How this McGill professor is challenging systemic racism, one institution at a time
Myrna Lashley has worked with governments, police forces and community organizations for more than 30 years
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.
Myrna Lashley began her psychology career working primarily with clients, helping them with their mental health problems.
But while working for an employee assistance program, she started to realize that when it came to racism, if she wasn't trying to change the system, she wasn't fully helping.
"I was only patching them up, patching up wounded people and sending them back out, and I felt horrible about that," she said.
Lashley says one way to effect change is to get the attention of the people who create policies. And so, for more than 30 years, she has been working at the community level to address racism while also trying to change the systems that perpetuate harmful practices.
She holds a doctorate in counselling psychology, is an assistant professor in McGill University's psychiatry department and does consulting work on issues of equity and inclusivity for all levels of government.
She used to teach at John Abbott College, where she became co-chair of the police technology department and served as an associate academic dean. She has also done research on police matters, served on a Montreal police racial profiling committee, and was vice-chair of the board for the École Nationale de Police du Québec.
She has also been a member of the Center for Research-Action on Race Relations since it opened in the 1980s.
She said people who don't want to believe systemic racism exists don't understand that it comes from colonialism, that it is something that's been inherited.
"The question is, do we allow that to continue our relationship? Do we allow that to influence our relationship or do we work together to change it?" she said.
"We can't do anything about what we inherited, but we can do a lot about what we live."
Lashley said when she first started doing this work, she was angry about the racism she saw and the racism she experienced herself. She was angry at the fact that she was the first — the first Black teacher someone had had, or the first Black chair member for an organization — and at the loneliness that comes with that distinction.
That anger, she said, has evolved into sadness. She is sad that she is still fighting for people to recognize that systemic racism exists, sad that people are still making racist and discriminatory "jokes."
"I think to myself, oh my gosh, you know, are my nieces and nephews, are they going to have to continue with this nonsense? It's enough already. But, you know, you keep trying, you keep hoping, you keep pushing. That's what you do."
But, she said, these days, she is noticing that there is a hunger for change. Corporations are changing, police forces are changing, federal ministers and their chiefs of staff are now attending her workshops instead of sending low-level employees.
She said things aren't where she would like them to be, and she isn't sure they will ever get there. But she is optimistic.
"Whenever I reach a point where I think, 'This is, this is disheartening,' I sit back and I say, 'Where have I been? Where did I start?' And then I can see there has been change. There's been a lot of change."
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.
Written by Kamila HInkson, with files from Maya Lach-Aidelbaum