Montreal West Island youth rally against racism


Akilah Newton, founder and director of Overture with the Arts

Two Montreal community groups held a rally in the Montreal’s West Island last Saturday to denounce acts of violence and racism close to home and abroad.

Hundreds of people gathered in Pierrefonds-Roxboro for an event geared specifically toward teenagers and other youth.

Kayla Johnson, a 16-year-old high school student, said she feels she has a duty to take part in these kinds of protests.

“When I’m older and I do have kids, I don’t want them to go through the same things that we have to go through,” she said.

“I feel like it’s my duty to help stop that.”

Akilah Newton, founder and director of Overture with the Arts, who helped put the rally together in order to provide a place for youth to express their feelings about these issues, said it’s been a year since the death of George Floyd sparked protests around the world. But not enough has changed.

“There’s still a lot of racism prevalent. And it’s not just an American problem, it’s a Canadian problem too,” she said.

Kayla Johnson

Last week, four members of a Muslim family in London, Ont., were killed in what is believed to be hate crime. Newton said these kinds of stories have an impact on kids and teens.

The rally took place around the same time as the public funeral for the four members of the Afzaal family.

She wanted to give them a space to stand against racism and have important conversations.

“It’s one thing to post something on your Facebook page and like something, but to actually come out and physically be here and physically come to protest and use your voice, that speaks volumes,” said Newton.

“Kids are the future leaders, so if we start planting the seeds now about tolerance and inclusion and allyship, they are then going to use the skills and the messages they have heard into their adult life.”

Malik Shaheed, executive director of Youth Stars, also helped organize the event. He told media that “too often adults are speaking on behalf of youth.”

He said that “sometimes people are really intimidated by the subject, whether it’s Islamophobia, Asian hate, anti-Black racism, antisemitism. And I want to give people the opportunity to come out and hear what the youth are saying