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New group nurtures sense of belonging among Newmarket's Black community

The Newmarket African Caribbean Canadian Association officially launches in February 2019, but much is going on now behind the scenes to plan for celebrations of Black culture and history.

Newmarket’s Black community has a new place to call home. And it promises to be a haven of history, culture, celebration and opportunity.

Founded last May by Jerisha Grant-Hall, the Newmarket African Caribbean Canadian Association (NACCA) has already reached out to form alliances with the Town of Newmarket, York Region Arts Council, Newmarket Public Library, Newmarket Group of Artists and Culture Bridge. And an upcoming meeting with innovation hub NewMakeIt is in the works.

“Our community is changing and we do need to have representation and strong leadership, especially for youth,” Grant-Hall said. “The idea is to have more celebration of Black culture, balanced with the history of who we are so we can step firmly into the future.”

Although the group’s official launch is not until Feb. 9, 2019, there’s plenty going on behind the scenes for the newly installed volunteer board, including chairperson Grant-Hall, vice-chairperson Desiree Smith, youth officer Patrick Smith, secretary Paulette Henry, treasurer Carol Massey, and public relations officer Carleen Monsegue.

At its heart, the organization hopes to establish for its members a sense of belonging in Newmarket. This can be achieved, in part, through cultural programming that includes Black History Month activities, art exhibitions, author talks and more, Grant-Hall said.

And when combined with an intercultural philosophy that nurtures participation from all corners of the community, that lays the foundation to change Newmarket for the better, she said.

“We need a home,” said Grant-Hall, who admitted her best learning experiences have come from pushing the boundaries. “You can’t rest well if you don’t have a sense of belonging.”

The Jamaican-born Grant-Hall, who moved to Newmarket four years ago, is a certified English-as-a-Second-Language teacher, graduated summa cum laude from York University with a bachelor of arts English degree, and also earned a master’s degree in English with a focus in post-Colonial literature.

“Much of what drives me comes out of that experience,” Grant-Hall said. “As a proud Black woman, I carry the weight of what needs to change. Many, many before me have made great contributions and I don’t take that for granted. I ask myself, what will I do in this life to make somebody else’s life better?”

For a start, Grant-Hall and her board are organizing an art exhibition at Old Town Hall Feb. 9 to 23 for Black History Month. One of the featured artists is Gordon Shadrach, a Toronto elementary school teacher whose paintings exploring African-Canadian identity in a contemporary setting landed him in a ROM exhibition.

In addition, a collaboration with Newmarket Public Library, African-Canadian authors will read from selected works during the month, and an information booth will be available for the group to reach out to the community.

On Nov. 1, NACCA will issue a call for submissions to students who identify as African-Canadian to submit artwork in any medium that relates to the theme: Still I Rise: Celebrating stories of strength, courage and innovation.

Board members will select 10 artworks that will be featured in an exhibition at Old Town Hall Feb. 1 to 23, with other selected works to be displayed at the Magna Centre during that same time. Prizes will be awarded to the top three artists.

For more information on NACCA, visit them on FacebookTwitter and Instagram @nacca_newmarket.