Leadership & Montreal’s Black Community part 2

Leadership & Community Part 2

By N Oji Mzilikazi
(Originally published in Montreal Community Contact volume 20,#23)

December 2, 2010

In December 2009, the United Nations General Assembly declared 2011, as the International Year for People of African Descent. Judging from the current health of our community, we are in need of an extreme makeover if we are to count our gains or celebrate.

The world currently stands at a crossroad. The long dominance of western economies, western culture and military strength is being assailed. Nonstop are the efforts to replace the American dollar as the world currency. Technology, outsourcing and globalisation have changed the nature of the marketplace; employment keeps disappearing while competition for existing jobs intensifies, and change continues to occur at rates hitherto unimaginable.

Although discrimination keeps Blacks with education or technical certification unemployed and frustrated, to be without them puts the community at a greater disadvantage. Yet, it is still better to be prepared for an opportunity that never comes than to be unprepared for an opportunity that comes.

Music and sports that were once profitable avenues for people of African descent are no longer so. In a way, not even crime is profitable. For while the Internet has changed the nature of crime and criminal activities, technology has also made it easier for the police to fight crime and for criminals to be caught.

So what is to become of youth, if they choose to be posers, un-ambitious and embrace an anti-academic identity? The stakes are high, very high. We cannot afford to let our children fail, and fall prey to thuggishness, the lure of gangs, and gun violence as is happening with alarming frequency elsewhere. For, they are going to turn around and victimize you, yours and mines. Our community is small enough where preventative measures can be implemented.

We have to adopt a new paradigm to give ourselves and our youths a chance at winning. To that end, it is imperative we destroy the geriatric ward of political thinking and its leadership, revitalise our institutions and rebuild infrastructures.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not ungrateful to the leadership who have brought us this far, but do consider that for all the great things Moses did, he couldn’t lead the children of Israel into the Promised Land.

Moses was excellent as a militant and confrontational leader, but the new field of engagement required leadership who were articulate, could think on their feet, have long term vision, are able to negotiate, navigate governmental bureaucracy, and do not feel out of place in corporate boardrooms, municipal and government offices.

Our community has reached a point where its Moses must be commended, applauded, sent into retirement homes, and perhaps be advisors. Our community is in need of transformational leadership: persons of character and integrity who can revitalise community spirit, increase participation, devise and execute plans for its economic empowerment.

In response to a spate of shootings, the Burgundy Urban Mediation Group (BUMP) organized a town hall meeting in Little Burgundy on October 29, 2007. Its panel included Borough Mayor Jacqueline Montpetit and Station 15 Commander Pierre Savard. Persons wishing to speak were required to submit their names, thus called in sequence.

I witnessed one of our church leaders who doubles as a community activist/leader disrespecting the process, interrupting speech, and encouraging others doing so, because the concerns of the white speakers from the community were other than Black youth selling drugs and killing one another. I was ashamed and embarrassed over conduct unbecoming one wearing the religious mantle.

Not only did he betray elementary Christian principles that I’m sure he espouses from the pulpit, but he insulted the spirit of community, and displayed a lack of character and integrity. He diminished himself in my eyes, and outside of his supporters, those Black folks who witnessed the event. Now, when I see him on tv, I suck my teeth.

Leadership demands sterner stuff and unflinching discipline. As stated so eloquently in Proverbs 31: 4 – 5, “It is not for kings to drink wine; nor for princes strong drink: lest they drink, and forget the law, and pervert the judgement of any of the afflicted.” Simply put, respect and do not betray your office. When leadership is tainted, the duplicity causes people to lose faith, and conscientious community/cultural workers who are in the trenches feel the sting of it.

People will question their integrity, paint them with the same brush or question them as to why that person is still in office. We are at a juncture where individual survival is more pressing, and taking precedence over issues of racism, police heavy handedness, racial profiling and community dysfunction, and where people would rather socialize on social networking sites than a physical local. Still, we need to come together and dialogue, otherwise, our grandchildren’s future is going to make our long, hard and difficult past, look like days of glory.

