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Going West: a podcaster and photographer get serious about telling Black Canadian stories

Updated: Feb 7

It’s hard to believe that this road trip started just 3 weeks ago. In that time we’ve covered the better part of four Canadian provinces. That’s right, not those small provinces that you find in countries that you can cross in two to three hours—but those massive western Canadian provinces that are dotted with more geography than a pimply faced teenager.

It all started with a poem entitled, I Am Black History, written by my partner, Donna Paris.

In it, she highlights happenings in her and her family’s life that gives the reader a good sense of what it can be (and has been) like to live the life of a Black Canadian. In the five years since then, she has started a podcast by the same name, in which she interviews Black Canadians to provide all who tune in with new insights into fascinating stories of facing obstacles and the resilience of those who face them.

We decided to collaborate on the project in the summer of 2019. Our journey began by travelling to the east coast to interview and photograph several people that had been recommended to us. Gradually, we obtained more names through various connections. What most of the subjects shared was the fact that they were telling their stories for the first time. With each additional subject it became apparent that these were important stories that needed to be shared. Then the pandemic hit forcing things to a halt.

Our first opportunity to share the stories in an exhibition setting came in 2020 when the Cambridge Art Gallery mounted an online group show known as Missing Pages. It was well received. Yet we knew that it was just scratching the surface and that it was missing participants from a part of the country not usually associated with a Black presence: the prairies and British Columbia. It turned out to be almost two years later that we were able to hit the road again. Thankfully, the Art Gallery of Alberta, had agreed to provide us with a space to mount an installation that is the first “in person” representation of our work. A big thank you to the Art Gallery of Alberta for their work to get the installation up and running.

The installation is helping to propel us forward to more exciting challenges and a desire to share the work with a wider audience. So far my little hybrid vehicle has taken us up to Thunder Bay, Winnipeg, Regina, and Edmonton. The next stops are Kamloops and Calgary. Then we get to do it all again. We are forever grateful for all the participants who have shared their stories with us and the family(mostly Donna’s) and friends who have shown us hospitality and kindness along the way.

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