Black Habits: A Revolutionary
Penned by Saada
was a time when black men and women accepted an invitation to meet regularly in
Toronto for the
sole purpose of discussing what was wrong and what was right in their lives.
The gathering was called Black Habits (BH) and every two months, over a span of
10 years, people kept showing up. Oftentimes they brought friends. Other times
they made new ones there. Thinking back to those days, Bentley Springer
mentions a particular moment at a BH workshop. The topic: male-female
were talking about what doesn’t work and this woman said, ‘Men lie. That’s what
the problem is. They lie,’” recalls Springer, president of BH. He says, at the time, people laughed but the
woman was adamant. “She said it with such passion. ‘No I mean it. They lie.’” In
remembering, Springer adds, “That’s where it started but that’s not where it
exactly did it end?
a room, he says, with “dozens and dozens” of people announcing what they would
commit to. “Some women said, ‘I’m now going to do something different so that
men are different with me.’ Other women said, ‘I need to start choosing better
men.’ It was phenomenal.”
was the power of Black Habits. People
walked away having expressed a personal promise. They would commit to changing
a habit that in some way held them back from achievement.
All In The Name
Springer how this idea for forming Black Habits came about, and he’s likely to
mention the book. Ten years ago, he was working as a supervisor at Sprint Canada
when a manager recommended he read, The 7
Habits of Highly Effective People
, by Stephen R.
He did and shared its lessons with other employees.
was inspired, so he got to thinking: “I want to share it with people in my
life.” He admits that despite the book’s powerful information it was, “kind of
boring.” There needed to be a space to personalize its lessons with real
experiences and discuss the ensuing issues with friends, he says.
found some people and together they became a “sort-of reading club”, going
through 7 Habits chapter by chapter. Eventually one of the readers suggested
keeping up the gatherings, but expanding what they had formed. So on November 13, 1998 the group had an official
meeting to work out how.
explains, “It was at that first meeting where we called some friends and said,
‘Let’s have some discussions about what it means for us to be successful in our
lives. ‘“ They were men - friends who
partied hard together - in their mid to late 20s, and eager to examine the
obstacles. They fleshed out how they would collectively look at personal and
communal issues. They aimed for progress, and they thought solutions. They
aspired to do a lot, but they needed a name.
“We figured out it had something to do with managing our habits and when
we looked around the room, everybody was black. And we thought …Black Habits.”
message was simple. “The power of a successful life is about controlling your
own habits, your own perspective on things, versus trying to apply it by
changing everybody else,” explains Springer.
Celebrating 10 Years
a chilled Saturday night on Bathurst
Inside Trane Studio, the party to celebrate Black Habits’ 10th
anniversary is warming up. Springer, a DJ by night, spins on his stereo system.
From the speakers, “Be Here” by Raphael Saaddiq and D’Angelo bumps off the walls,
filling the room. It’s still early and a handful of keeners are enjoying the
vibe, ordering delectable dishes from the Trane menu. Patrick
Morris sits at the front of the room with an eye on the door.
He’s remembering at what point people became open to the persuasion of BH.
were partying every single night. We would change our work schedule so work
would not interfere with our partying,” says Morris. He’s Bentley Springer’s
long-time friend and BH’s vice-president of operations. They realized every good thing eventually
grinds to a halt. Morris says the nights out dancing got tiring. The men
started looking at their lives and, in some cases, relationships that were
going nowhere. “We wanted more,” he explains.
Apparently they weren’t the only ones. Once it launched, BH ascended almost
always said that there was a point in time when we black people wanted our
freedom. There was another time when it wasn’t so much freedom anymore, but we
wanted to be treated as equals,” says Morris, about emancipation and the civil
rights movement. “We believed that there was, and still is, a need for more. So
we were saying, ‘I want more from my life than what my parents had. My parents
brought me this far, so now what will I do about that?’ We were in the midst of
recognized that people wanted to talk through issues in a safe environment. It
helped that workshop rules called for respecting each other, and for agreeing
to disagree. Moderated by Springer and Morris, BH
covered a lot ground over the years. Topics ranged from financial security,
relationships, abuse, skin care, sex, health, self-love and more. Springer’s
father, a Toronto
teacher, was once a guest speaker. The men say most popular were the workshops
on how to love a black man and how to love a black woman.
was a lot self-discovery. We realized we were bringing different things to the
table and expecting others to know about them,” says Morris. “But we really
Evolving In Stages
workshops were first held in company boardrooms, specifically places where
Springer worked. Once the not-for-profit status was established, the duo moved
their workshops to Toronto’s
was 1999, a time when the technology and the Internet had transformed the way
people connected. At first, BH relied on phoning friends with invitations to
sessions. That didn’t last long. ““Technology was enabling us to communicate
with people,” says Springer. “People started getting their own e-mail addresses
at this point. And we started collecting to let them know when the next
workshop would be. We had 20 e-mail
addresses, then 100 and then over the years it grew to thousands.”
workshops worked so beautifully, the next natural step was to build a website.
