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Black History Month: CBC readers pay tribute to inspiring black Canadians

Categories: Canada, Community, Features

Hover over the above image to read why these inspiring Canadians, as nominated by CBCNews.ca readers, do the work they do

A teenage spoken word artist, a 90-year-old jazz pianist and a youth empowerment and education advocate -- just a sample of black Canadians who have touched lives countrywide.   
Every day, black Canadians break barriers, create change and evoke empowerment.

They do it to give back, to speak for the voiceless or for pure joy. 

To mark Black History Month, we asked CBCNews.ca readers to tell us about the inspirational black Canadians in their communities. The nominations we received were diverse and impressive.

This is, by no means, an exhaustive list. But a glimpse of the work Canadians do every day to enrich the lives of others and the culture and legacy of the country.

Thank you to our readers for your nominations.

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Monica Forrester
Community activist, trans woman of colour

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Accessibility, inclusivity and visibility -- what Monica Forrester strives to attain for the trans community in her work, she says. 

The Toronto-native is an engagement coordinator with Maggie's, a sex workers' advocacy group.

"I've worked with other trans people to bring more visibility, awareness around some of the systematic issues, some of the work issues," Forrester told CBC News Community. "We do have a large community that does sex work, so to bring more accessible services for them, around harm reduction, around working with the police, around safety."

"A lot of my work is due to trans women losing communities because of transitioning," she says. "A lot of trans women that I've known died prematurely because of lack of access to healthcare or services."

A need for a trans-focused agency drove Forrester to create Trans Pride Toronto -- Transitioning Together, a non-profit, in 2004, she says.

"There were a lot of services in the community but nothing that was really that accessible and trans-driven so I've been doing that." "[And] bringing more visibility to mainstream, not just within the LGBTQTS community but also to other areas of our society."

Forrester is also working with the Toronto-based Black CAP (Black Coalition for AIDS Prevention), "around bringing more of a connection for trans women of colour within the community."

"My work has been really focused around awareness. I think it's important in breaking down barriers in more culture-specific communities," she says.
 
Forrester says more needs to be done but her work puts "a face to trans people." 

"It's the communities that are marginalized that are not able to speak up."

"That's why I'm doing the work that I'm doing."


Amiga Taylor  
4Reasonz founder

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When I first met Amiga, her leadership drew me in. She is the perfect example of a born leader, someone people willingly support because she empowers others. 

I admire the fact that she took a negative situation and turned it into a positive mission that the whole community can benefit from. She took losing someone to gun violence and turned it into a catalyst for change.

Her values of respect, unity and justice for all, touches people because they are universal values that allow various communities to see each other beyond the insignificant values that seem to separate us. It is good to see someone loving reaching out to solve issues in the communities. The fact the she is a black woman is just an added bonus.  

Because I have had the pleasure of learning from her, she taught me the importance of knowing why you do something. It is not enough to just lend a helping hand, it is important to know why. It is through knowing why that powerful change is created.

Why is Amiga inspiring? She embodies what leadership looks like when love, unity, respect and justice for all are truly put into practice.

-- Natalie Douglas, nominator 

Mustafa Ahmed
Spoken word artist, community activist 

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Mustafa Ahmed has been a youth leader since the age of 12. 

An inner city Muslim young man, he has experienced the murder of a close friend, and has seen hate, bigotry and misogyny. But instead of being discouraged by it, he uses words to empower change. 

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For the last two years, Mustafa has been one of my Teenangels. Teenangels are teen leaders who want to address cyber abuses and digital risks. He focused on cyberbullying and online hate. 

He joined me in a presentation to former Ontario education minister Laurel Broten and her educational leaders about the high emotional cost of cyberbullying. The group was reduced to tears after hearing him perform his moving poem, expressing inner-city experiences of poverty, violence and frustration. 

Instead of bitterness, Mustafa inspires hope. Instead of disappointment, he inspires change. 

He is an amazing young man and has inspired me.

-- Parry Aftab, nominator 


Jerry Bryant

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I have known Jerry Bryant for more than 35 years and respect him as a very proud Canadian and an ambassador of good will and music. 

Thousands have heard Jerry play the blues and jazz standards, so rich in his St. Louis roots. I used to hear Jerry improvise his magical interpretations of tunes from the Great (North) American Songbook. 

Jerry taught music in Victoria high schools and was a popular teacher. He played in Victoria nightclubs for decades. 

Today Jerry plays piano in a Big Band Orchestra and whenever he can at 90 years old. He maintains his own apartment in Sydney, driving to gigs at Hermann's Jazz Club. 

I am pleased to nominate Jerry as an extraordinary Canadian.


-- Keith Allison, nominator 


Mohamed Salih

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Mohamed Salih was born in Sudan and fled the war-torn country as a child. His gratitude to Canadians that had welcomed him to Canada has led to his passion for serving his country and community. 

As a teenager he joined the Canadian Armed Forces and travelled across Canada and continued being involved in local charities and community initiatives. Mohamed then went on to join the Canada Border Services Agency, now himself welcoming new immigrants to Canada as he always had dreamed of since his arrival.

As a community advocate, Mohamed has volunteered countless hours assisting new immigrants and Canadians from all walks of life, providing advice, support and assistance. Mohamed is also involved in a number of local and nationwide initiatives that work to better communities and cities. 

Mohamed is definitely a leader in his community and an inspiration to many.

-- Jean Dominique, nominator

William Johnson

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Anyone who reads William Johnson's resume would think he is in his 30s. Currently in his mid-20s, William's main job is at Carleton University as the Student Engagement and Transition Support Coordinator. 

In his free time, William is a trustee at AwesomeOttawa, a board member of the Caring and Sharing Exchange, co-organizer of TEDxElginSt, writer for Career Options magazine, co-lead of the Social Media for Ottawa Fashion Week and is an avid blogger for his own website. 

William is the guy you'll see at nearly every Ottawa event and you'll experience a gravitation to want to go talk to him. 

In his presence, you get the feeling that you can accomplish anything you put your mind to. 

In fact, William embodies the mantra "why not me?" when taking on challenges, which is evident by the career and external activities that are listed above.

-- William Jones, nominator 

Melodie Thorpe Homer

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I first met Melodie Thorpe Homer in elementary school in Hamilton, Ont. 

Melodie was one of the first people to make friends with me when I moved to a new school. 

She went on to become a nurse and is currently a clinical nurse instructor. 

She raised two young children on her own, after losing her husband in 2001 -- he was one of the airline pilots who died on Flight 93. But that's only part of the story. 

She's done so much with her life since that day. 

Melodie started a successful charitable foundation in her late husband LeRoy's memory, which provides scholarships so low-income students can attend flight school. She has run the foundation for well over a decade (a lot of non-profit organizations have not been able to flourish like that for so many years.) 

She's principled, compassionate and a great example of leadership.

-- Lisa Kadonaga, nominator 

Tags: Black History Month, Canada, Canadians, Community, Feature

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