Intercultural Cafe

On March 12, 2019, just days before yet another round of violence in our world, a bit of peace happened at York University. It happened because people of four different faith groups decided that unfamiliarity and separation can lead to fear and further isolation. This gathering of people believed there had to be a better way.

So on a cold but sunny late afternoon, folks with different belief systems and different cultural experiences gathered at the et. al. Cafe at York University.  The evening was planned by the Intercultural Dialogue Institute, Hillel at York, Hindu Students at York, and Logos Christian Community. It started with plenty of food and opportunity for conversation. There was a little mingling of the groups, but people tended to stay with people they knew.

The program for the evening had each group presenting some music that was representative, in some way, of their culture. Windows of understanding were slowly being opened.  People were encouraged to continue eating and drinking coffee and tea. The atmosphere was relaxed and inviting.

Then came the time for discussion, each person present was invited to a table with people they did not know. Fear may have gripped a few at that moment, but organizers quickly helped people find a spot and get to know some new friends. There were envelopes with questions on the tables to spark discussion and that spark was all that was needed. Soon everyone was engaged in free flowing conversation.

Some of the questions were simple. They helped everyone understand each other better. People were surprised by the similarities and respectful of the differences. Participants were also allowed to ask difficult questions; things that they may have wondered but never had the opportunity to ask. There was laughter; there was appreciation; there was understanding. Peace happened.

In the end, there was an acknowledgement that all of us could very well have been in this cafe on this day or any other day, and we would never have said a word to each other.  There was a recognition that we inhabit the same spaces at York on a regular basis. But we also were aware of the fact that for the most part we stay separate. It took initiative to get to the cafe. Desire to experience something different was needed.

Participants were glad that they came. Instead of the fear and isolation that grips much of the world, people experienced peace and friendship. In fact, they had to be encouraged to leave, so the cafe could close. There was agreement that this kind of thing takes effort, but it seemed that the effort was well worth the time and energy.

Importance of “coffee-shop” like spaces in our community

Growing up in the Jane-Finch community I rarely saw communal spaces to work or hang out in. Usually any sort of meet-up or school work I wanted to do outside my home had to be done at the library or at the local Tim Hortons. Neither of these spaces felt like they served the purpose that many coffeeshops in other Toronto neighbourhoods served their community.

Recently I stumbled across a place at the Jane-Finch Plaza – a bubble tea shop called Noon Moment that offers an extensive tea menu and free Wi-Fi. The space is beautiful and welcoming – offering board games, a loyalty program, and a free drink on your birthday.

When I asked the owner, Don, what inspired him to open Noon Moment, he simply said he wanted to give his community this kind of space. Originally from Vietnam, he noticed the growing Vietnamese community in the area. Don then decided to open a small shop that would offer a popular product but would also serve as a space where people in the community could study, work, and socialize.

And it seems to be doing just that! When I walked into Noon Moment I noticed many people with their laptops working away and hanging out while enjoying delicious bubble tea.

A local entrepreneur, Jenn Myky, explains that this sort of space is valuable to our community. Jenn is an art teacher who offers paint-night classes for groups and is one of the founders of Femme Theory, a beauty and self-care business she started with other young women from the area. She recommends the Iced lemon Green Tea with Aloe Vera.

“It gives me the ability to take my business wherever I need. Noon Moment not only provides a variety of drinks but it’s also a calm and comfortable space for work. I find that seating is a big factor when it comes to finding the right place but also lighting and plugs for a long work session,” shares Jenn.

“I would definitely rather support a local business over a Starbucks or Tim Hortons,” Jenn explains and emphasises the need for spaces like this because community members enjoy what this space offers.

It must be noted the neighbouring Tim Hortons at the Jane-Finch Mall is not very welcoming. There are no plugs to charge phones or laptops, does not have the comfortable seating that some other franchises have, and generally the number of seats are limited. In many ways it discourages us to stay, hang out, and do work in its space for any long period of time with friends.

City life and student life can be stressful and isolating. It is easy to become disconnected from our surroundings and spaces like these serve as hubs for our communities to engage and connect.

However, I am not advocating for gentrification – but our community should have more public spaces for us to hang out in.

Our community is wonderful but far too often the Jane-Finch community is misrepresented and this deters investment from even our own community members. We need locally owned businesses like Noon Moment  – spaces that are for us and by us.  Our community should be given the opportunity to open and create spaces for ourselves without the fear of being displaced.

Noon Moment is located at 1993 Finch Ave W they are opened every day from 10 AM – 10 PM.

 

Black mothers: our community, our strength

This Black History month let’s take a moment to celebrate the incredible women behind the scenes – Black mothers.

I owe an incredible lot to the sacrifices made by my own mother, Sheryl Brady, who passed away far too soon after her battle with lung cancer. She was a Black mother with an incredible vision and passion for me to succeed and she carried this out while facing her own battles day to day.

Black children and youth have historically and, in cases now, currently are not expected to thrive and do well in our education system, and many scholars have and continue to work to address this (Dr. George Dei, UofT; Dr. Njoki Wane, UofT; Dr. Carl James, York; Dr. Erica Lawson, Western; Dr. Alana Butler, Queens). The advocacy work to address systemic barriers is often taken on by Black mothers, like my own.

My mother took it upon herself to ensure that I would have the same educational opportunities and pathways as other students, but this created extra work for her, to not only raise me, but to continuously fight to ensure I was treated fairly. Without her effort, I would not have continued my education past high-school and onto the post-secondary and graduate levels.

My story, though, is not unique. Instead, it is the story of many Black and newcomer students, where our mothers muster up the courage to correct a broken system. Importantly, my mother did not only advocate for me, but also for other children and youth and members of our community. Historically, Black mothers have often come together to address injustices through a community approach.

In fact, Black women do not need to be biological mothers in order to take on care of members of their community, this is known as ‘other-mothering’ or ‘community parenting’ stemming from African values where it “takes a village”. We see this today in the community programs, after school activities, advocacy groups, breakfast programs and other initiatives developed to create greater access of Black and racialized youth.

There are countless Black mothers – far too many to name who take on this important work right here in our community. Moving forward, as we celebrate Black History Month, take a moment to acknowledge a Black mother or community parent that you know who is fighting for a better and more equitable future for generations to come.

I dedicate this article to my mother, Sheryl Brady (August 7, 1970 – May 2, 2015)