In the Right Place with BCRC
Published on November 18, 2022
In the Right Place is a blog series of the COM-Unity project featuring conversations with our partner organizations. In each conversation, we try to get a sense for how belonging takes shape in their specific communities, and how the places we inhabit shape us-- and how we, in turn, shape them.
Part 5: Place, Representation and Belonging
with Ayana Monuma, Coordinator of the Where They Stood Project with the Black Community Resource Centre
Today’s conversation is with Ayana Monuma, coordinator of the Where They Stood project at the Black Community Resource Centre (BCRC). Where They Stood is the BCRC’s COM-Unity project, now in its second year, that explores the history of Black English-speaking Montreal through the eyes and voices of youth. In the first year of the project, BCRC youth wrote a book, and now, in the second year, they are adapting the book into a series of animations that will bring the book to life.
In this conversation, Ayana spoke about the importance of creating opportunities for Black English-speaking youth in Quebec that provide them with a sense of belonging through increased representation, as well as valuable skills that can translate to employment in Montreal’s booming animation and gaming sector. She also discussed how, through those career opportunities, Black youth can change the landscape of media representation in the future.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
COM-Unity: Since this blog series is titled “In the Right Place”, we always like to start off the conversation with the question of where that place is for you! Where is the BCRC office, and what is it like there?
Ayana Monuma: The office is on Chemin de Côte-des-Neiges, next to the Maxi [grocery store] and across from the mall. It's a very diverse and lively neighbourhood, lively in the sense that there are always a lot of people walking around. A lot of small, local businesses, restaurants and grocery stores. Very, very diverse. I like the feeling of being there, it very much feels alive: there's parks, there's a lot of kids and parents that are going through their day-to-day motions. It's a really nice neighbourhood.
C-U: Speaking of “place”, the title of the project Where They Stood seems like it is getting at the root of that concept. I was hoping you could talk a little bit about the project title, and how it relates to place and history and the people who came before us.
AM: For the book project, we scheduled a meeting with the youth, and it was a brainstorming session to find a title that represented what we were trying to do with the book. And Where They Stood, we thought, really brought together a nice image of the people in the book and where they actually stood, here in Montreal, as they went through the struggles that they went through.
With the title [chosen], we were able to have a photo shoot [for the book cover]. And the setting that we chose for the photo shoot was on railway tracks. That was kind of a signification and a nod to where Black history started in Montreal, with the railways being the only jobs that black men were able to get and support their families. So, the Where They Stood title really brought justice to the project and what we were trying to do with it and what we were trying to portray with it.
C-U: So, what began as the youth book project documenting Black English-speaking community history in Montreal, is now becoming a series of animations. What is that process looking like for the youth?
AM: For the animation project, each youth that we recruited chose one of the chapters from the book, and the idea is for them to take inspiration from the chapter and create some kind of visual representation to that chapter. It’ll be a series of approximately ten episodes that are going to be two to three minutes each, animated in 2D.
We at the BCRC wanted to give the animators complete creative leeway. The only thing they have to do is use the chapter as inspiration for their episode. But otherwise, they're free to interpret the chapter visually as they please. Some of them are going outside of the box to create their animation, while others are following the traditional kind of storyline concept. They are choosing how they want to do it. They're choosing their audio. The only thing that we, the BCRC, are doing is making sure that they have the resources to do what they want to do.
C-U: I love that. Such a creative way to expand on last year’s project! How was animation chosen as the medium for this year?
AM: It was based off collaborations that were already forming towards the end of the book project. We had a collaboration with Cinesite that was forming—Cinesite is a 3D production company. And from there, the idea took off!
But Cinesite was just the beginning point. Since then, we were able to collaborate with Toon Boom [Animation], which is a software company—they donated a lot of licenses to the project. We also purchased their courseware training, and the youth are completing a 110-hour courseware training to learn how to use the software. From there, I was able to get a lot of support and help from the Concordia [University] Film Animation Department [that] turned this project into an internship for their students. We were able to recruit three student interns on the project who are now supporting and mentoring the youth. I was able to also recruit a few Dawson [College] animation teachers to lead workshops as well. So, between Concordia, Dawson, Cinesite and the interns, we've had quite a few workshops in person and over Zoom for our youth!
But the main reason why we also wanted to go towards animation is that there are not a lot of Black people, let alone Black English-speaking people, in animation here in Quebec. Our objective is to provide free training in animation so that by the end of this project, these youths will have portfolios that they can either use to enter the job market in the industry or pursue higher education. That's really the goal—to not only create the series where positive images of Black people are diffused, but also to help these Black English-speaking youth have a better chance of entering the job market or pursuing a career.
C-U: The Where They Stood project description talks about increasing the sense of belonging for Black English-speaking youth in the community. What you just said about positive representation hints at that, but I wonder if you can say more about how a sense of belonging is created through the representational aspects of this project?
AM: Well, representation is a big deal. As a Black person myself, for example—I'm also a Concordia student—I walked into my first class of the semester and saw my teacher is a Black woman, and my jaw was on the floor. It was such a feeling of joy, and, you know, shock! It's incredible how much that motivates me to want to do well in that class, just because I know that my teacher is Black.
And so just based off that, having younger people see images of people who look like them on TV, doing something good or just teaching them about history that happened on the land that they live on right now: it goes a long way and it's really important. Letting them know that they belong here, even if you don't see yourself in everyday representations or articles in a store—although you don't see yourself in these things, hopefully, this series will inspire or help one of them recognize that they are here because they belong here.
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