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PHOTO: Travis Ross; DESIGN: ANDREW MCMANUS/CBC

A Summer of Protest

Photos from a year of unprecedented action against anti-Black racism and police brutality

Four organizers from the Prairie provinces reflect on the world they’re fighting for.

By Melissa Fundira

A Summer of Protest

Photos from a year of unprecedented action against anti-Black racism and police brutality

Four organizers from the Prairie provinces reflect on the world they’re fighting for.

By Melissa Fundira

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The realities of anti-Blackness on the Prairies became hypervisible in the summer of 2020.

Massive protests catalyzed by the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis swept across Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Alberta, bringing renewed attention to the many Black and Indigenous victims of police violence in Canada.

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The YYC Justice for All Victims of Police Brutality protest on June 3, 2020, began in Calgary’s Kensington area. The march then moved through downtown toward city hall. (Leah Hennel for CBC News)

Tens of thousands of people gathered in unexpected places across a region where Black life is often seen as alien or new. These unprecedented gatherings reflected the deeper and longer-lasting truths that Black people are very much part of the Prairies and that anti-Black violence doesn’t only exist south of the border.

Behind these acts of resistance were countless organizers. They spoke at rallies, planned community conversations, learned, mentored, held space for grief and healing, designed social campaigns and carved out individual roles in the larger fight for Black liberation.

We spoke with four organizers across three generations and three provinces.

These conversations have been edited for length and clarity.

Saskatchewan protest
Hundreds of people participate in a Black Lives Matter demonstration in front of Saskatchewan’s Legislative Building in Regina on June 2, 2020. (Mark Taylor/The Canadian Press)

PAULA COLLINS

Saskatoon, Saskatchewan​

Paula Collins was born in 1963 in Jim Crow-era Mississippi. She spent her early years in Kentucky, but her first memories of being discriminated against come from when her family moved to Saskatoon, which she shares in the clip below.

Collins has since become accustomed to breaking new ground. She’s the only Black owner of a modelling, talent agency and training centre that she knows of in Canada. In 2016, she organized the first Black Lives Matter protest in Saskatchewan.

Four years later, she has made it her mission to mentor young organizers striving to end racism, just like Collins’s parents did for her.

Demonstration in Regina
Participants at a Black Lives Matter rally hold signs outside the Saskatchewan Legislature Building in Regina. (Bryan Eneas/CBC)

Melissa Fundira: You spoke at a rally organized by Black Lives Matter YXE. What was your message?

Paula Collins: I had already planned to do a poem by Maya Angelou, Phenomenal Woman. That’s all I was going to do.

But when I got up on the podium, something came within me to send a message to the young people and to the people in general, [to] give hope and uplift them and show them that they’re amazing, and beautiful, and special, and talented, and smart.

Chalk drawing of George Floyd

Zoe Stradeski drew this piece outside the Saskatchewan Legislature in advance of the solidarity rally there. (Judy Stradeski/Facebook)

 Demonstrators protest police violence

Hundreds of people marched through Saskatoon’s downtown core before taking a knee and holding a period of silence in memory of George Floyd on June 4, 2020. (Chanss Lagaden/CBC)

Protesters mobilized across Saskatchewan in the aftermath of the police killing of George Floyd.

MF: What motivates you to keep speaking out and resisting in the ways that you do despite the backlash?

PC: I’m not afraid of backlash. I’m not afraid of negative comments. I’m not afraid of people who don’t want to hear or have knowledge and be educated. I’ve never been fearful of that.

I have always been proud of who I am, where I’ve come from and where I’m going. Somebody’s got to take the lead. With that leadership comes some backlash.

It’s not just for Black people. There’s Indigenous people. There’s Jewish people. There’s Hispanic people. There’s Asian people. They have marched and they have fought and they have not always received support. This is nothing new, we’ve been fighting all our lives.

I’m going to keep on keeping on until I take my last breath.

