This community newspaper connects and empowers black Montrealers

CBC Quebec shines a light on people in Black communities across the province who are giving back, inspiring others and helping shape our future. These are the Black Changemakers.

Gemma Raeburn-Baynes says that if you only pay attention to what’s in the mainstream media, you’d be hard pressed to believe anything good is happening in Montreal’s black community.

“It’s always negative!” says Raeburn-Baynes, who hails from Grenada. “We have so many positive stories in our community that [are] not said.”

Raeburn-Baynes, a community activist who runs 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 bi-weekly newspaper and online resource, is a place Black Montrealers can go to read positive and uplifting stories about what’s happening in their community, Raeburn-Baynes said.

It is also a place where the achievements of young black people are showcased.

“It makes everyone wonderful to see young black people in the community doing great things,” Raeburn-Baynes said.

Informing Montrealers

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 written about politics and immigration for The Contact for 20 years. When asked what the paper has done for the black community, Sam replied, “What do not ended?”

“Without it, we would be adrift,” she said.

The paper helps black English speakers stay up to date on political issues relevant to the community, she said. Sam, who is Guyanese-Canadian, wrote about feeling unwelcome in Quebec because of his skin color. But she said she had long since found a sense of belonging in The Contact.

The paper has amassed a devoted following over the years, she said.

“Our newspapers are distributed all over Montreal,” Sam said. “People are looking forward to it.”

It’s free, paid mainly by advertising. Companies often put out full-page ads because they know it’s a surefire way to reach the black community, Raeburn-Baynes said.

A counter-current paper

Pat Dillon-Moore, who writes for The Contact, said the paper fights prejudice.

The diary is a counterpoint to the lasting effects of the transatlantic slave trade, she said, which forcibly expelled black people from Africa and moved them to the Americas, scattering them from their ancestral homelands.

“The Diaspora was designed to ruin us — that crucial community building and sense of self,” Dillon-Moore said. She said publications like The Contact fill the “knowledge and relationship” gaps in the community.

Additionally, the newspaper’s archives will serve as a document for future generations, she said, to help them better understand the experience of Black Montrealers at this point in history. She says the journal has shown the community “what is possible when you dare to dream”.

She encourages the black community to come together in support of the paper, a “by us and for us” publication, at a time when the print media is struggling.

“More similarities than differences”

Everyone who contributes to The Contact soon finds themselves integrated into the team and the wider black community, Sam said. They’re not just friends, they’re closer than that.

“We get along like a house on fire with no firefighter in sight,” Sam said.

Although they hail from all over the Caribbean, at Contact they are bound by the common experience of being Black in Canada.

“Here we recognize that even though we come from different islands in the Caribbean, when we are together as a group, there is [are] more similarities than differences,” said Trinidadian-Canadian Wendy Davidson, who wrote and kept the journal’s books.

She fondly remembers the heated debates in the newsroom.

“Like families, you have differing opinions. You had the opportunity to debate in a safe environment.

At the center of it all is the editor, Egbert Gaye, who is known for his responsive leadership style, intelligence and sense of humor.

“Egbert is the funniest guy you can meet,” Raeburn-Baynes said. It is part of what drives her to write for the newspaper. “It’s wonderful to work for him and to work with him.”

Gaye was unavailable for comment, due to a recent death in the family.

The Black Changemakers is a special series recognizing people who, regardless of their background or industry, are committed to creating a positive impact in their community. From solving problems to doing small everyday acts of kindness, these changemakers make a difference and inspire others. Meet all the change makers here.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to stories of success within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canadaa CBC project that black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here

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