Serving as president of The Round Table on Black History Month for the past two decades has offered Michael Farkas a privileged vantage point to gauge the relationship between our community and the various levels of government as well as our standing in society.
“It’s not very encouraging,” he told the CONTACT in a recent telephone conversation. “At all levels of government we’re seeing a kind of disconnect.”
Farkas says he particularly troubled by the on-going position of Premier Francois Legault and his CAQ government on the provincial front.
“The fact that the premier wouldn’t even acknowledge systemic racism in Quebec makes it difficult for any type of conversation on the issue of race,” is the way he sees it.
He is particularly bothered by Mayor Valerie Plant and her municipal administration lack of interest in the Black community.
“It’s easy to see that she’s not as committed as she should be to deal with some of the challenges we face as a community,” he says.
And he points to the appointment of Bochra Manaï, a woman of Arab heritage as the city’s first commissioner on racism and systemic discrimination.
“Blacks and Indigenous people are the ones who for decades have been battered by racism and injustice in this city. It’s only fair that we’d expect that the commissioner would have come from among us.
The way I see it here’s someone being put in place to earn a six-figure salary on our pain.”
And it’s on that platform of discontent and concern that the organizing body is heading into this the 30th anniversary of the annual Black History Month in Montreal.
Farkas is however excited for the opportunity to mark this year’s milestone celebration.
“I see it as 30 years of success, when it comes to showcasing the achievements and the contributions of Blacks to Quebec,” he says, pointing to the annual BHM calendar that features a least a dozen laureates, who have distinguished in various fields of endeavor over the years.
He says this year’s celebration will be mostly virtual and although the online presentations tend not to have the same “flavor” as the live events, it’s important for the Round Table to offer something in the midst of the pandemic.
“It’s a way for us to stay close to the people and the community. There’s not much that we can do about what going on out there, but we feel a sense of responsibility to continue to highlight the Black presence in Montreal, Quebec and Canada.”
Farkas, who is also the executive director of Youth In Motion a Little Burgundy based organization providing services to young people in and around the area, says in the midst of the celebration, there’s justification in calling on groups and organizations to work together to build our community.
“These days we’re seeing very little corporation among community organizations. The groups that have good relationships with certain politicians are never keen to connect or check with other organizations.
We can’t build community with that attitude, if you have power or connections you have to check with the community and share your resources. The focus has to be community building.”
He says because of events in the United States surrounding social justice and the Black Lives Matter movement have triggered more talk by politicians and power brokers but not much has changed for Blacks in Quebec.
“Sure Black Lives Matter is on the lips of everyone but we have had so many of own George Floyds and so many other instances of injustice and no action has been taken to make things right. So our struggle continues.”
And as he points to The Round Table on Black History Month’s 30 years of success in highlighting the contributions of Blacks in Montreal, Quebec and Canada,
“We’ve come a long way and we have reasons to celebrate Black strengths, competency and excellence but we are justified in (demanding) for improvements….”
The board of directors of The Round Table on Black History Month include Frantz Vancol, vice president, Nadia Rousseau, treasurer, Samuel Mandeng, secretary, with Sheron Edey, Marie-Aliette Forges, Erene Anthony as board members.
Coordinator of events is Carla Beauvais and this year’s spokes person is Fabrice Vils.
Celebrate Black History Month 2021 at: https://moishistoiredesnoirs.com/en/ (all announcements, event details, will be live from Feb. 1, 2021).