Montreal·Black Changemakers

Meet Suzanne Taffot, a lawyer and opera singer on a mission

Suzanne Taffot holds a master’s degree in opera singing. She studied law at the same time. She just opened Heritt avocats, a firm of seven Black lawyers who practise immigration law, civil law, family law, and business law.

She opened an all-Black law firm and is an opera singer

Suzanne Taffot says one of her motivations for doing what she does is her children. She want them to know they can be anything they want. (Kevin Calixte)

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.

Suzanne Taffot says she would be happy if a day could have just a few more hours in it.

Her yearning for a 34- to 48-hour day makes sense when you consider she runs a law firm and is also an opera singer. Alas, like the rest of us, she must contend with only 24 hours. So, she's had to figure out how to get everything done.

"You have to be 100 per cent committed to what you're doing and having a team, because without my team, I [wouldn't] be able to do both," she said.

Taffot holds a master's degree in opera singing. She studied law at the same time. She just opened Heritt avocats, a firm of seven Black lawyers and interns who practise immigration law, civil law, family law, and business law.

Heritt is an acronym, she explains. It stands for heritage, equity, resilience, integrity, transparency and tenacity.

Those words represent the characteristics she values in her heroes, who include Michelle Obama. They remind her of her mother, who raised her as a single mother in Cameroon, and her female ancestors, from whom she believes she inherited the fight in her.

And they represent the legacy she wants to pass down to her two sons, who are 16 and nine months old. The baby was born right around the same time George Floyd, a Black man, was murdered while in police custody in Minneapolis.

"I remember saying I have a mission because I don't want my son, I don't want my two sons, to face the same discrimination. I want them to feel safe enough. I want them to feel good enough, to feel proud enough to live in a society where they know that they can be anything, achieve anything."

Taffot said she prides herself on taking the time to really listen to her clients, some of whom are refugees or people who are in Canada illegally, making them feel heard and giving them a second chance.

She wants to provide internships and training opportunities, knowing how hard she had to work to convince a law firm to give her a shot.

She also wants to combat the idea, which she says exists in Black communities, that white lawyers are inherently better.

Taffot is a lyric soprano and has been singing since she was 26 years old. She says her singing career helps her feel balanced.

Suzanne Taffot performs Vocalise

CBC News Montreal

3 months ago
Suzanne Taffot's performance of Vocalise by composer Rachmaninoff, under the baton of Yannick Nezet-Seguin with the Orchestre Métropolitain. (Orchestre Métropolitain) 2:53

The challenge, she said, is to find directors who concentrate on the voice, and not the picture of the character they create in their mind.

"Take a character like, for instance, Mimi in La bohème by Puccini. People who are very much used to opera can picture a Mimi, which is a white young lady, singing. So sometimes it can be hard because I feel like the director has to go beyond race."

There aren't many Black women who sing opera and as with her law career, she feels it's her mission to make sure there is representation in the arts more broadly, and opera specifically.

"We have to let other people know that we exist, that it's possible that a black young woman can sing opera even if it's not part of our culture."

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