Michaëlle Jean Foundation Shares Expertise at first annual Black International Economic Forum

On November 28, 2015, over one-hundred business leaders, professionals and students convened for the first annual Black International Economic Forum: Accelerate the Creation of Black Wealth.

Held at the John Molson School of Business, the event provided participants with an opportunity to begin laying the foundation for a economic strategy for Montreal’s Black communities.

Peter Flegel

Credit: Chris Roussakis

Key speakers included St. Michel-based millionaire and philanthropist Frantz Saintellemy, Griffintown real estate guru Theirry Lindor, TVA media sensation, Dorothy Alexandre, and co-founder of Québec Inclusif, Emilie Nicholas.

The Michaëlle Jean Foundation was invited to contribute by delivering a presentation on the ways in which cultural industries drive economic growth.

The Foundation’s Director of Programs and Communications, Peter Flegel gave a 10-minute talk entitled
“The Power of the Arts in the Economic Development of Black Communities.”

“Economic development can be conceptualized in many ways. Some, for example, see development strictly through the prism of GDP figures, without taking into account the broader human dimension,” Flegel explained. “At the Michaëlle Jean Foundation, we embrace a more holistic outlook. We see effective economic development as requiring a cross-cutting, long-term approach that recognizes the inextricable link between the economy and social as well as environmental imperatives.”

Flegel went on to encourage participants to apply an “inclusive economic growth” lens to their deliberations. The perspective approaches economic development from the vantage point of equity, which entails a fairer distribution of wealth as well as employment and entrepreneurship opportunities that level the playing field. He surmised that the arts—and more specifically cultural industries—can play an important role in that regard.

“Every year, cultural industries contribute $53.4 billion to Canada’s GDP (3.4%) while representing 4.1% of all jobs in our economy. In Montreal, the arts are even more significant, because they contribute 6% to the city’s GDP, pumping over $12 billion into its economy each year,” Mr. Flegel pointed out. “The greater Montreal area is in fact a pole of attraction, since 69% of Quebec’s entire cultural workforce is employed in the city.”

Mr. Flegel concluded by encouraging event organizers to conduct market research, which could provide a snapshot of Black cultural businesses and entrepreneurs. This could then be used to connect community members with key organizations and companies in the cultural industries. He also pointed to projects funded by the Foundation to demonstrate how the arts can promote academic achievement, entrepreneurship, employment and mental health among vulnerable youth.

To learn more about the Michaëlle Jean Foundation’s programs, follow us here.

Young Artist Recounts the Transformative Impact of the 2015 National Forum

This weekend was definitely a marker in my artistic career, but returning home forced me to confront a harsh reality…???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

I was invited to partake in the 3-day long, astounding Power of the Arts National Forum, created by the Michaëlle Jean Foundation and Carleton University’s Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. And to say the least, every part of the experience was a source of inspiration.

I was able to meet with lot of “gatekeepers” and different people from the art world who care about artivism, social change and most importantly artists of different disciplines, backgrounds, careers, experiences and perspectives. I was invited to a prestigious cocktail party at an undisclosed and exclusive clubhouse-lodge type of place, and I got to meet some very wealthy folks.

I got to shake hands and give out business cards with people who, if I wasn’t a part of this conference, would have probably never considered giving me the time of day… I got to have great conversations with youth leaders and executive directors of grassroots and community organizations. They all shared great ideas around capacity building, leadership and the plight of the artistic community.

But after 72 hours of expensive wine and conversations, it was back to the 6ix [Toronto]!

Upon arriving back at Billy Bishop Airport and taking the ferry back to the mainland, I felt a sense of anxiety.

For the first time in a long time, I felt scared… Scared because I realized that I felt different, and I could feel the metamorphosis process beginning. I felt scared because I was unsure of where in that process I was at, because I’m damn sure I aint a flying butterfly yet. But then again, I wasn’t sure if that is what I am meant to become. I felt scared because I don’t know what to expect, and I wasn’t sure if I was ready for it.

For most of my life, I identified as being just a hoodlum – a thug – a drug dealer – the societal reject – a police target – the troubled student – the aggressive black kid with potential – another potential inmate for the prison or the cemetery. And for a long time, I carried that as dead weight. But for the first time, those identifiers felt like stepping stones – for the first time all of that felt like tangible tools.

So I realized – oddly enough – for the first time, I was sure of whom I was becoming.
So I was scared, because I felt blindly confident. I had a feeling of assurance in my heart that after all that refining and forging, I am ready to be gold. So I was scared because I realized that there was no going back.

That is not to say that I will forget where I’ve came from – because God knows my Mom is quick to tell people about her “baseball bat story” just to remind me how drastic her struggle with me, as a “terror from the public school era,” actually was. So I will always remember where and what I came from – to keep focus on where I need to go.

But for the first time what I (once) was, wasn’t as important as who I am, what I am doing and what I am becoming.

In Bruce Lee’s book “Striking Thoughts,” he says that “fear is not a sign of weakness but rather a sign of awareness.” From that I realized that it is one thing to be aware of something and it is another to be mindful of it. Which speaks to another quote from Bruce Lee that says “Fear comes from uncertainty; we can eliminate the fear within us, when we know ourselves better.”

