Montreal·2023 Black Changemakers

This Montreal duo is empowering Black kids to pay it forward

Sharon Pilgrim and Phoenix Jones want kids to realize you're never too young to start making a difference.

Sharon Pilgrim and Phoenix Jones inspire compassion through school supply donations

A woman and a girl pose for a portrait.
Sharon Pilgrim, left, and Phoenix Jones are working together to donate school supplies to children both in Canada and the Caribbean. (Cassandra Leslie/Ciel Photo)

CBC Quebec is highlighting people from the province's Black communities who are giving back, inspiring others and helping to shape our future. These are the Black Changemakers.

Illustration of a man and women and the text Black Changemakers

Growing up in a single-parent household that struggled to make ends meet, Sharon Pilgrim didn't understand why her mother was so generous.

Her mother Marguerite, who came to Canada in the 1960s from Barbados as a domestic worker, was always ready to help someone in need — even if it meant handing over the family's last can of evaporated milk, Pilgrim said.

"She was like, 'We'll figure it out. God will provide,'" Pilgrim says. "People think as a single child, that you'll be selfish. But I was not raised that way."

Her resilience inspired Pilgrim to start the Afro Canadian Philanthropic Initiative (ACPI), a foundation in which she and a partner based in Toronto support Black communities by pooling together donor resources to undertake large projects.

In December, ACPI wrapped up the fifth edition of its Giving Back with Grayson Project ⁠— named after Pilgrim's grandson ⁠— which provided 115 gifts to children in Montreal.

"As I've gotten older, I appreciate what it means to be kind and generous and just present," she said.

She instills those values to her family, too — including as an auntie to fellow Black Changemaker Phoenix Jones.

Pilgrim says seven-year-old Phoenix "embodies the spirit of giving" and serves as the face of ACPI's Phoenix Project, which provides school supplies to children in Canada and the Caribbean.

A woman and a girl shop for school supplies.
Phoenix Jones and Sharon Pilgrim purchase school supplies in June 2022. (Submitted by Sharon Pilgrim)

"I've told her, when she's older, she's going to be responsible for organizing and running the project and hopefully she can take it even to another level," Pilgrim said.

Through the project, she and Phoenix have packed and donated 150 backpacks filled with school supplies and personalized notes of encouragement to young students in Haiti and Saint Vincent in the last year.

Marie-Françoise Bouchereau, head of the events committee for the Association Chellaine du Millénaire, — a Laval, Que.-based group that supports students at Leroux-Cachiman elementary school in a rural Haitian community — said she's grateful for Phoenix and Pilgrim's donation, which came at a time during the pandemic when fundraisers were scaled back.

Bouchereau said Pilgrim was very intentional about the backpack giveaway, even asking her whether the kids receiving the bags would prefer certain designs over others.

"[She] is a modest person with so much generosity that it would be a shame to have not crossed paths with her, " Bouchereau said. "It was Christmas for those kids and Christmas in our hearts."

A girl sits on a pile of backpacks.
Phoenix Jones sits atop the 115 school bags collected as part of the Phoenix Project. (Submitted by Sharon Pilgrim)

For Phoenix, sending essential supplies to kids in need is an obvious way to help others.

"It's a good feeling to help people," Phoenix said. "We have things that they don't, so we should give some of them."

Pilgrim says she hopes the Phoenix Project will motivate more children to leave their own legacy of kindness and reach their full potential.

"It's like a ripple effect," Pilgrim said. "I'm just providing a vehicle for them to do it."

The Black Changemakers is a special series recognizing individuals who, regardless of background or industry, are driven to create a positive impact in their community. From tackling problems to showing small gestures of kindness on a daily basis, these changemakers are making a difference and inspiring others. Meet all the changemakers here.

A banner of upturned fists, with the words 'Being Black in Canada'.

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.


Holly Cabrera


Holly Cabrera is a journalist with CBC in Montreal. Reach her by email at