There’s a sense of pride to be derived from knowing where you come from, though without much understanding of who we are, it’s easy to feel rejected in a society that marginalizes Black voices. Getting to know one’s self is the root of Rito Joseph’s project The Afro-Diaspora Tour. Founded in Montreal, Quebec, Joseph’s initiative aims to uplift the Black experience.
The Afro-Diaspora Tour is a variety of workshops, presentations and city tours aimed at educating the public about pre-colonial Africa, the arrival of Afro-descendants in Canada and subsequent histories of slavery, segregation and resistance.
When visiting Montreal, most tourists head to an outdoor jazz festival, the Old Port or an art gallery. Few notice the hidden history of the Black community from pre-slavery to the present. Rito takes small groups around Montreal by foot, unearthing hidden wonders (and horrors) of the past. In a small alleyway in the Old Port, Rito will point to an almost concealed plaque and share a wealth of little-known history about slavery in Canada. Then, he’ll take visitors (or even local Montrealers) to one of Montreal’s historically Black neighbourhoods, Little Burgundy, rich with history and vibrant murals. Here he’ll share personal anecdotes and fun tales of some Montreal legends. Within just a couple of hours, guests leave buzzing with inspiration and new knowledge, largely inaccessible in the mainstream tourist scene.
While Rito’s focus is celebrating his own Black identity and telling the powerful stories of Afro-Canadians, his work is rooted in the fundamental idea that we all grow and prosper when we are in tune with our own ancestral identity. Regardless of race, colour, nationality or ethnicity, Rito believes every human can find power in their own identity.
The Afro-Diaspora Tour is Rito’s direct response to the question of wanting to learn more about his own identity and where he and his ancestors come from. “I’ve always felt like I was [neither] being heard nor was [my] story being told, so I decided to take [it] upon myself to do the research and learn my/our history.” says Rito.
For many underrepresented minorities, being understood in society is an on-going challenge, which Rito believes can at least in part, be attributed to the “lack of understanding and [recognition] of our [historical] contributions” as minorities. Through his initiative, he cites “knowledge of self, self-acceptance [and] inclusion in the diverse Canadian mosaic” as being a few of the areas he aims to repair.
As for how other organizations can help this cause? “By making a conscious effort to understand the peoples’ needs and apply a strategy that can help us move forward as people.” Rito hopes that developing an understanding of one’s self will lead to increased acceptance in their respective communities. “By learning our history we can have a sense of entitlement of who [we] are and therefore control our narrative; it makes it easier for social cohesion when you know yourself.”
Joseph plans on taking this educational initiative across North America in the near future, in an effort to take crucial steps towards increased societal and self-acceptance.
Next time you’re in Montreal, make sure to book a tour: http://www.ritojoseph.com/
In the meantime, follow Rito on social media: https://www.instagram.com/rj_cham/
— This article was originally published on Stratagem.