It became the space to post their newsletters Springer says. “We said let’s
make it interactive so people can actually post their own products and
services, events and opinions all from the black community. We called that
version 2.0. That was before Facebook, before Craig’s List. The time where Da
Kink In My Hair was just starting out. You could pick up a Now Magazine or go
to BH and get a review on what it was about.”
forced BH to evolve. “After a couple years we started to realize people didn’t
want to go home after. We had to kick them out because the cleaners were coming
in and security was closing the building. People had a hunger for that positive
energy,” says Springer. He describes it as:
their “eyes lit up hearing other black people talk intelligently from the
heart.” They opened up about personal experiences, even broke down and sobbed
as they shared what was going on with themselves. “People were just deeply
touched by that environment we created. Everybody wanted to know who everybody
responded by developing two other events, one called BH Lyme and another BH
Interactive. Both events charged entry fees and were set up with intentions of
helping people to connect, Springer explains. “I got Lyme from the West-Indian
term, a kind of hang out. We featured black artists in black-owned
establishments and allowed people to party and have a good time. I got to be
the resident DJ as well.” The BH Interactive was more recent, similar to the
Lyme with greater focus on linking people professionally and personally.
got a different view of their black community other than the one created for us
through general media. “
, story teller, founder
and artistic director of anitaAfrika! Dub Theatre, became an integral presence
at BH workshops. In turn, the spirit of BH was present in her own work to raise
dialogues around, “self-love, communal love, prosperity and responsibility.”
Young says she remembers being invited to Black Habits. At the time the topic
was interpersonal relationships between Black men and Black women.
Q: What do you remember most about
The intensity and the severity and
the seriousness with which people came to the table. So the participants were
so committed to exploring and dialoguing and talking with each other about what
they considered to be priorities. That was also something that really warmed my
heart and gave me a launch pad as a storyteller there. Over time I ended up going
back to that space on a number of occasions when the topics were different. So
I participated in its growth and its movement and it’s a necessary space. Ten
years and now like anything, the cycles close so that new cycles can begin.
Q: To see young black men in their
20s commit to organizing a safe space for people to discuss these issues, was
that strange at the time to you?
Not strange. I think particularly
where I’m located in the community I have this beautiful privilege of being
among people who are conscientious. And so to see these young black men who took
this initiative, to be surprised is to buy into the idea that there are no more
of these spaces, something which I think is a media tool that comes out of
colonization and racism and imperialism. In our populous community there are
people who are playing revolutionary roles in different ways. Some are visible
and some are not so visible.
Q: Which BH workshop left the
biggest impact on you?
The one that stands out the most is
the love relationship between Black men and Black women. It really resonated
with me at the time. It was beyond the year 2000. We as a community have always
been negotiating and will continue to negotiate how we give and receive love.
And so that’s a recurring topic of discussion. And I know BH covered it on
numerous occasions because of this urgency. Because we are still unlearning so
many of the painful ways that we’ve inhabited from oppressive systems like
gender oppression and class oppression, so we’re still unlearning and
dissecting that. To have a space that’s intellectually able to sustain that
kind of discussion because the black people who go there are impassioned and
because they care to take the time out of their day to do that, that’s a representation
of the community. I think that’s a point of celebration.
Q: How important is it to do*****ent
I’m an avid supporter of
do*****entation. It’s important simply because we live where we live. This idea
of having proof is real because proof is power. The beautiful thing about
do*****enting is that it’s not relegated to one medium. Do*****enting is also the
way that the oral traditions function.
And granted we’re in a technological age, so the oral retention of
information is not so much valued, but it is valuable
Q: Anything else you’d like to add
I’m sad to see it go. Because I
think it was a crucial resource, but for there to be new beginnings, there have
to be endings, so I’m sad but I’m also happy.
