JUSTICE JUANITA WESTMORELAND - TRAORÉ

The Crossroaders greeted the foreman full of smiles and enthusiasm – but they had obviously never worked in construction before. The collection of students and civil servants were an unlikely crew to build a community a centre. Nonetheless they arrived in Tchitchoa, a village in Northern Togo, with their sleeves rolled up.

 In the early days of Crossroads placements were generally focused on physical activity. The idea was that by working side by side with new friends, Crossroaders would spread a message of solidarity and cooperation – and humour.

While Crossroads placements have changed considerably in last fifty years to meet the changing needs of development, its core value of international cooperation endures.

 “We were the subject of great hilarity among the masons who were overseeing the project!” remembers Crossroader Justice Juanita Westmoreland-Traoré.”We were full of good faith and energy…people came and looked at our wall that we built, and I think it meant something…it was the fact that we came, and we had a message of solidarity.”

As a young law student, Westmoreland-Traoré was drawn to the Crossroads’s commitment to work together on a common cause as equals. She went to Senegal in 1964 and to Togo in 1965, both times with a diverse group of Crossroaders that she describes as a model of solidarity. It was a time when North America was culturally and racially divided. Canadians were referring to “two solitudes” that represented the separate worlds of English and French Canada. For a young African Canadian from Quebec, Crossroads was a “tremendous experience” that cut across geography, language and colour lines.

“At that time there really were two solitudes in Canada. We went to different schools, different churches, we socialized with different people…it was parallel living,” she says of the Anglophone and Francophone experience in her hometown of Montreal. She says the Crossroads orientation was invaluable preparation. “Here we were living with people from other societies. We were both French speaking and English speaking…Then when we got overseas we worked alongside Americans that were African Americans, as well as African Canadians and Africans from the continent. It was a very rich experience.”

She remembers Crossroaders being warmly welcomed, and “adopted by all the communities we went to.” Each Crossroader was given an African name, as well the national dress. One of the most touching gestures of solidarity was when her partner at the cultural centre in Togo named his newborn daughter “Westie” in her namesake. “It was such a tangible way of showing that our relationship had become a special relationship.”

For the young law student searching for personal fulfillment, she credits the Crossroads experience as her turning point. “As a young African Canadian I needed to know about my roots… It responded to a very deep need that I had…one that had to with self image and self fulfillment …We were meeting people with tremendous generosity and values and that just sort of liberated me as a person. “

The young student went on to pursue a career in law. Justice Westmoreland-Traoré has since been recognized many times for her contributions in promoting civil justice and equality. Her Crossroads “voyage of discovery” as she calls it, deepened her sense of responsibility and commitment to solidarity. “You begin to realize that extent of the expression ‘to whom much is given, much is required’.”

Justice Juanita Westmoreland-Traoré was the first Black Canadian appointed to the bench in Quebec. She became Canada’s first female black law dean when she was appointed Dean at the University of Windsor Law School in 1996. Prior to her appointment as Dean of Law, she was a commissioner with the Canadian Human Rights Commission and the first Chair of Quebec’s Counseil des communautes culturelles et de l’immigration. Justice Westmoreland-Traoré was Ontario’s Employment Equity Commission form 1991 to 1995.

 

 

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