Protestors hold up signs at protest

This Saskatoon march was organized by resident Braydon Page on June 4, 2020, after the death of George Floyd. (Chanss Lagaden/CBC)

Protestors march with signs

Participants in a Black Lives Matter demonstration hold signs in front of Saskatchewan’s Legislative Building in Regina. (Mark Taylor/The Canadian Press)

One Black Lives Matter protest in Saskatoon drew more than 4,000 protesters in June 2020.

MF: What kind of world are you fighting for?

PC: I’m always conscious of security people watching us. To this day, in 2021, that’s what I do.

I don’t want to be doing that anymore. I don’t want my people to feel that they have to watch over their shoulder every time, I don’t want to be that targeted person. I want to just walk out and just smell the fresh air and the roses and say, yeah, I’m looking forward to a good day.

“I’m going to keep on keeping on until I take my last breath.”

Paula Collins

Hundreds of people take a knee during a Black Lives Matter demonstration in front of Saskatchewan’s Legislative Building in Regina. (Mark Taylor/The Canadian Press)

Nampande Londe
Nampande Londe, right, founder of #ithappensinwinnipeg, embraces #CMHRStopLying member Thiané Diop at a protest in Winnipeg on June 28, 2020. (Travis Ross)

NAMPANDE LONDE

Winnipeg, Manitoba​

When the Black Lives Matter movement surged in 2014, Nampande Londe was a university student in Montreal diving into the world of community organizing. By the time she returned to Winnipeg two years later, she was already burnt out from the constant trauma of processing Black death at the hands of police and other institutions.

At 29, Londe has found herself re-energized by the work of activists a decade younger, like the organizers behind Justice 4 Black Lives Winnipeg. Londe went on to create #ithappensinwinnipeg, a space across social media platforms for Black Winnipegers to share their experiences with anti-Black violence.

This time around, her organizing makes Black healing a priority.

Justice 4 Black Lives protest in Winnipeg
Between 15,000 and 20,000 people marched in the Justice 4 Black Lives protest in Winnipeg on June 5, 2020. (John Woods/The Canadian Press)

Melissa Fundira: What’s important to you as an organizer?

Nampande Londe: I know there are a lot of people like me in this city who live in a lot of the same intersections that I do and who don’t feel like they can bring all of themselves to different spaces. It’s like, you go into one place and you gotta leave your queerness at the door. And then you go to another place and you gotta leave your Blackness at the door.

I really want for people to heal. I think that’s what was missing for me in the first round of organizing and with the birth of Black Lives Matter. The grief kept building up, building up, building up, but there was no space to process that. And I think I’ve learned how important it is for us to heal from all the traumas that we’ve been through because we’ve been through so much as a community. Immigration alone in the best of cases is traumatic, and most people don’t have the best of cases.

Winnipeg protestor on megaphone

Justice 4 Black Lives organizer Mahlet Cuff speaks at a protest in front of the Candian Museum of Human Rights. The group held pop-up rallies for eight days straight in June 2020. (Travis Ross)

Protestors march with signs

Protestors stand in front of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights on June 28, 2020. (Travis Ross)

Friends Kyra Kwiatkowski, left, and Ajabi Mathews at the Justice 4 Black Lives Winnipeg demonstration

Friends Kyra Kwiatkowski, left, and Ajabi Mathews at the Justice 4 Black Lives Winnipeg demonstration. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

Protestor with BLM message on his PPE mask

An attendee at a Justice 4 Black Lives rally in Winnipeg wears a mask that reads ‘Black Lives Matter’ and ‘Indigenous Lives Matter.’ (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

Justice 4 Black Lives Winnipeg, a group led by Black women and non-binary organizers, held pop-up rallies for eight days straight in June 2020.

MF: What does healing look like to you?

NL: For me, a lot of it is reconnecting with spirituality the way that I understand it. Also, ancestral wisdom, like the things that our grandmothers and great-grandmothers know about: herbs and meditation, and whatever by the other names that the white people haven’t discovered yet.

It’s things like therapy. It’s about learning to have difficult conversations, learning to self-regulate and manage my own emotions so that I can be present for other people, trying to model those behaviours for other people and make them more accessible to everyone.

