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She’s creating a community for African women in Canada

Djamilla Touré, who left the Ivory Coast for Morocco as a teen, felt she'd filled a void when she came to Montreal to study and met other West African students. That inspired her to start an online forum for women from the African diaspora.

Djamilla Touré founded Sayaspora, an online forum for women from the African diaspora

A young Black woman in a white knit shirt looks at the camera.

CBC Quebec is highlighting people from the province's Black communities who are giving back, inspiring others and helping to shape our future. These are the 2023 Black Changemakers.

Djamilla Touré still remembers when she realized she was Black.

Of course, she knew what her skin colour was. But she didn't realize what it meant until she moved from the Ivory Coast, where she was born, to Morocco, where her skin stood out. Suddenly, being Black meant being different.

"I understood the weight the society associated with the fact that I am a Black woman," she said, "… and I will have to walk differently in this world."

Touré said as an uprooted Black teenager from the African diaspora, she was desperate to find someone who could speak to her experience. She said she watched shows and searched in the media, but if she saw Black women on TV, she said they never felt like they were speaking to her.

"I'm longing for something, and I don't know what it is," is how she described the feeling.

It wasn't until she moved to Montreal for university that she finally found what she was looking for, meeting other students who had moved from West African countries.

"I was like: these are my people. 'I didn't grow up with you. It feels nice to see you, finally. I've been missing you my whole life. Where have you been?'"

It was through those conversations, especially with other Black women, that Touré realized she wasn't the only one experiencing that void.

That inspired her to start Sayaspora, an online platform specifically by and for women from the African diaspora, where they could write essays and share stories.

Designed with her younger cousin in mind

Sayaspora has since grown, bringing African women in Montreal together for events and workshops. One project aims to help African women break into Canada's job market, for example.

Touré said they intentionally keep the definition of the diaspora vague, so as many women as possible can see themselves in Sayaspora. She has people like her younger cousin in mind.

"If I didn't have that while growing up, I want to create that, at least for her," she said.

Joana Kagayo, too, was looking for something when she joined Sayaspora in 2016, just as she was becoming increasingly aware of social justice issues and movements like Black Lives Matter.

"I was in a place where I was looking for community, sisterhood — and I was super-ambitious. I was young at the time; I just wanted to give back, you know?" she said.

Inspired by Touré's drive and passion, Kagayo has also thrown herself into Sayaspora. She is now on the board, working with Touré to organize more workshops and in-person events — not only in Montreal, but across the country.

Touré says as long as the need is there, she has no intention of slowing down.

"[I want to] reach as many women as possible and give them tools to create change at their own scale, in their own communities," she says, "truly, to be a hub of Changemakers."

The Black Changemakers is a special series recognizing individuals who, regardless of background or industry, are driven to create a positive impact in their community. From tackling problems to showing small gestures of kindness on a daily basis, these changemakers are making a difference and inspiring others. Meet all the changemakers here.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Laura Marchand

Digital reporter

Laura Marchand is a digital reporter with CBC Montreal. Laura is focused on local news as well as municipal and provincial politics. She previously worked with CBC Montreal's morning radio show Daybreak and the Montreal Gazette. You can reach her at laura.marchand@cbc.ca.

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