COLLETTE MURRAY - ROLE MODEL & AMBASSADOR
Aspiring Researcher, Higher Education Coordinator & Dancer/Instructor
Officially Inducted into the “National Wall of Role Models” on June 7, 2014 ( See full list www.BlackCanadianAwards.com )
Tell us a little bit about yourself?
I am a Canadian born of Guyanese heritage and was born in the Jane and Finch community. Currently, I am a coordinator of the internationalization portfolio of a higher education institution where I am involved in projects that support student, department and faculty engagement in international activities. I am a dancer of West African and Caribbean Folk who performed with several Toronto-based groups and artists in festivals. I utilize dance as a vehicle to connect with my West Indian/African ancestry. As a former Children’s Dance Instructor, I created cultural dance programming in my childhood neighbourhood at the recreation level that was absent when I resided there as a child. Today, I continue to conduct dance workshops for diverse communities across the Greater Toronto region for community arts organizations. I am dedicated to sharing and generating interest among young Black Canadian children to engage in cultural knowledge and movement that I love.
My research interests tend to combine arts and culture with topics related to race, ethnicity and indigeneity but also discourses that affect the Black Canadian experience. I have presented at international academic conferences and fortunate to have potential opportunities to publish. I am humbled for this recognition with Black Canadians.
Tell us what many people may not know about you?
I was very shy. People may not know that I use to play musical instruments before I was interested in dance. I played the piano, cello and a little bit of steel pan. This was part of the journey into the artistic world.
What's your inspiration and how do you get motivated?
It was two things. First, my family. They are goal-oriented and represent an example of educators who care for the community, innovate, support and share information with others. My inspiration came from this cultural capital but also from developing my level of ambition. Ironically, I would also say that challenges were also a motivating factor. Despite criticisms or underestimation from certain people or situations, it pushed me to be even more hard-working. Limits can only occur if you allow them.
How did you get to where you are now and what more do you hope to achieve?
It is a process. I worked tirelessly and balanced my educational pursuits with my performance and teaching activities. I worked at my own pace and am not in competition with anyone. I chose to understand my environment: historically, culturally, politically and economically. I learned to overcome limits and will not internalize another’s limitations. I got to where I am by staying focused, setting goals, supporting others and by continuing my love of learning.
In terms of future achievements, I am humbled to receive recognition in the past two years within academic, community and work endeavors. I am encouraged by scholars to publish some of my research. I am pursuing graduate work that will motivate any future projects that integrate all my interests. The sky is the limit.
What would you like to be remembered for?
My energy, my work ethic, humor, adventures (lessons in each story), love for dance and learning; my go-getter attitude but caring side as well.
How do you balance work, family, friends and leisure?
By prioritizing but also by taking time to care for self so that I can be able to be blessed with work, family, friends, and leisure. It is best to surround myself with supportive people who understand the path I am on.
What's your favorite food, book, music and movie?
Interesting. My favorite food is West Indian/Chinese/Thai. I cannot narrow it down. My favorite book- I have not come across one yet. I love documentaries more so than movies. My favorite music… wow. I would have to say Soca but traditional/urban African music is a close second. I love 90’s hip hop and r&b too. Versatility is what I love.
What's your experience as a Black person in Canada?
As a Black Canadian, I enjoy a humble life and navigate through the dispelled myth that if you work hard you are an equal. As thankful as I am for the opportunities, there were sacrifices. Even with some privileges, there are moments of disadvantage.
I learned from experiences of discrimination and differential treatment of the importance in understanding positionality, power, marginality, stigmatization and stereotypes that our diverse society can have toward blacks; that blacks can have towards themselves (and each other), along with social inequality and injustice that blacks face within Canadian society. It is not something to tune out as I saw others do but required me to be a critical thinker so that I could find ways to be effective in my community work, find like-minded individuals and still recognize the genuine people who contribute to a positive Black Canadian experience.
Are there as many opportunities for Blacks in Canada that can produce role models and institutions like Beyonce, Tyler Perry, Obama, Oprah, BET, etc.
That is very interesting when the question indirectly indicates how we are looking at African American lifestyle as the reference point for success. The images of the aforementioned African Americans are positive but Black Canadians seemed to be limited to producing success on a local basis rather than the national or international scale.
We have to build our own. We have heroes but our stories are invisible and not nationally recognized. I am tired of the same stereotypical narratives of blacks in the media/newspapers. We have some positive role models but need more forums such as this platform to show what Black Canadians are doing nationally. Within the African diaspora, each ethnic group has local success stories or national ones based on country of origin but are those ‘heroes’ Black Canadian role models and institutions that we can share with each other? We need to bring the local to the national level.
Mention a few of your favorite Black Canadian Leaders, Artists and Role Models?
Unsung role models such as Viola Desmond who stood her ground in racial discrimination and Lincoln Alexander.
Should & do Blacks support / patronize black music, events and businesses?
There can be more. We can do better to appreciate and support all of the artists, productions and businesses.
What's your understanding of Black History in Canada?
It is more than the one month of February but all year round. I have a greater understanding of the historical slavery and discrimination of Africans in Canada. I would like to delve more into understanding the stories of past generations of Black Canadians in this country. It is important not to be cognizant of my own ethnic enclave but to understand as many ethnic groups that I can. In my limited understanding of the history of Blacks Canadians, Black immigrants and even Black-Natives in Canada, the separate histories require us to seek additional information about each other.
Give us a few words from you to an uninspired person?
There is a need to debunk stereotypes and develop a strong sense of self so that you can use education to strategically move beyond obstacles. Find a positive passion that drives you. Do not give away your power and downplay the idea of learning. Surround yourself with those that support a positive path.