• Emily Mathison

Three powerful Black voices we are listening to...

Updated: Aug 7, 2020

Over the past two weeks we’ve tuned in with heavy hearts to the Black Lives Matter and Justice for George Floyd protests in the United States. 

Black America is fighting for justice and we stand beside them. Today we’re passing the mic to three incredible women who we encourage you to learn more about.

1. Robyn Maynard

Robyn is a Black feminist writer, freelance journalist, and activist based in Montreal, QC. Her book, Policing Black Lives, explores Canada’s history of slavery and racism and explains why racism still persists in our government structures and institutions today. 

Q: Canada is often thought of as a cultural mosaic, where people of all backgrounds live together peacefully – in fact, this is a huge part of our national and international identity. Why does racism persist in Canada? And what does it look like?

A: “One of the reasons that racism persists in Canada is because our commitment to the perception of racial tolerance and harmony seems to be prized above the actual lived experiences of people.

Because of that, when Black activists or community members are speaking out against something – like the widely-documented disproportionate police killings that Black communities are experiencing – it’s often seen to be Black researchers, Black scholars, and Black activists who are disrupting the peace and causing the problem. For many people, the real problem is just a matter of not wanting to sully the national image of this country.

I think that really speaks to the purpose of my book, which is to trace the dehumanization of Black lives. That dehumanization allows for the continued existence of ongoing structural harms, disproportionate incarceration,  disproportionate representation in child welfare and removal, the threat of indefinite detention and deportation, and the school-to-prison pipeline. And that all exists without being seen as a national crisis. Without being seen as it should rightly be, as a national emergency of racial injustice.”

Read Robyn’s full interview with the Canadian Women’s Foundation here.

Listen to Robyn discuss Regis Korchinski-Paquet’s death on the Wait, There’s More podcast.

Author Robyn recommends: 

Follow Robyn on Twitter

2. Janaya Khan

Janaya is the co-founder of Black Lives Matter Canada and self describes as a “storyteller, organizer, futurist.” As a queer, gender non-conforming person, Janaya plays an important role in fighting for justice and equality for people who exist at the intersection of marginalized identities. 

Q: Do you see a difference in the way that anti-blackness manifests in Canada versus how it does in the United States?

A: We see two very different streams here than you find in the United States. A lot of how anti-black racism manifests here is in conjunction with anti-immigration sentiment because of the Somali community and also because of Islamophobia. The majority of black people in Canada actually don’t identify as black Canadians. Our experience of being racialized in Canada is: “Where are you from?” “But where are you really from?” You know? You don’t see that narrative in the States where it’s like: “You don’t belong here,” “This isn’t where you’re from.” African Americans and black Americans have been terms that people have used for decades, but the mainstream media doesn’t refer to us as black Canadians. We don’t refer to ourselves as that. So in a way you have the Canadian identity and you have the black identity and they’ve been separated.

Read Janaya's full interview with Maclean's Magazine here.

Check out Janaya’s YouTube Channel. Here’s a video on 5 Strategies for Difficult Conversations about race.

Janaya is also a powerful boxer. Here they speak about how the boxing practice supports their work as an activist: 

“For me, I got into this work through boxing. I walked into my first boxing club because I wanted to feel strong enough to protect myself and my friends should anything ever happen, but I fell in love with the sport because it empowered me in all aspects of my life. Initially, I trained with many women and the first lesson I learned was to stop apologizing whenever I connected a punch; I didn’t have to apologize for being powerful.

I began my activist work by dragging a giant, smelly hockey bag full of borrowed boxing gloves and mitts to any conference and community I could get to, teaching largely women and trans people how to throw a punch. I wanted to share that feeling of agency I felt when I was in the ring. I still box for grounding, and I take that grounded feeling with me outside the ring when I sit at strategy tables or when I’m protesting in the streets. I know in my heart I can take a punch—and punch back—and knowing that I have that strength in me keeps me going and keeps me unwavering even when confronted by violence and hate.”

Read Janaya's full interview with Flare Magazine here.

Follow Janaya on Twitter

3. Avery Francis

Avery is a talent and HR leader in the Toronto tech industry. She is the founder and CEO of Bloom, a hiring service that matches startups with top talent, prioritizing Diversity and Inclusion to build strong workplace cultures and scaling businesses.

Avery is also a co-founder of Bridge. Now a not-for-profit, Bridge was born out of Avery’s desire to ‘bridge the gap’ of opportunity for women and non-binary people trying to enter a male-dominated tech industry. 

Avery also speaks on a range of topics, including Diversity and Inclusion and sexual harassment, to create safer, empowering and respectful workplaces, “worth joining.” Here is her website where you can learn more about Avery and see her upcoming speaking engagements. 

Here is a video of Avery sharing her own experience of sexual assault in the workplace. 

You can also check out Avery’s Medium blog. Her latest post goes into detail about her experience as a black woman being gaslit in the workplace and provides advice on how to manage it. 

Have you ever heard of Fuckup Nights? If not, it’s a unique event where business leaders share their biggest ‘fuck ups’ and fails. Watch Avery talk about her recent fuck up here.

“At the end of the day, nothing lasts forever—and this is true for failure. I did fuck up. I did make the wrong decision. I knew I made the wrong decision. But I went with what I thought would be the right choice...”

Follow Avery on Twitter

Do you know other powerful, Canadian Black voices that you would like to highlight and share with the community? Other resources that we should know about?  Please link them in the comments on our website and share this post on your social media via the share button's below. 

Herstory will continue working to amplify BIPOC voices, educate ourselves on racial issues and histories of oppression, and create diverse representation. This is a continuous process of better actions over words, and if we can promise one thing it’s that we won’t always get it right, but we will lean into learning moments.

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