Close up of Black man in black shirt and black baseball cap, wearing black headphones in front of a microphone
Black In The Maritimes creator and host, Fidel Franco. Photo: Fidel Franco.

In 2013, two Black co-workers at a New Brunswick call centre shared their experiences as Black people living in the Maritimes. Those conversations eventually led to the launch of a Black media platform, Black in the Maritimes, in 2016.

Today, Black in the Maritimes includes a weekly podcast by creator Fidel Franco, as well as a website, with news and blogs from contributors, including past co-hosts and guests of the podcast.

Growing up in Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, Franco said that race didn’t factor much into most people’s way of life in the predominately-Black country.

“If you go through Latin America to the Caribbean, to the West Indies, or Africa, nobody looks at ourselves as Black. They look at us as Dominican,” Franco said in an interview with the Examiner. “That’s how they look at themselves. Never as Black. It’s only when you come to North America, somebody tells you that you’re Black.”

“I’ve been to the States, and that’s what you get: that colourism. And racism is everywhere.”

Though he was aware of racism in North America, he said he was, nonetheless, thrown off by seeing the specific nature of how it operates when he moved to Moncton in 2010.

“It’s a shock when you learn how the system works,” he said.

“One of my curiosities was that nobody of colour is in power of anything,” Franco said. “Like, there’s no Black supervisor, there’s not a Black general manager, nobody’s in office of anything here, and I was like ‘Whoa, this is kind of weird.’”

Franco said he tried to get acquainted in the community through networking and planning events. He said people kept referring him to the Multicultural Association of the Greater Moncton Area (MAGMA), but he said he found the organization was geared more toward teaching English and French as a second language and that it didn’t coincide with what he was trying to accomplish.

“And everybody who was referring me [to MAGMA] was white,” he said. “No one kind of understood what it was I was doing, where was I coming from.”

He said he was further shocked when he started working at a call centre and he was one of only a small handful of Black employees.

One of his co-workers was Marcus Marcial who’s from Saint John, where his family roots go back many generations. The two became friends and shared stories with one another about their experiences as Black people living in New Brunswick.

“He’s talking to me like how people are touching his hair, how people told him like ‘Where are you from?’ — and he’s from Saint John — ‘No no no, where are you really from?’” Franco said about his conversations with Marcial.

Franco said he started to see other people of colour starting businesses, whose white counterparts were in the same business but getting more funding and other opportunities. Franco said the Black business owners “certainly got stuck for no reason.”

“And you’re like, wait a minute, they go to the same organizations, they do the same process,” he said. “Then I started taking to Marcus about it, I was like ‘Hey, why don’t we start a podcast and talk about the Black experiences?’ And that’s how it started.”

A logo that shows a hand holding an iphone with the word Black in the Maritimes.

A different perspective

Black in the Maritimes — A Colored Podcast is a platform that educates and explains topics pertaining to Black Canadians.

“We try to bring knowledge and tell stories about those that are not heard and their point of view,” the website reads. “We will always try to bring you a different perspective that is not shown in the media and other platforms.”

Franco talked about his experience moving to Moncton and creating Black in the Maritimes, as well as the journey of the podcast since then.

Black man in business suit wearing an NDP pin talks to reporters in a grassy field with vehicles in the background on a road.
MP for Hamilton Centre in Ontario, Matthew Green, joins Gary Burrill and Colter Simmonds on campaign stop in Cherrybrook. Photo: Matthew Byard.

Asked about the three top guests or moments that stand out in the history of the show, Franco said, “Definitely I would have to say Matthew Green.”

Green is Black NDP Member of Parliament from Hamilton, Ontario. His riding, Hamilton Centre, encompasses the same former riding of Hamilton West, which was once represented by Lincoln Alexander, who was the first Black member of Parliament and Canada’s first Governor General.

Franco said Green is a seventh generation Black Canadian who’s very outspoken and “in it for the right reasons.”

“He said, I’m a Black man first and an MP second,’” he recalled Green saying. “I think he gave us a lot of knowledge because this is somebody that’s in a position of power.”

Black lady with short curls, dark swaether and dark background.
Celina Caesar-Chavannes. Photo: Twitter.

Franco said another guest of the podcast who stands out was Celina Caesar-Chavannes, a Black former MP of Whitby, Ontario.

Caesar-Chavannes was elected as the Liberal MP for Whitby in 2015. She served as Parliamentary Secretary before being moved to the backbench in an 2018 cabinet shuffle. In 2019, she announced she wouldn’t be seeking re-election before announcing, three weeks later, that she was resigning from the Liberal caucus and would sit as an independent. She’s since cited disagreements with Justin Trudeau as her reason for leaving the Liberal caucus.

Franco said Caesar-Chavannes spoke on Black in the Maritimes about how she said was treated differently in Parliament after leaving the Liberal Party.

“We’re talking about the highest level of government in our country,“ he said. “When she quit the party nobody wanted to speak to her… She’s a person who has had her ups and downs and she was able to make it to Parliament. And she stood her ground.”

George Elliott Clarke, photo:

Another guest highlight for Franco was when poet and author George Elliott Clarke from Africville joined the podcast. Clarke was on the show twice.

Franco said Clarke taught him how Canada tends to erase the history of Black Canadians.

“If you look at it, Black people were enslaved in Canada, but the argument is ‘Oh that’s before Confederation. That’s before we became a country,’” he said. “But guess what? When Canada took out the White House and burned it down [during the War of 1812], that was before Canada [Confederation] too, but they put that in the history.”

“Every day is a learning curve”

Former Black in the Maritimes co-hosts Clinton Davis and Hillary LeBlanc recently branched off to launch the Blacklantic podcast and media platform. On a recent episode of Black in the Maritimes, Franco announced they had left the platform and wished them well.

Franco said “every day is a learning curve” and one of his main goals remain the same: sharing Black voices and the Black experience.

“It doesn’t matter where you are — in Alberta, Peterborough [Ontario], or Vancouver — most likely, if you are a Black person, doesn’t matter what country you’re from, [if you live in] a majority white community, most of the experience will happen the same. That’s how I see it,” he said.

Still, Franco said the Black experience isn’t monolithic and doesn’t limit itself to issues surrounding racism and race.

“I want to see a Black person talk about health, I want to see a Black person talk about finance, I want to see a Black person talk about immigration, I want to see a Black person talk about electricity,” he said. “We have all those capabilities here.”

He said he’s proud of what the platform has been able to accomplish in the five years since its inception.

“People hear it, CBC sometimes contacts us, we had like a team at one point — four people, five people — like, I didn’t expect any of this.”

“The good thing that I can say is that it’s progressing. I mean that’s the main thing. There’s more Black voices, there more people out there, more people putting their stuff out there, and that’s beautiful.”

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A smiling Black man with a shaved head and wire rimmed glasses wears a headphone in a recording studio

Matthew Byard, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

Matthew Byard writes news, profiles, and stories of the Black Nova Scotia community. His reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism Initiative.

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