Former North Vancouver councillor to be honoured as part of Black History Month
John Braithwaite has been many things to many people
At the foot of Lonsdale Avenue in North Vancouver, just a short distance from Lonsdale Quay and the waterfront, sits the John Braithwaite Community Centre.
It`s named after one of B.C.s first black politicians, a man whose decades of social work helped the city's troubled youth and broke down barriers in the community.
"It's a great honour to be asked by the foundation," said Braithwaite, who will turn 89 next month.
Born in Ontario, Braithwaite has created, endorsed and participated in numerous organizations since he arrived in B.C. in 1956, including the North Shore Neighbourhood House, the Black Action Coalition Committee and the National Action Committee on Race Relations.
In 1972, when he was first elected to North Vancouver city council, Braithwaite was one of only three black politicians in B.C. — the other two were MLAs Emery Barnes and Rosemary Brown.
He served on council until 1976, when he took a brief break from municipal politics. He rejoined council in 1983 and was then re-elected consecutively until his retirement in 2002. Altogether, Braithwaite spent 23 years in elected office.
'A lot of them were scared of me'
He has also clocked almost 40 years of experience as a social worker,dealing with troubled youth, ever since the North Shore Neighbourhood House offered him a job in 1956.
In his first role, he was working with white youth who had never worked with a black man.
"One of the problems that was facing me was that kids that came to Neighbourhood House would call me the N-word," said Braithwaite.
"A lot of them were scared of me, because they hadn't worked with black people."
Not one to be deterred, Braithwaite set up a "boys program" at the house and made it his goal to build a lasting connection with the community of North Vancouver by the end of his first year there.
He then worked closely with the Squamish Nation as a social worker, along with others in his field to set up the band's first internal social worker program.
The community centre that bears his name opened its doors in 2004.
Braithwaite said Canada's recent push for reconciliation couldn't be more important, but there is a still a long way to go.
"You have to be at the level of the people you're working with and do as they ask you to do, rather than telling them what to do," said Braithwaite.
"It's a listening process and then a leading process that has to be led by First Nations."
With files from Michelle Eliot and North by Northwest