation of funds, ineffectiveness in the delivery of service by the organization, the organization holding positions and performing acts inimical to the best interest of community, constant conflict and infighting, and the break up, dissolution or destruction of an organization, the criticism is always framed as ungratefulness – by upstarts, for their sacrifice, service, and public contribution.

They also attack their critics by disingenuously saying if they know better why don’t they step in and do better, and that the person is only jockeying for position.

First, the ability to identify missteps, inefficiencies, and/or to have ideas and solutions for better do not automatically translate into that person capable of being in the driver’s seat. Plus, not every critic is seeking position, power hungry, or trying to be in a place where they could “eat ah food.”

There are persons, who in seeking community interest, are quite contented to examine, analyse, and criticize to keep management and leadership honest. That is their contribution to community, and a service that is vital in the preservation of a healthy democracy.

Second, a protective clause in the constitution of many organizations is that a new member cannot take office. The person has to be member of the organization for X amount of years. As such, when a non-member takes the role of critic in pursuit of community interests, they are rarely trying to supplant current leadership.

Ego and hubris have community stewards readily believing that holding office entitles them to a free pass. It frees them from accountability, especially when they were instrumental in bringing something into being, and more so when they demit office. Then, no one is entitled to ask them anything about their tenure in office.

Thus we have flawed post-mortems if any upon their demission, and leadership, especially when untrained, if not spoiled by their predecessors or cut from the same cloth inheriting – and blind to the fault lines that allow for dysfunction and inefficiencies to persist.

Whenever there are funding/resources to be had, or funding to community is being contemplated by municipal or governmental body, interceptors jump in. [Credit to Mr. Joseph Dyeth for coining the term]

These interceptors are known to embellish their qualifications, record, and achievements, and call or send letters “bigging” themselves or their organizations up, while informing why another person or another organization is ill-equipped for consideration.

Sometimes these interceptors straight out seize resources slated for community use – other organizations, to personally benefit them, because and here is the rub, they have an organization or belong to one.

The interceptors’ motto is namely: “Where you tie your cow, it’s there it must graze.” And in the name of community or this and that organization they gorge on the little.

Many of us know these folks – by their record. They are frequently talked about by the disgruntled but never confronted, because of community non-assertiveness and lackadaisical attitudes to serious matters, and our penchant for “shytt talk” and prioritizing bacchanal.

Equally sabotaging and ensuring rot are the lackadaisical attitudes of organizational membership and their abrogation of responsibility. Once members believe everything starts and ends with the executive, and leave things up to them, a downhill slide is inevitable.

In the face of resources and opportunities to make gains, we are malnourished. And rather than deal with our self-oppression and lack of will, drive and ambition to build, grow and succeed, that is at the heart of our dysfunction, we blame others, as well as the lack of governmental funding.

Money cannot fix what ails us. Only new attitudes, new strategies, and trained leadership could, as well as ensure new monies are best spent.

As we step into the eat, drink, and partying that comes with this long Easter weekend, give some thought as to what you are willing to do to make the community rise.

To be continued

Happy Easter to all!

I’m Voting PQ. Our Community Should. Here’s Why

I’m Voting PQ. Our Community Should. Here’s Why

By N Oji Mzilikazi

Originally appeared in the Montreal Community Contact Volume 24, Number 07 April 3, 2014

Every man gotta right to decide his own destiny
And in this judgement there is no partiality
Brother, you’re right, you’re right
You’re right, you’re right, you’re so right!

— Zimbabwe

— Bob Marley

Even amidst anti-immigrant and anti-Black sentiments, I voted Yes, for the Parti Québécois (PQ) in the 1980 referendum. My rational was simple: Every man/every country has a right to determine its own destiny, and like in a healthy organization and healthy democracy, the majority vote wins the day.

Therefore, if the French Québécois majority want Sovereignty; separation from Canada, the establishment and maintenance of a linguistic majority population, a true francophone province where the French language, French culture, French-Canadian history and its French speaking citizens would never again be subjected to second class status and discriminated against, why should I, a member of a race with a shared history and collective memory of racial hatred and their attendant evils by white skin persons, irrespective of language, and one that is mindful of the effects of colonialism and oppression, oppose their desire for self-determination?

My “Yes” vote was also cast in solidarity with the majority population of South Africa that wanted to determine their destiny, the right to vote to topple the Apartheid and racist South African regime.

Surprisingly enough, whenever I brought up that if majority rule was to be a must in Québec, it should also be a must in South Africa, the resounding sentiment from white English and French co-workers was that “we,” in South Africa were not up to the task of self-rule.

I never saw Québec’s separation from the rest of Canada as the scary monster it is portrayed to be.

When colonial nations were seeking independence, the same arguments used against Québec were employed. Colonials were told that their economy and standard of living would experience a serious decline.

