Montreal·Black Changemakers

How this volunteer from Montreal's West Island is continuing a legacy of giving back

Joan Lee, who mentors children and is involved with the West Island Black Community Association, says she is inspired by women like her grandmother and community leaders in Montreal who were dedicated to helping others.

Joan Lee mentors children and is involved with the West Island Black Community Association

Joan Lee says she is inspired by women like her grandmother and community leaders in Montreal who were dedicated to helping others. (Rachelle & Chantay Rose)

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.

One of the first things Joan Lee's mother sent her after moving to Canada was a World Book Encyclopedia set.

Lee was living with her grandmother in Jamaica at the time, and they were the only people in her neighbourhood who had copies of the encyclopedia.

"It was like having a library right in your living room," Lee said.

Her grandmother, whom she called Mama, had an open-door policy when it came to the books — all of the kids in the area were allowed to drop by and use them to look something up, back in the days before Google.'

"She was my mentor," Lee said of her mama.

"She taught us ... to give back to your community and just to be a good person."

Those lessons have stayed with her. Lee sits on the board of directors and volunteers as the treasurer and scholarship co-ordinator at the West Island Black Community Association (WIBCA), where she organizes town hall meetings, programs for seniors and youth and fundraising events, among other things.

She is also a mentor with Big Brothers Big Sisters of West Island, and she received a certificate of appreciation in December from West Island Community Shares for her work helping the community during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lee came to Canada when she was seven years old and has been living in the West Island for 25 years. She works at a company that manufactures nuclear and industrial valves and parts.

She got involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters after the group gave a presentation to representatives at WIBCA. She was so impressed that she volunteered to be a mentor and says it's one of the best things she's ever done.

So far, Lee has mentored two children and always requests that they are young girls of colour, because she feels as though she can connect with them and give them more insight. Mentoring in a pandemic was a bit awkward at first, but she and her current mentee have adjusted. They do such activities as playing checkers and baking cupcakes over video chat.

The experience has been amazing, and the parents and children are so thankful and appreciative, Lee said.

"I know a lot of people think on the West Island you don't need mentors and everybody is well off, but it's not so."

Lee said she draws inspiration from the women who came before her — her grandmother; Norma Husbands and Margaret Jolly, who founded WIBCA in 1982; and Eileen White, another dedicated community worker.

"These phenomenal ladies, they laid the foundation and started the legacy. And it's up to us, the next generation, to continue that legacy."

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.

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