So I think that my anxiety came from the shock that I that was no longer just being aware of change; now that I am mind-full of it, I am finally able to recognize “who I be”.

With all that said, I am looking forward to all the artistic things that’s gonna start happening (in the 6ix & in this country), because I saw so many people leave that conference this weekend more fearless and more mind-full of their individual artistic venture and initiatives than when they arrived… myself included.

Quentin Babatundé VerCetty, one of the artists featured in the Scratch & Mix Project: Empowering Black Youth through the Arts. 

The Foundation Keynotes at the Fresh Voices Award Gala in Vancouver

On October 2, 2015, over two-hundred refugee, immigrant and migrant youth, business leaders, elected officials, policymakers, artists and community leaders, gathered at the prestigious Terminal City Club in Vancouver for the inaugural 2015 Fresh Voices Awards Dinner.

Convened by the Vancouver Foundation, in partnership with the

Sajedeh Zaki Credit: Vancouver Foundation

Sajedeh Zaki
Credit: Vancouver Foundation

Multilingual Orientation Service Association for Immigrant Communities (MOSAIC), the event celebrated the contributions of inspiring young

immigrant and refugee leaders. The awards dinner was also part of the reception and launch of the two-day Youth Action Gathering (YAG), organized in partnership with the Canadian Council for Refugees (CCR). YAG brings together 150 immigrant and

Ruth Mesegna

Ruth Mesegna. Credit: Vancouver Foundation

refugee youth from across Canada to discuss and explore policy and systems change for newcomer communities.

The event offered the Michaëlle Jean Foundation an opportunity to announce, jointly with the Vancouver Foundation and TELUS, the winners of its 2015 National Fresh Voices Artivism Awards. The awards honour refugee, migrant and immigrant youth, who have used the arts and/or cultural engagement to tackle issues of concern to their communities. Each winner receives a $1,000 bursary to help them enhance their ability to improve quality of life within newcomer communities through the arts.

The highlight of the soirée was the keynote speech delivered by the Michaëlle Jean Foundation’s Director of Programs and Communications,  Peter Flegel. Flegel began by addressing the audience in French, pointing out that it is one of Canada’s official languages. He then acknowledged and paid respect  to the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations, upon whose unceded territory he stood.

He then congratulated all the Fresh Voices award recipients by saying, “Through your achievements, you are shattering the myth—far too popular these days—that immigrant, refugee, and migrant youth are either burdens on our society or simply passive recipients of Canada’s benevolence.” “Quite the contrary,” Flegel exclaimed. “You are doers.

Peter Flegel

Peter Flegel. Credit: Vancouver Foundation

You are movers and shakers. You are helping to build  the Canada of today and tomorrow. As a nation, we all owe you our gratitude.”

The Director of Programs and Communications then spoke passionately about his own life, growing up as a racialized minority, immigrant and queer youth in Montreal. He discussed how the arts, his family, community and faith-based organizations as well as his public school, were instrumental in nurturing his potential, enabling him to overcome challenges and transforming him into a young leader. He described how the Michaëlle Jean Foundation was allowing him to use his love of the arts, community activism, and human rights,  to help underserved youth to transform lives and revitalize communities across Canada.

Flegel concluded by addressing youth in the audience, “Please believe in yourselves. Please know that no matter who you are, you can affect change. Please take advantage of the support offered by organizations like the Vancouver Foundation, MOSAIC and the Canadian Council for Refugees. They can give you the skills, the capacity and the contacts hat can enable you to fulfill your highest aspirations.”

Elissa Abboud Credit: Vancouver Foundation

Elissa Abboud
Credit: Vancouver Foundation

Audience feedback was substantial. Michelle Owusu-Ansah, a young immigrant from Ghana, exclaimed, for example, “I was really inspired by your life story and now I have collaborated with a very good friend of mine to start an initiative called Inspiring Canada which will inspire ideas, build capacity and sustainable development for youth.”

The Michaëlle Jean Foundation looks forward to continue collaborating with the Vancouver Foundation and organizations serving refugee, immigrant and migrant youth across British Colombia, to empower newcomer youth use the arts to improve their lives and communities.

You can meet Peter Flegel and Foundation bursary recipients at the upcoming Power of the Arts National Forum, taking place in Ottawa, between Nov. 6 and 8, 2015. To register, please visit this place.

Recipients of the 2015 National Fresh Voices Artivism Award

The Michaëlle Jean Foundation, the Vancouver Foundation and TELUS have announced the first recipients of the 2015 National Fresh Voices Artivism Award.

The awards seek to celebrate talented young refugees, migrants and immigrants, aged 14 to 24, who have used the arts and/or cultural engagement to address issues of concern in their communities. With $1,000 award bursaries, the winners have an opportunity to further develop their capacity to use a variety of artistic mediums to improve the quality of life within newcomer communities.

The award is the outcome of a partnership between the Michaëlle Jean Foundation, the Vancouver Foundation and TELUS. The jury selected three young changemakers in recognition of their commitment, determination and innovative initiatives. To see the 2015 recipients.