The threat to those seeking independence, those unwilling to accept exploitation and second/lower class status have always been white flight, the flight of capital, professionals and skilled labour. Nonetheless, colonials sought and gained independence, knowing it would exact a high price, bring on economic hardships.

The ascension of the PQ as the political force in the land, and the institutionalization of Bill 101 into law, making French both the language of work and play, resulted in a heavy migration of company head offices, businesses and professionals to Ontario. Québec has yet to recover from the economic flight that occurred prior to its first referendum, and even after its failure.

If a sovereign Québec was to take its citizens down the path that many Black and non-white nations have walked, so be it. Blacks have nothing to fear from an independent Quebec.

The history of Blacks in the New World is one of intimacy with displacement, separation from loved ones and family, segregation, marginalisation, institutional racism and discrimination, institutional police brutality, and struggle. Each one of us can write a book about our experience with the above.

Neither the Conservatives nor the Liberal Party [of Canada] has done much to alleviate the weight of racism and marginalization experienced by Blacks and Natives in Canada. On account of white skin, Québec’s francophones and anglophones are able to accommodate one another, and have separately and collectively discriminated against people of African descent.

As previous elections have shown, regardless as to which language group or party forms the Québec government, Black Québécois still face a multitude of hurdles — and despite French language proficiency.

On account of the status quo in regards to Blacks, Blacks do not have a bone in any dogfight between Canada and Québec, or the English and the French, and it is delusional to think otherwise. Furthermore, Blacks have the freedom to migrate to any one of Canada’s other provinces or to the Territories — even the USA.

To born and/or to live in Québec does not infer having to economically suffocate here, something beyond the pale of unilingual French Québécois.

Here we are in 2014, and the PQ’s sovereignist agenda and Charter of values are being used to create needless election and moral panic.

Québec has historically been a tough and demanding place to live, so huge numbers of people were never willing to stay here for long. Known as the Capital of New France, its population in 1642 was less than 200 persons, and were mostly men.

To spur its economic development and to make this inhospitable clime a home, the male inhabitants were given gifts of land, livestock, and money. A special tax was imposed on bachelors to make that lifestyle undesirable.

Known as the “King’s Girls” (In 1660 Louis XIV became King of France), female orphans in France, along with the poor and women of ill repute were sent to Québec to become wives of the settlers. Later on French peasant families with roots in farming and fishing relocated to New France. And it is from that foundation the upper class of Québec’s francophone society was born.

When sovereigntists invoke the term “pure laine” or “pure wool,” as a celebration of the depth of French ancestry, as well as to discriminate against old-stock anglos and “visible minorities,” know that there is nothing truly “pure” and noble about their roots.

That being said, there is absolutely nothing wrong with Pauline Marois and the PQ pursuing Sovereignty. If it should lead to an economic flight, unlike the 80s, Blacks would be in the position to capitalize. It would be a buyer’s market. Blacks would be able to purchase houses and property way below market prices.

My Haitian brethren and sistren would finally be able to move out from RDP/Montreal North, buy homes in Westmount, Outremont, and downtown, and I might be able to purchase the Black Study Center building for a song and a dance.

Citizenship is more than people living together in the same country. Citizenship implies shared values, and the commonality of interests that bound us to one another.

Citizenship involves protection of the rights of everyone. And to that end, there must be no ambiguity concerning the rights of the individual and the laws of the land. No citizen should be deemed more equal than another or treated as if they are.

The laws of the land must stand supreme if all are to benefit from equal justice, and more importantly, religious beliefs/religiosity ought not to be a component of the law.

Religions are inherently bias and sexist; they entitle believers to discriminate against anyone who do not subscribe to the creed or uphold the values of the religion, and none of the world’s major religions perceive women to be equal to males or confer equal rights to women.

Thus, there is a morning prayer Jewish males say upon rising, thanking God for not making them a woman, Islamic fundamentalists unleashing terror on Muslim girls going to school and anyone aiding and abetting their education, and honor killings.

Furthermore, religion is very anti-intellectual, and has a backward and troglodytic view of many things. The blind faith religious beliefs demands make myths unadulterated truth, and puts unlimited power in the hands of religious leaders. And when they are zealots, non-believers pay the price.

Religion is at the root of a great many of the world’s evils and problems. Religion has killed millions and continues to do so. Religions have oppressed millions and continue to do so.

The proposed Charter of Rights that eliminates external emblems of religiosity in the public sector mightn’t be perfect, but it’s a step in the right direction. Secularism is the way to go. Let religion be the preserve of homes, temples, churches, synagogues, and mosques.

Come April 7, 2014, I’m voting PQ, so should you!

Religious beliefs and religious preferences must always come second to Human Rights.