In our healing events over the summer, we were very intentional about making sure there was a Black therapist, because we want people to know that there are people out there who look like them who’ve had the same experiences who they can talk to.

There’s a mental health crisis in our community. I personally have struggled with addiction and with mental health issues. It’s like all of the Black girls that I grew up with have either been to rehab or the psych ward or both — or maybe should have been to one or both.

The same way we’re saying it’s unacceptable that Black people are being shot by the police, to me, it’s unacceptable that Black women are going through this kind of mental health epidemic, because we lose people that way, too.

We’ve suffered suicides in our community from people who everyone said was fine. “Oh, she’s a lawyer, she’s good,” and now she’s gone.

Protestors in a Winnipeg park

Steinbach, Man., a city of about 16,000 people, held its own Black Lives Matter rally on June 8, 2020. (Nathan Dyck)

Protestors in Winnipeg Park

Hundreds marched to K.R. Barkman Park in Steinbach, Man. (Nathan Dyck)

Protestors in Winnipeg Park

Protestors at a Black Lives Matter rally in Steinbach, Man. (Nathan Dyck)

Protestors in a Winnipeg park

A child holds a sign that reads ‘Am I Next?’ at a Black Lives Matter rally in Steinbach, Man. (Nathan Dyck)

Cities as small as Steinbach, Man., which has a population of fewer than 16,000 people, held Black Lives Matter protests.

MF: What kind of world are you fighting for and how hopeful are you that that world will exist one day?

NL: We have the archetypes, the martyrs, the people who lay their lives on the line, who just struggle through and who — if they emerge at the end — emerge battered and bruised. I would love to envision a world where we’re not creating trauma in children that we have to undo.

I don’t believe that suffering is necessary. Capitalism will tell you this over and over and over again. That’s just not true.

I think there are the people who are working to change things in a positive way and there are the people who are working to keep things the same. So I think it’s going to be a tough ride to see a lot of the changes that we want to see.

I think that’s why it’s so important to me to address things like trauma, to address things like grief, because we have to be able to move through those emotions. Every change comes with loss.

“I’ve learned how important it is for us to heal from all the traumas that we’ve been through.”

Nampande Londe

Londe, left, and #CMHRStopLying members Diop and Julie White address protesters at a Justice 4 Black Lives Winnipeg march on June 28, 2020. (Travis Ross)

A protestor wears a picture of George Floyd
A protester in Calgary shows a photograph of George Floyd, the 46-year-old Black man who died after a white police officer kneeled on his neck for more than eight minutes. (Leah Hennel for CBC News)

CINDERELLA FUBARA &
SULEIMAN NSHIMIYIMANA

Red Deer, Alberta​

Growing up in Red Deer, Cinderella Fubara and Suleiman Nshimiyimana were often each other’s only Black classmates. So they tried to blend in.

Now 19 years old, Cindy and Sel, as their friends call them, are part of Red Deer’s growing community of Black youth who aren’t afraid to speak out.

Cinderella Fubara

Cinderella (Cindy) Fubara and members of the Ubuntu Youth Council shoot videos ahead of Black History Month 2021. (Ubuntu - Mobilizing Central Alberta)

Suleiman Nshimiyimana

Suleiman (Sel) Nshimiyimana marches in a Black Lives Matter rally held in Lacombe, Alta., in June 2020. (Ubuntu - Mobilizing Central Alberta)

Cinderella ‘Cindy’ Fubara, left, and Suleiman ‘Sel’ Nshimiyimana, right, became active in the youth chapter of a Red Deer anti-racist organization in the summer of 2020.

The university students have been finding their voice through the youth chapter of the new anti-racist community organization Ubuntu - Mobilizing Central Alberta Opens new window. Among other events, Fubara organized a youth talk with the RCMP and Red Deer city officials. When the RCMP didn’t show and the city gave what felt like campaign-ready platitudes, Fubara used the resulting anger to recruit more members.

