“When I moved out to Vancouver (from Ontario), I was looking for that music community, I was into Hip Hop and there were like three Black people.  Everyone else was white.  I was like, what’s going on?

The beginnings of AfroVanConnect.

Whose mission is to empower the voices of African Descent Youth.  With core values to heal our community, to create opportunity and to educate our Youth.

I’m chatting with Dae Shields, the  Executive Director and one of the Founders of AfroVanConnect.

As well as being a musician, a designer, a Community advocate and a Events Co-Ordinator, Dae is heavily involved in organizing events within the Black community.

“In the beginning, I met up with others who were looking for the same spaces.  These spaces didn’t exist and we thought, why don’t we make them?  They’re not here, how can we do this?”

With the help of local mentors, AfroVanConnect soon found space within existing communities with help from Roger Collins, owner of Calabash Bistro  “He supports you where you are at.”, Vanessa Richards, an arts based community engagement specialist, and Silas Balabyekkubo, an award winning musician, youth activist and entrepreneur, “Who is also a co-founder along with myself and Kor Kase and has been in this space of healing for a long time.”

“They saw the fire and the want for these community spaces.”

“The Pace gave us a space to connect and play music and we would have these deep discussions where we would talk about us, as musicians and our ancestral connections and why they were so important in influencing our art and how we show up.

A lot of the music I was writing at the time was about that and empowering ourselves and each other.  The more I connected to that space it reinforced why community spaces are so important.”

“There are more Black people in Vancouver than in Nova Scotia.  But they are more prevalent in their community.  They have a hub.  Here we don’t have that, a place to experience Black culture.  Black culture here has been taken over and has been colonized.”

Hogan’s Alley is starting to gain more and more traction, but it’s a process.

“ I remember when I saw more than five Black people in a space and I was like whooah.  This is crazy.  I’m so happy .  There should be a place where I can go to get food from, to connect with, from people that look like me.”

The AfroVanConnect market, Sept 2020, Vancouver

This is definitely a commonality I hear when I talk to people of the Black community.  We always say hello and acknowledge each other.  It comes from respect and of knowing that to a lot of people we are invisible because we don’t have a big presence in this city.

It’s also about representation.  A topic near and dear to me!

“ When you see only a specific type of person, of people, it’s like, I don’t fit in, in any of these categories.  And so you start to ask yourself, Where do I fit in?”

“How do you want to be represented?  How do we create positive identities? Or how do we give these positive identities visibility?  And what are the positive identities that you want to see?”

In this creation process, that’s where the healing comes.

“A lot of the issue is people don’t even know we exist.  There are people that want to support, but don’t know who we are.  Part of our goal is to create more awareness of Black creatives around the city, by providing spaces to connect.”

“The people who are trying to support you aren’t necessarily from your community and they may not really understand the need for a hub.”

And so our conversation turns to allies and allyship and what that could look like.

“As an ally, sharing of information that they have and creating visibility of Black creatives, that is the work being done.  But it is a process.”

As well as having allyship, knowing where you come from, your roots is so important.  It’s where you find a lot of inspiration and forming of who you are.

“I grew up in a religious family and my Grandfather was a musician and introduced me to music.  He played piano and guitar; music was always around. And I was always doodling in my notebook.  That was my thing. Every class.  But I never took arts seriously because there’s this mindset of ‘how you going to pay bills?’

After high school, I went to aviation school and it was horrible.  After a year, I was like, where do I find joy?  I loved visual arts and so I changed and went to school for art fundamentals which was so healing.  I ended up working in project management for a while and it taught me how to correspond and connect with people, which is so necessary for the work I do now.

And I also started playing music.  I remembered what it was like to connect to the arts and how it was a source of healing for me.  A year later I picked up the bass and started freestyling with friends.

“The hip-hop scene is mainly white here, but there are so many Black artists that don’t have access.  You may receive a grant, which is great, but you don’t have the time to record as you may have to work or go to school, where the white people in this space, who for example, may live with their parents so they don’t have to worry about paying rent, or their parents made a studio in their basement.  There’s more than one barrier that we’re facing and sometimes the people offering the support, in the form of grants, don’t understand that.”

“I think there’s a lot happening right now, especially around conversation.  I think our community is in need of a great deal of healing and that should be the centre point.  You can give people opportunities, but showing up for yourself is one of the hardest things you can do.”

“Our community needs to show up.  Even if you can’t support by buying anything, just show up in that space.”

The AfroVanConnect market in September showed that events do create a buzz and interest, even during a pandemic.

“Showing up doesn’t mean you have to come to an event in person.  It can mean showing up on a zoom call and not even leaving your house.”

“Our goal at AfroVanConnect is to heal our community and foster those deeper relationships.  There are a lot of institutional changes: what will that look like and how do we make this happen?  BLM are doing a lot of work in this space of creating change systemically.  And this change needs to happen in our community too.  At the same time.  Only then can we come together and say these are the challenges we face and these are the things we need.  But we can’t get there if we’re blocked.”

And we can’t get there if we don’t show up for each other and if we don’t have the support that we need.

Show up and connect with AfroVanConnect on Instagram here

Find out more about AfroVanConnect on their website here

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