The Black Theatre Workshop Honours Dedicated Artists

Vision Celebration Gala Recognizes H. Nigel Thomas, and More

  • H. Nigel Thomas received the 2020 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Award. Photo Chahinez Dib

  • The Black Theatre Workshop hosted their annual fundraiser Vision Celebration Gala on Feb. 1. Photo Chahinez Dib

Kicking off Black History Month, the Black Theatre Workshop hosted their annual fundraiser Vision Celebration Gala on Feb. 1.

The event serves to honour dedicated Black artists who have made a significant impact on the development of the arts in the country.

This year, BTW honoured literary leader H. Nigel Thomas, among others. Thomas received the 2020 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Award.

Thomas was recognized by the BTW during the Vision Celebration Gala for his contribution to the elevation of Black voices in literature.

According to BTW’s website, Thomas “has been instrumental in providing a nuanced perspective of the inner lives of marginalized voices in Canada.”

Thomas is a Concordia alumnus, but also a graduate of McGill University and Université de Montréal. A retired professor from Université Laval, he decided to resign from his position at the university and devote himself to writing full time in 2006.

The 2020 Dr. Clarence Bayne Community Service Award was presented to Leon Llewellyn. Photo Chahinez Dib

Alongside his career as a writer and educator, Thomas has been a long-time supporter of BTW. His journey as an activist for Black writers started many years ago.

Born in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, he immigrated to Canada in 1968.

Thomas tutored students and advocated for Black students in the Protestant School Board. This period of his life began in the late 70s, and lasted for about a decade.

Moreover, he co-founded The Free South Africa Committee, which aimed to support Black South Africans living under apartheid by organizing vigils and protests.

The writer co-founded other projects such as Kola Magazine, a platform to publish the works of Black writers.

The 2020 Dr. Clarence Bayne Community Service Award was presented to Leon Llewellyn.

Born on the island of Grenada, he graduated from Sir George Williams University—now Concordia University—where he received a bachelor in fine arts in 1974 and a diploma in art education a year later.

“Art is about ideas and so it contains ideas. Not everyone is able to do the things an artist is able to do in terms of translating, communicating ideas.” — Leon Llewellyn

He was recognized by the BTW for his significant volunteerism in arts and education within the Montreal Black community.

Llewellyn worked as a political cartoonist. He’s also created works for many Black community organizations such as BTW, UHURU, and Focus Umoja.

In addition to his career as an artist, he also spent his career working for the English Montreal School Board for 35 years. Llewellyn would encourage his students to think outside the box and to combine their personal experiences and art together in order to create.

Llewellyn used the word “special” to describe his teaching background.

Along with other teachers, Llewellyn started a project that lasted nine years where they would ask students to bring an old family photograph, to research the photo, and to write the story behind it. His teaching background helped him to develop techniques in archiving and researching.

It is important for Llewellyn to share with others the skills and knowledge he acquired while teaching.

“Art is about ideas and so it contains ideas. Not everyone is able to do the things an artist is able to do in terms of translating, communicating ideas,” he added.

Two years ago, after meeting with the Black Community Resource Center, Llewellyn donated his original photographs, drawings, and archival textural material to Concordia’s Special Collections Archives.

The BCRC put Llewellyn in contact with Alexandra Mills who is with a Special Collections Archivist at Concordia’s library, and agreed to look after it.

“I’m happy about that because it can be shared now and I don’t have to be worried about these papers in my home,” said Llewellyn.

Méshama Eyob-Austin received the Victor Phillips Award, and the Gloria Mitchell-Aleong Award was given to Athena Holmes. Photo Chahinez Dib

The BTW recognizes two youth awards in the community each year.

This year, 17-year-old writer Méshama Eyob-Austin received the Victor Phillips Award. The writer was published last year in an anthology called Black Writers Matter which is a collection of work including other emerging Black writers.

“I’m trying to make my work as much as a reflection of me, my experience, my identity. In the anthology, that’s a reflection of my Black identity, my identity as a young Black woman,” she said.

The Gloria Mitchell-Aleong Award was given to musician and drag performer Athena Holmes. Raised in B.C and based out of Montreal, Holmes gets a lot of inspiration from the city by being around people.

“Montreal is nice to connect with Black people from around the world and people around the world, different languages, and the art is kind of more varied here than in B.C.,” they said.

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