Honouring Egbert Gaye

Gaye’s activism for the Black community through his journalism lives on

Egbert Gaye. Courtesy Montreal Community Contact

Egbert Gaye, founder and editor of Montreal Community Contact, did not back down on challenges. He instead used those moments to evoke his passion for journalism.

Gaye was born in Grenada, grew up in Trinidad and Tobago, and came to Montreal in 1980. Twelve years later, in 1992, he founded the Montreal Community Contact, Montreal’s only Black newspaper. He had written for the Montreal Gazette as well as being a commentator for the radio station CJAD 800. He wrote about politics, discrimination of all kinds, and education, highlighting Black people’s achievements throughout the years.

Throughout his career, Gaye wrote a number of opinion pieces that lifted up Black voices, while pointing out the systemic racism the community goes through. Opinions such as “Premier Francois Legault has mastered the politics of division”, “The Black man’s burden”, “About Haiti and Haitians and US presidents” and “The thing about the Black Entrepreneurship Loans Program” show the injustice and struggles that Black people are facing daily, not only in Canada but globally as well. 

These articles go deep into the issues Black people endure and look at the history behind them. They show how politicians' promises do not always go through and how that could affect a Black person’s opportunities, such as having difficulties getting a loan for one’s upcoming business.

Rosie Awori, managing editor and columnist of the Montreal Community Contact worked with Gaye for five years, and there are only good memories that she remembers of him.

“Egbert had one of the most amazing work ethics and passion that I have ever experienced or had the privilege of witnessing,” said Awori. ”He was driven by the passion for the community and to tell the stories that would otherwise have fallen through the cracks.”

Gaye used his voice to inform people of the history behind the discrimination against Black communities and emphasized why it was important to be aware of the ongoing problems in today’s society.

He elaborated on the fact that Black people should be equal to everyone else and how they do not have the same possibilities as others. Despite their talents, experience, and education, members of the Black community still need to stand up against social injustices. The seismic marginalization that Black people have faced universally has led to an increase in high school dropouts, immense unemployment, a lack of representation at higher education institutions and Black people being an “over-representation in the criminal justice system” as Gaye wrote.

According to Awori, Gaye always made sure people felt welcome. He helped aspiring journalists become great writers by giving them feedback, and always sought to find solutions to problems.

Awori explained how Gaye could have continued writing for major publications such as the Gazette since he had the qualifications, but he decided to create a newspaper that would focus on his community. The Caribbean and Black communities became the center of the publication to ensure inclusivity. 

In 2023, Gaye’s goal was to create a digital archive for written work on the newspaper’s website.  

However, Montreal Community Contact stumbled upon some challenges. In June 2023, Bill C-18 was introduced, which restricted all media accounts on META platforms. Before the bill, the newspaper had a Facebook and Instagram account where they would share updates on different news productions. Additionally, before he passed away in June 2023, Gaye wanted to create an app for the newspaper where people could log in and get all the information they needed.

“He pushed me to be the best that I could be, so he didn’t settle for mediocrity, and one of the words that he kept on was that writing is hard enough, so you have to fight for this article. Fight until you’ve given it your everything,” Awori said.

For some journalists, Gaye was a mentor and someone to look up to. Melissa Murphy, a contributing journalist for Montreal Community Contact, saw him as a father figure.

“I think that his superpower is being able to speak to you [...] directly to you, no matter how many people were in the room. He made his interactions with you feel personal,” Murphy said.

 Murphy explained how Gaye fostered a room for her to grow, no matter what her interests were. After graduating from Concordia University in English literature with a minor in professional writing, Murphy was not sure about being a writer. Gaye, however, saw her potential.

“But he always said that to be a good editor, you have to be a good writer. So I need you here tomorrow morning, you know? So that's why around 2017-2018, there's an uptick in my contribution,” Murphy said.

Murphy expressed how Gaye emphasized that mentors who guide young journalists, writers, and those with a passion for storytelling are needed and that aspiring journalists should not shy away from those opportunities.

“That’s what he taught me—to show up. For the big guy, for the little guy, to give people power to tell their stories in their own voices,” Murphy said.

She mentioned how running a newspaper for 30 years contributed to Gaye’s resilience. Whether it was about financial hardship or any other issue, what motivated him was what kept him grounded. Murphy remains thankful that he believed in her when she was 17 years old and not confident enough to believe in her ability to become a great writer. He never gave up on her dream and always told her how good she was despite her doubts.

Murphy expressed how Gaye inspired her through his community impact and that she will apply this to her future literacy consulting firm. Now, when she works with editors and writers, she understands the impact of lifting up local and Black voices while also giving them the power to tell their own stories in their own words.

Murphy hopes that people see the beauty in what he did, the lives he touched, and the legacy he could not leave behind, which surely will keep living on.