Coloured Women's Club of Montreal still helping youth thrive after 115 years

Daybreak's Shari Okeke speaks with one of the youngest members of the Coloured Women's Club of Montreal and a soon-to-be lawyer who was awarded two of the club's scholarships.

The club, founded in 1902, now focuses on awarding scholarships, mentoring the next generation

Naomie Philip, 34, proudly displays the Coloured Women's Club cookbook she helped design. She says as a member, she's picked up skills that helped her land a promotion at work. (Shari Okeke/CBC)

The Coloured Women's Club of Montreal was founded by seven American women in 1902. Their husbands were working as train porters. At the time, the women were not welcome in other social clubs because they were black, so they created a club of their own.

Their mission has always been finding ways to help the community. In recent years they've been focused on education, offering scholarships to youth. 

For Daybreak's special live broadcast from Old Montreal, marking the city's 375th anniversary, Shari Okeke sat down with Naomie Philip, one of the youngest members of the Coloured Women's Club of Montreal, to find out what this historical club means to the next generation.

How has the Coloured Women's Club helped you?

They've pushed me outside of my comfort zone. Shirley Gyles, the president of the club, has given me the courage to step out of my shell.

One of the biggest things that I did was the presentation at the Otis Grant tribute event last October. Public speaking was not my thing, so I was nervous, my knees were knocking, but she told me, 'You could do it' — and I did. 

How has it helped your career?

Now, knowing I can accomplish so much more, I stepped out of my comfort zone to pursue higher goals within the company. I actually recently got a position that I applied for. I'm really, really excited to start.

What do you want people to know about the club?

We've come a long way in terms of helping in the community. We're more focused on giving out scholarships to university or college students.

I wish I had known about it when I was in school. I didn't unfortunately, but for sure, for the younger generation it's a huge help.

The recipients are so grateful. Just to be able to help someone fulfill their dreams is already fulfillment enough for me, personally.

Scholarship winner

Shari Okeke also spoke to Moses Gashirabake, a soon-to-be lawyer who was awarded two of the club's scholarships.

The Coloured Women's Club of Montreal awarded Moses Gashirabake two scholarships while he studied law at McGill. He now works at a law firm and intends to help the club support other youth achieve their educational and professional goals. (Shari Okeke/CBC)

What does the Coloured Women's Club mean to you?

I received two scholarships from the Coloured Women's Club when I was a law student at McGill.
The scholarships went a long way toward helping me focus on school, as opposed to having to go look for a job.

I met so many inspiring people, such as Judge Veronica Johnson, many lawyers within the Montreal community that became my mentors.

They would invite me to different events and activities in the community. For example, the West Island Black Community Association, which has dynamic youth: we would discuss how we could leverage on the opportunities that we have to be educated, to advance in our professions.

How helpful were the scholarships?

The two scholarships were $1,500 each, so that's quite a lot. That's absolutely amazing.

The value for me was not even monetary, but the attachment to an organization that supports women, supports youth within the black community in Montreal and that has a membership that recognizes very interesting members of the community.

When I received the two scholarships, the club was honouring Trevor Payne, who is quite an influential person within the Montreal community. So for me, it also became a learning opportunity, connecting with very interesting Montrealers, learning from them and appreciating the contributions they have made to society.

Now you're graduating, will you stay connected to the club?

I will definitely maintain a very close connection to the Coloured Women's Club. In fact, its president, Shirley Gyles, will be coming to my graduation, which is amazing.

I share with them my successes, my challenges, and I'm hoping to be a donor to the club one day and support many other young people who have talents and need mentors.

My success is definitely attached to the Coloured Women's Club of Montreal.

Sherley Joseph and Tanisha Collins sponsored a table at the Coloured Women's Club Spring Rose Tea event and plan to offer more support. 'These are women that are making a difference,' Collins said. (Submitted by Tanisha Collins )


Shari Okeke is writer/broadcaster for Daybreak on CBC Radio, and creator of Mic Drop, an award-winning CBC original podcast.