Finding freedom in transition
While studying Journalism at Ryerson University in 2014, Pascale Diverlus was thrusted into a global movement following the killing of Michael Brown by the police in Ferguson, Missouri. She and a team of eight founded the Toronto chapter of Black Lives Matter, a movement responding to the continued state sanctioned murder of Black people in North America.
Six years later in 2020, after many, many more murders, she chose to step down.
“To be in a movement where people only care about our communities after death–does something to your personhood,” she said.
Diverlus and the team of activists she organized with, worked tirelessly for years, shaking rooms, organizing and executing grand demonstrations, challenging norms, pushing politicians toward discomfort, change, and the acknowledgement of the realities of anti-Black racism in Canada. As is the case with change, the results have been slow, incremental, but steady.
While she prides herself on her commitment to the struggle of advocacy, she shared how advocacy more chose her.
“I’ve always been advocating, be it for my Mom, translating documents as an immigrant child, or standing up for me and my siblings in the face of such violent anti-Black, anti-Haitian racism…I was an advocate–because I needed to live, it was about personal survival. So I grew up angry, and I couldn’t place where I could put it,” she said.
When the Black Lives Matter movement came along, she had a righteous place to put her rage. She was able to channel that anger into actions that led to real change, both in policy and across the public consciousness.
Despite the progress she felt privileged to participate in, Diverlus came to understand that the work of frontline advocacy is for a good time not a long time, and that there needs to be succession planning in order for the work to be successful and sustainable.
“You have to go into it knowing how you’re going to get out, if you don’t have those plans in place, that’s when things start to get ugly,” she said.
“You have to envision your role beyond the one that you know, because you need to move through it…it’s life saving and affirming, but also draining work.”
The summer of 2020 left her feeling empty and exhausted in new ways. The murder of George Floyd and the subsequent global ‘awakening’ stunned Diverlus, causing further rage and deeper depression as she wondered ‘what took so long?’ After all the years of resisting the exact same kind of evil and violence with zero repercussions for that violence, she became overwhelmed and depleted by what felt like a peak point in the horror film version of Groundhog Day.
She never watched the brutal killing of George Floyd; she’d seen more than enough of her fair share of lynchings.
“I marched for Eric Garner, laid on the ground for Eric Garner, screamed ‘I can’t breathe’ for Eric Garner…There’s something so debilitating about seeing something happen in the exact same way six years later.”
As she wondered why now, why this murder, and not Eric Garner’s, Andrew Loku’s, Jermaine Carby’s, Jean Pierre Bony’s, or all the hundreds of other people murdered over all the years of her participation in the movement, she felt confronted by the futility of her efforts in proportion to the toll on her mind, body and spirit.
“It’s hard when you feel like there’s always tragedy to respond to, a community member in need of support and there’s still so much urgency. The pressures are high and it’s hard. But I had to acknowledge that my Black life also matters.”
The global awakening meant new energy, resources, and attention to the fight she had been engaged in for so long that so many people ignored or rejected. This surge led to more support, and that support gave her the confidence and peace of mind to know she could take a step back.
“ Had it not been for 2020, I would have convinced myself to keep going,” she said.
“There’s a lot of people who can do the work better…it’s important to know when it’s time to pass the ball and let other folks lead.”
In the Autumn of 2020, she shifted her focus to nursing her own heart and the death of versions of herself she thought would be forever. She found time to focus on rebuilding and reimagining her ideas of activism.
Diverlus is a woman of many skills, talents, and blessings and feels ready and willing to share them with the world in a way that differs from leading rallies, protests, or high-profile actions on the frontline.
“There are a lot of tools, and so much room to teach all that I’ve learned,” she said.
Diverlus and the mighty team of activists with which she worked, have had global impact and built relationships around the world that have led to change and progress. She feels satisfied with her contribution to the struggle, and intends to continue that struggle by pouring all that powerful energy into herself and her immediate community.
As she designs a future outside of the daily grind of BLM, she looks to her culture for the ways she intends to move forward on the journey toward liberation.
“My Dad grew up in a part of Haiti where not everyone could eat everyday. There was an understanding of community, a collective look out…Every time I go home or speak to my aunt, she’s feeding people,” she said.
“ I’m relying on these ethics and principles that were instilled in me, rooting in taking care of each other and checking for your people…our liberation is rooted in our well being.”
Diverlus admits it’s hard to come into 2021 excited, having lived through one of the most intense years for any Black organizer. She is a changed person after 2020, and with new and unknown territory comes doubt and fear. At once, she feels grateful and humbled by the opportunity to really sit deeper into her Self, and witness her own evolution.
“ There’s been a beauty in transition… it’s felt very necessary for my growth,” she said with a smile.
She advises that in movements and organizations, space must be made to talk about transitions and exits, to allow folks to transition in and out when things no longer fit, and to normalize this as something that is natural and healthy.
“Last year I put a lot of things that were putting my nervous system in wack to rest. I took care of my well being and health…Organizing was incredibly beautiful but triggering for me. When I put that aside, it allowed for me to rest a little bit and I needed that,” she said.
After six years of service, with 2020 qualifying as about six years in one, she feels confident that she’s been able to make an impact. She’s learned so much and feels prepared to share those innumerable tools and lessons with present and coming soldiers in the movement.
To the new and upcoming organizers ready for the work of a global movement she says “Love, take care, protect yourself–and let’s get this freedom.“