Megaphone vendor Paul Shawdover on what Canada’s Black History Month means to him

By Paul Shawdover

  • Lived experience
Originally published:
Megaphone, street paper, Canada

Paul Shawdover, who sells Megaphone, a street paper based in Vancouver, Canada, says he is proud to be a Black Jamaican Canadian and appreciate the values and lifestyle that he has learned and earned in this piece reflecting on the country’s celebration of Black history.

As a Black Jamaican, I’ve always been proud of my heritage, family and traditional beliefs. Born and raised as a child in Jamaica, my family came out of slavery, and from that experience they brought with them strongly held traditions and beliefs. My great-great-grandmother, Rose, and my grandfather, “Uncle Babu,” believed that the spiritual love of others towards one another would bring us harmony.

I come from a family lineage of more than 80 members who are all strong church-goers and continue to share this belief in building harmony with people from all walks of life.

My aunt Gloria is the matriarch of our family tree and keeps all the records and names of past family members, their stories of courage and knowledge of all their accomplishments alive. This has made me who I am today.

I still regularly speak with my aunt — who is 88 years old — which strengthens this connection to my past and encourages me to work at positive goals to build on our family strength. I love my aunt because she carries our family history with pride in how our family tree has progressed positively in so many ways… not only in bettering the lives of our families, but through positive, productive contributions to society while representing black Jamaicans as proud of who they are and where they come from.

As a child growing up in Toronto, I found it to be very Black and white. As I tried various employment opportunities and paths, I found there to be a subtle racism. After being in the boy scouts and military, and trying my hand at different jobs, I started to look outside the system to better myself, as I saw the traditional avenues were not serving me. If anything, they were holding me back. I started to feel alienated in my connections to people and life. I started to adopt the attitude, “What can you do for me?” and taking everything personally.

In 1995, seeking a change of lifestyle and a warmer climate (closer to that of Jamaica!), I moved to Vancouver, known back then as a more people-friendly tourist town. At first, I brought the Black-and-white attitude from Toronto and people found it very offensive. My overt joviality to race-related comments and jokes was considered inappropriate. I found locals not receptive to this type of racial candidness because they were more community based. They didn’t want the social stigmas or violence of a more individualist attitude — they wanted everyone to work together and had created a lot of social programs to encourage this.

Paul Shawdover faces the camera wearing a beanie hat, a hoodie and an anorak. His arms are folded and he's smiling.

Paul Shawdover has been a Megaphone vendor since 2018. Credit: Paula Carlson.

After a decade of being in Vancouver and not really contributing or settling in on my goals, I started falling through the cracks. After seeing so many different people I knew from all walks of life working in the Downtown Eastside, and since I was well known, a lot of the locals told me to go get a real job and make an honest living; to stop living off the backs of others who are suffering like I was. I also noticed there wasn’t a strong Black representation in the working community of the DTES.

Today, there are a lot of locals I know who are Black and are making a difference, not only in their own lives, but sharing this success within Black communities as role models: opening doors and holding them open. Because I have been working in the neighbourhood now for so long, whenever I encounter the new Black generation, I try to be a positive influence, encouraging them to build on their goals and dreams, and be proud of who they are.

I have worked with many agencies, such as Mission Possible, VANDU and the Binner’s Project, as well as volunteered in the community. I’d like to thank the Vancouver Public Library staff, who for more than two decades have shared their knowledge with me, showed me how to use new technology and encouraged me in my creative ideas.

I’ve been with Megaphone for six years and I love the staff and the way they treat me, with respect and decency, acknowledging all the hard work I do. The people behind Megaphone genuinely care about their vendors and their well-being. This has had a positive influence on me in so many ways, including now people look up to me because they know I am reliable and enjoy hard work, and also that I care about the community. It’s a nice feeling to know that people go out of their way to talk to me about everything: life, work and just me as me. And that’s really a great feeling.

So Black History Month inspires me to think about all of this. One of the reasons I love living in Canada is that Canadians have a strong level of unity and they work hard at reducing the racial tensions which we all may face. I am proud to be a Black Jamaican Canadian and appreciate the values and lifestyle that I have learned and earned — and all the beautiful people I have met and continue to meet from all walks of life who have left a positive impact.

I also have this adorable cat that I received from the local Indigenous Peoples and I named him Megalove. As a pet lover, he brings joy to my life every day, giving me a happy smile to share with others.

For my mom, I thank her for bringing me to Canada, with all the benefits and freedom. I wonder what life would be like for me in Jamaica if I never came here.

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