Community work, like culture, is never really financially rewarding. Its workers for the most part are driven by political conviction and social consciousness, thus they are apt to toil beyond the call of duty. Lovers of culture are driven by their love, and so in its creation and promotion they will invest time, effort, money and energy without thoughts of financial remuneration. On the other hand, there are those, for whom community work and culture is either a footstool or things to exploit.

They adopt the axiom, “Where you tie your cow, it is there it must graze.” And so they seek elected office. However, their ambitions far outstrip their talents, and the organisation suffers. They feel threatened by intelligence and those with ideas, take criticisms personally, sow discord and are vindictive, all techniques in their holding on to power.

Then, there are foundation members or persons who started an organization who feels it entitles them to control it until perpetuity. They never groom others to take over, and their ego becomes an obstacle in its progress.

Then there is the case of those on multiple boards. Even if it’s not about padding their résumé or accessing financing, their inability to invest quality time in any one organization contributes to all of them weakened.

Who have been the friends of our diverse Black and Caribbean community? Who have ever looked out for our interest? We stand alone, yet in our deformity of exaggerated self-importance and pedigreed arrogance, we view each other as competitors rather than allied in the same struggle.

Back in the day, there were three Black-owned record stores on Rue Victoria.  The owner of one was always obsessed about putting the other two out of business. When they closed, he considered it a personal victory. When I opened Chin Phat Musique on Peel St, my store fell under his pronouncement. Never mind he was uptown, and I downtown, and my client base was different to his or that HMV was just a stone thrown from my door, or other ethnics and whites have stores standing side by side, selling more or less the same goods, and everyone eats.  The venom of self-hate had him wanting to see me out of business.

It seems we have come to think of “strength in unity” as a worn out cliché, so we oppose or undermine organized and collective efforts. We allow professional jealousy and the clash of egos and agendas to be hurdles in the path of community success. Thus, we hear of those who wouldn’t take part or contribute to a community event if “so and so” is involved.

Then again, one is hard pressed to see our cadre of leaders, even official delegations from various community organizations at community functions, unless their members or organisations are involved. They have transcended networking at the grassroots level and displaying solidarity.

At the same time, there are some, who on account of position, titles, university degrees, and professional certification invest themselves with “special” or elite status and vainglorious attitudes that isolate them from the very people they claim to serve.

We cannot be engineers of our own incompetence then have the nerve to cry foul and say, “Look what the City, the police or the white man is doing to us.” Are we that dense to ignore the cardinal truth that power only respects power?

Power is a manifestation of strength. Strength is the ability to impose one’s will. Strength is fed by the unity of a common agenda. Strength positions a community to demand, to hold their ground, and reward or punish a politician by voting or not voting for them. We do not think of strength. If we did, we would’ve harnessed our votes and show City Hall our strength, and the dispute between the CCFA and MCDF would’ve been long resolved.

If we believed in strength, we would ask anyone vying for organisational leadership to enumerate theirs, their goals and vision for the organisation, and have them tell the members why they deserve their vote. Accountability would then be weighed against what was promised and what was achieved. To elect a president/chairperson/leader without a platform is in effect to forgo growth.

Our leaders do not think of strength. Case in point: For 24 years, the Jamaican community in Montreal celebrated their nation’s Independence in early August. For the 2005, Intercultural Festival at Parc Jean Drapeau on Ile St Helene, the Jamaican Association of Montreal surrendered their traditional August date for that of June 25. The extreme low turnout shocked them so badly, that its president ended up running around crying to the City, trying to get funding and a venue to re-present Jamaica Day. Strength would’ve been not celebrating the day on the city terms.

Strength is aligned with empowerment. When we forsake strength, we become the non-authors of things, imitators of things, consumers rather than sellers, and tenants rather than owners.

Look how long we’ve been here. Yet we are still renting hotel ballrooms or reception halls from other communities for our weddings, christenings, birthdays, anniversaries, and association or community banquets. We do not even want to own our community centers, much less buy a van for usage of the said community. Have we gotten so used to building the empires of other nations that we no longer care to build our own?