Future 40 finalist uses poem to describe systemic anti-Black racism during leadership conference

Despite being named to CBC Manitob's Future 40 list, poet Chimwemwe Undi reflects on how other Black people could have also been named to such lists, but now cannot be.

It's why so many Black people will never be named to such a list: Chimwemwe Undi

Chimwemwe Undi, a Manitoba poet and articling student at a local law firm, was named as a finalist of CBC Manitoba's Future 40 list in November 2020. (Submitted by Chimwemwe Undi)

Chimwemwe Undi is among 40 people chosen for CBC Manitoba's Future 40 list, and the poet used her opportunity as a speaker at last month's Future 40 Real Talk Leadership conference to address systemic racism in Canada and loss of opportunity it means for so many Blacks.

Undi read a poem titled listing (v.), which portrays some of the oppression and trauma Black people face today, at the start of the conference, which was virtually hosted by CBC Manitoba on March 27, at Qaumajug, the new Inuit Art Centre that recently opened in Winnipeg.

"I wanted to share a poem this morning that sort of reflects on the fact that there are so many Black people who would be on a list like this and living a life like this, but who are not able to," Undi said during the conference.

WATCH | Chim Undi presents poem at Future 40 leadership conference

Chim Undi presents poem at Future 40 leadership conference

3 months ago
Near the beginning of the Future 40 Real Talk Leadership conference hosted March 27, Undi presented a poem, titled Listening, to reflect on how other Black people could have been named to such lists but are unable to be. 1:32

Undi, who is also an articling student at TDS Law (Thompson Dorfman Sweatman LLP), started performing poetry as part of a high school club when she was 16 years old. In the decade since, she has become a widely published and highly respected poet, and is often sought out to provide a younger person's perspective on anti-Black racism.

She is also brought on as a consultant for various organizations.

Undi enjoys, and finds meaning in, encouraging people to invite poetry into their lives — often pushing young people to find their voice as writers — and speaking truth to power.

The Future 40 Awards recognize 40 Manitobans, aged 40 or younger, who are leaders professionally and in the community, and having a real impact on people's lives. Future 40 2020, which took place in November of last year, was the fifth edition.

The conference held March 27 included panel discussions that explored the opportunities and barriers in various sectors, including business, education and the arts.

listing (v.)

By Chim Undi


in dog years, I am dead. in Black years, alive.
so: exceptional, increasingly so. I ask strangers
for directions on pocket scraps & build myself
a map home as cohesive as a litany
i am having trouble remembering.

i am having trouble remembering
there are too many bodies in this room built for bodies
we are magic typecast as disappearing acts. history
whispered into memories.

& easier things:
1. the prime ministers in chronological order,
2. My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nachos,
3. the angle at which the earth leans, shaking us off like water

there is too much to say
for this mouth built for praying
there are too many names to unhear
so I don't have to remember
or truly, repeat to meaninglessness
or truly, forget them,
outrage a poor mnemonic device

I am having trouble remembering
I am forgetting & that is the worst part
I cannot hold a name long enough
to know it. even the faces are growing statistical,
the write ups into archives. I know guilt better
than grief, as well as a restlessness,
better than a Black body breathing still

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.