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Celebrating 30 years with james olwell

We are continuing our retrospective on the past thirty year at Women on the Rise with James Olwell. James was never a member of the board of Women on the Rise, he played his role well before the organization even existed.


Jasmine was so skillful and astute that she soon had the trust of the young moms and numbers increased. In a few months, an average of 7 women were participating at the weekly meetings in the first year.

The name of Darlene Gargul becomes very important here, as James was taken off the dossier and they now had Darlene as the new C.O., more appropriate for a single mom's group. Darlene and Jasmine worked on the creation of the organisation. They are two of its unsung heroes as Jasmine met her love and moved back to the West Indies and Darlene passed away. 

At the 1st annual meeting or AGM of the organisation, very generously, Shirley and James were given recognition as founders of the project that led to the creation of Women on the Rise. James was given a beautiful framed drawing of himself with the words hand-scripted: ''Black Women on the Rise'' on top and ''Thank You'' on the bottom. It hangs prominently in his home to this day. It had been drawn by a talented son or brother of one of the women. James says it is the best gift he has ever gotten.

This text is a slightly modified version of a story originally written by James Olwell. The text was edited by Francesca Mourad.

James was a community organizer for the CLSC in NDG-MTL Ouest, and came upon a document by the CLSC titled “The Hidden Face of NDG,” a 100 person Key Informant Survey.


“In the document we found unmet needs for, among others, youth, immigrant communities, and new moms.”

The nursing team of Famille-Enfance-Jeunesse had also told him about young immigrant and African-Canadian women, sometimes of West Indian origin, who were isolated and needed a social network. They needed help with bonding and other important baby health information and health information for the mothers as well.He met with a nurse, Shirley Roberts, and they created the objectives and program for "The Black Single Mom Support Group".

He then met with the new pastor of the Madison Baptist Church, nearby. He told James that the church was part of the progressive baptist convention. The pastor’s hero was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. James had been inspired by the courage of the Black Civil Rights movement himself, and had lived in the south side of Chicago from 1968 to 1969. He told the pastor Dr King was his hero too. The church offered them free use of their wonderfully laid-out, spotless basement, with cribs, mini urinals for small boys, and a calm atmosphere.

He and Shirley began the meetings and there was some skepticism among the CLSC staff that they would succeed. No one showed up at the first meeting, despite Shirley being told by fellow nurses that a few young women had said they would. The nurses had young mom patients who were interested but a little skeptical.

It turned out nobody wanted to be first, especially if the group failed.

At the second meeting, only one young mom was present, but she was welcomed like royalty. The nurses played with her baby, while James talked about what he hoped the group could do for moms, and Shirley talked about babies’ need. The young mom said she would come back the next week and bring a friend.

A negative worker had an "I told you so" attitude  and said the women didn't want to help their children, they just wanted to go out and dance.  But James took the objectives for the project and spoke to black women who were leaders in the community. One of them was Hedy Taylor, a special social worker with Batshaw Family Services, who not only agreed it was a necessary program to support the black community, but that she would be on the advisory board. They discussed other possible board members and went to visit them, sharing the objectives with them, and reassuring them that Hedy was on board and had built an Advisory Committee. This would later become the provisional board when the program decided to incorporate. Then, they hired a young black social worker, Jasmine Williams, as the Community Worker to work on this project. Jasmine had previously worked with the Arrondissement administrating a sports facility and hockey rink. The project was much more in her line of work.

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