By Clarence Bayne
MONTREAL, CANADA — On Saturday, March 8, at Montreal’s St. James Club, Gemma Raeburn-Baynes will be honoured for 50 years of community activism in Montreal and Canada.
Among the distinguished guests will be Dr. Keith Mitchell, the Prime Minister of Grenada, Gemma’s place of birth.
I have known Gemma for many years – as a young person growing up in Montreal, and later as a colleague and a community and cultural organiser.
Gemma is a graduate of my alma mater, McGill University. As a young woman, she became engaged in the competitive rough and tumble of cultural-event management in the emerging black community of the mid-1970s and 1980s.
As an established community leader, she was asked to be part of a group I organized in 1989 that successfully lobbied the City of Montreal to name February Black History Month in the city. She was also a founding board member of the local summer Caribbean carnival, now known as Carifiesta.
Her vision and community spirit has always attracted resources to her endeavours. What she was able to do with those resources has taken her contributions beyond just making her a popular name. The quality and social purpose of her work has been large in scope, spanned several aspects of community life and issues, and resonated nationally and internationally.
Through her work, Gemma has established herself as what is known in academia as a social entrepreneur, both as a leader pursuing significant community endeavours and as a group facilitator managing networks to achieve large-scale societal objectives.
Examples of her entrepreneurship include the Possibilities Program of the Quebec Board of Black Educators, sponsored by BMO Bank of Montreal and championed by Gemma on secondment from the bank; the Miss Black Quebec Pageant; Montreal Ebony Models; fundraising in support of health care in Grenada, and for cancer and sickle cell anemia in Montreal; her work with senior citizens in Montreal; and her contributions to Caribbean arts and culture, including her most successful cultural venture, the Taste of the Caribbean event in Montreal.
It is widely believed that a successful social entrepreneur demonstrates, among other traits, the will to persevere and take calculated risks. Gemma has demonstrated this type of determination and psychological toughness even at the expense of her own health. Moreover, she has done so at times in the face of skepticism and negativity within her own community. Undaunted, she has relentlessly followed her dreams.
In supporting this celebration of Gemma’s 50 years of community work, we say to her: Thank you, Gemma. We recognize that you have done your part, and that you continue to do so. Your work has shown us the possibilities that lie ahead for change and development in our community, and for our community’s place in Canada.
(Clarence Bayne is a professor in the John Molson School of Business at Concordia University)
(Reproduced from The Montreal Gazette)