Nshimiyimana has taken the mic at rallies in Red Deer and nearby Lacombe, sharing his experiences with police surveillance and his desire to fight for a world that will spare his younger siblings the racism he experienced. He knows that some people may not expect a Black teenage boy to get involved in these protests. That’s precisely why he does it.

Melissa Fundira: When was the moment you decided that you wanted to organize against anti-Black racism?

Suleiman Nshimiyimana: When I saw what happened to George Floyd, it was very sad, but I [thought I] couldn’t do nothing anyway. I’m from Red Deer, it’s happening in America. What am I going to do?

Then they said there’s a protest [in Calgary]. We ended up going there and seeing all these different faces, different types of people with their signs. The stories I heard from different Black men, their experiences and how they were treated, just kind of made me think, even though what we’re doing is little, it is enough.

I saw ... this group of kids my age, just talking about their experiences and educating the people that don’t understand how it really feels to be Black or a minority. It moved me.

Protestors with signs

Thousands turned out in Calgary for multiple protests, including this YYC Justice for All Victims of Police Brutality protest against police violence and racism, in June 2020. (Leah Hennel for CBC News)

Calgary protest

Thousands of Calgarians crossed the 10th Street bridge in the YYC Justice for All Victims of Police Brutality protest. (Leah Hennel for CBC News)

Sign at Black Lives Matter protest

Two demonstrators hold their fists high at the YYC Justice for All Victims of Police Brutality protest. (Leah Hennel for CBC News)

Protestor

One of the demonstrators at the YYC Justice for All Victims of Police Brutality. (Leah Hennel for CBC News)

Black youth came out in droves to call out police brutality at a protest that drew as many as 2,000 people in Calgary in June 2020.

Melissa Fundira: How do you see your future as an organizer?

Cinderella Fubara: Just to know that I’m still helping youth amplify their voices, make them bigger, make them better, make people know that we are in central Alberta.

As much as you want to make it a farm country, we the people, we’re still here. No matter how conservative you want to be, we’re still here. You have to listen to us. Particularly the youth, because if you give them that passion before they enter adulthood, there is no way you can stop them once they’re adults.

So that would definitely be my goal, to just be that consultant or that helper for youth of colour who want to make a change.

Speaker addresses protest crowd

Edmonton teacher Andrew Parker speaks to a crowd at the Alberta Legislature on June 5, 2020. (Jordan Omstead/CBC)

Protest signs

Signs supporting Black and Indigenous lives at an anti-racism event in Lacombe, Alta., on Oct. 3, 2020. (Alicia Asquith/CBC)

Albertans showed their support for Black lives in many ways, from massive protests to neighbourhood signs.

MF: What motivates you to take action?

SN: It’s only because of my siblings. We are the next generation, and so are they, and if we understand it, or if we can teach the younger ones, then they will have way less problems to deal with than what we had to, and everybody will soon start to see each other as equals. That’s all we want.

CF: I’m not just organizing for the passion. I’m also organizing for those who will be coming in and to carry on that passion. You have to plan for the future.

I don’t think [the end is] going to be when I’m here. It’s going to be with whoever keeps carrying it on. So if I just get one person, like my sister, to keep it going, then I know that somebody else is going to come even more passionate than her, even more passionate than me.

“No matter how conservative you want to be, we’re still here. You have to listen to us.”

Cinderella Fubara

Nshimiyimana and other teenagers speak at Red Deer’s first International Youth Day event organized by Fubara and other members of the Ubuntu Youth Council. (Ubuntu - Mobilizing Central Alberta)

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BLACK ON THE PRAIRIES

A Summer OF Protest

Credits

Creators, Producers
Omayra Issa & Ify Chiwetelu

Associate Producer, Researcher, Audio Lead
Melissa Fundira

Associate Producer
Orinthia Babb

Designed by Andrew McManus

Developed by Dwight Friesen

Special Thanks
David Hutton
Lise Kouri
Heather Loughran
Natascia Lypny
Emily Mills
Sean Trembath
Karin Yeske

With support from CBC Calgary, CBC Edmonton, CBC Saskatoon, CBC Saskatchewan and CBC Manitoba