Many people at The Corner may recognize Lewis Ngwamba Monoe; not only because he is a St. James Town resident, French teacher, and community ambassador, but because his constant smile brings light to everyone’s day. Lewis was born and raised in the Democratic Republic of Congo and came to Canada in August 2018 from Raleigh, North Carolina (USA) where he had lived for six years. In America, Lewis worked with his brother in a gas station as a cashier. He was told that, because he was black, no customers would come to his store. But his friendly demeanour meant that Lewis drove people to see the humanity behind the color of his skin, and as a result, his gas-station became one of the most popular in his area.
Whilst operating under a ‘progressive’ facade, recent political contestations have revealed that North Carolina, like much of America (and Canada), has a structurally racist core. In a state that is over 70% white, racism can be found in systems of justice and everyday encounters. However, when Lewis visited Montreal to see his old school mates in August 2017, he fell in love with the multicultural make-up of the community; “that was all I wanted, that was my dream, living with different people from my skin colours, from my culture. A real thunderbolt!” In spite of a violent and racially motivated incident involving a fellow shelter resident upon his arrival in Toronto, Lewis spoke about Ward 13 as a place where positive change can happen.
However, Lewis is wary about the efficacy and long-lasting impact of the Black Lives Matter protests. Although he has a positive attitude towards his personal encounters with racism, he fears that human behaviour is like a clock. The current protests are calling for similar changes as past protests, yet few real changes have been made. Lewis believes that there is still a long way to go in defeating racism but remains optimistic about the future.