Montreal·Black Changemakers

How a Black Quebec City woman is helping others be 'unapologetic'

Michelle Osbourne said when she first moved to Quebec City, she did what she could to fit in, but always felt like people saw her as an outsider. That’s why she created spaces for people like her to feel like they belong.

Michelle Osbourne moved to Quebec City to create spaces where women of colour could feel they belong

Michelle Osbourne started Project Femme Noire, a photo series highlighting Black women, last year. She is in the process of turning the project into a non-profit. (Cagdas Yoldas)

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.

When Michelle Osbourne moved to Quebec City from Toronto six years ago, she knew she was reinventing her life. But she didn't entirely realize to what extent.

It was "impossible" to find someone to speak to her in English, she said. She also expected the city to be more multicultural. As a Black woman who didn't speak French, she felt like she was living in a different world.

But there have been positives too. Her daughter was born in the city. She learned to speak French. And through her work she now considers herself to be a champion for diversity, inclusion and equity.

"I can't be silent. I'm a Black, queer, Anglophone woman living in Quebec City. Just my being is political," she said.

Osbourne discovered that not much was planned in her adopted city for Black History Month, so last year she started Project Femme Noire, a photo series featuring Black women. She is now in the process of turning the project into a full-fledged non-profit, which she plans to use as a platform for women of colour to network, learn, and talk about issues they're dealing with.

She also launched a boutique communications firm, Michelle Osbourne and Co., which builds socially conscious brands for women in marginalized communities.

Her clients are typically people who have a message "that goes against the grain," she said. Given that, she encourages them to take pride in their lived experiences — which she calls their superpowers — and use them to connect with others.

Osbourne said when she first moved she did what she could to fit in, but always felt like people saw her as an outsider. That's why she decided to create spaces where people like her feel they belong.

"I just want women here to be unapologetic about who they are and let people see their value and their worth, show them that they're not just an immigrant from so-and-so that's taking up space," she said.

She says her father, who passed away a few years ago, taught her there is value in community building. She uses what she learned from him as a blueprint to guide what she is doing now.

But building a community doesn't come without struggles. When she walks with her four-year-old daughter, who is biracial, she is sometimes asked whether the child is hers. She feels like people of colour are too often overlooked and undervalued.

Osbourne has a poster in her office featuring verses from Maya Angelou's poem And Still I Rise. Those words cross her mind, she said, when she starts feeling beaten down.

She said she is particularly inspired by women like Michelle Obama and Oprah, Black women who are confident, resilient. Women who came from humble beginnings and encourage others to be themselves.

And so that is what she tries to do, despite sometimes feeling like she, too, doesn't belong. She said her motivation is to make a difference so her daughter and other young women of colour in Quebec don't feel like they are constantly fighting to be heard.

"I would just like people here to see that there's value in other cultures and other races," she said. "If we're all the same, how boring would life be?"

    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. Read more stories here.

    Written by Kamila Hinkson, with files from Rowan Kennedy