Young recently opened a new art
centre, anitAfrika! Dub Theatre located in Toronto’s
Liberty Village at 62 Fraser Ave. Check out their programming
at www.anitafrika.com or call 416.434.1823.
is an actor enthralled by language. He attended his first BH meetings on January 19th 2001.
At the time of his first encounter with BH, Stewart was a member of the
multiracial, multinational organization, Men’s Division International. As a member, he was empowered by one of its
workshops held days earlier. He recalls that first BH dialogue on
relationships, where the men were in one room and the women in another.
It was momentous day for me as
well. I had recently gone to a men’s meeting weekend. It was transformational
for me. And it began to impose to me what real healing looked like and felt
like and how it was changed. I was still very fired up and very present with
that, and my heart was really quite open. I got up and spoke about my
Q: What did you say?
I spoke about what I feel ails the
black community. And I spoke about psychological, emotion and spiritual factors
and the whole room fell dead silent. I
spoke about the fact that we can’t necessarily heal these things through North
American intellectualization. That we need communal wailings; we need what
types of approaches to healing that are not in our world or we are privy to. We
need those avenues of human expressions, ritual and ceremony and everything
that is associated with that transformational process. Life possesses many
challenges and if you are individually or communally healing fractures to the
spirit, heart, body, and mind, then you can’t address those things purely
through conversations or through literature or academia. You have to be willing
to go through some other processes that our ancestors went through.
I spoke very passionately about it, and I didn’t know at the time that it was
the first time I expressed verbally to a group of people what was important to
me around the black community. My voice was breaking, I was very emotional, I
was barely holding on to myself. But I was heard in the way that I think few
people get heard. They didn’t hear me with their minds, they heard me with
their bodies. You could hear a pin drop. They knew in their bones that what I
was saying was true.
I began to investigate ways black men in particular can heal themselves…. my
perspective of using our ancient wisdom and the ancient wisdom of indigenous
cultures in this country was for them to do exactly what I was speaking about:
heal themselves. Redefine their masculinity; hold on to what was important to
them; determine their place in their families and their place in society.
Q: What was BH able to achieve?
What they were able to do was
create a safe place because context is everything. What kind of energy you establish
in the room and where you’re coming from and why are you doing what you’re
doing. Bentley and his team at that time had a very strong context and they
were coming from a place of: ‘We are very interested in serving our community
and doing what we need to do and building our community. And we would like to
include as many people who are interested in this as possible.’ It was an open
invitation made to anybody of like mind, of like spirit of like heart. As far
as the African-Caribbean community in this country, we were the first
generation to be uniformly poised to make a difference. We were educated we were
astute and many of knew what the problems of community were and are and we just
need to find solutions and creative ways and sustainable ways of addressing
those problems. And Bentley knew that.
Q: What was your most memorable BH
I think one of the most common
sessions was how do you love a black man how do you love a black woman. I think
that was the topic on that particular night. This is where we’re still stuck as
a community. Unless we can embrace one another as men, and as women and as
human beings in a respectable way and begin to raise children in a loving
relationships and nourish those children in a context of a loving family, the
kind of economic and political power we seek as a community, people will
continue to lose; because the source of economic power is the family. And this
is why we continue to be disenfranchised, because in essence, we haven’t
learned to love each other yet. You can’t love the other unless you can love
Q: What were some of the lessons at BH
that you were able to carry on in your own life?
I met my wife at that first
meeting. A number of people came up to me as I mentioned and I spoke to them,
men and women. And then I turned around and there was this one young woman
standing in front of me. And I was immediately struck by her presence. I didn’t
know what it meant but I knew it meant something. It began as a mutual
friendship because the things I was speaking to she heard. And she sought me
out. We began to have dialogues about those things. I was 22 and she was 24... In fact she went
through a similar experience called the women’s weekend. She went on her own
transformational journey healing as a woman. We married October 27, 2001 and we now have a boy
and a girl.
Q: Anything else you’d like to add
The next BH meeting that I remember
was this was at the height of the crisis within the black community around the
guns and the recent shootings, I got up and spoke again about the responsibilities of black men
in our community and in particular our responsibility to young black men. And
we formed a circle around the young black men, a physical circle. I made a call
to arms to the men that we need to stand for ourselves and each other so we can
be there for our young black men. It was physically represented by the young
men being called to stand in the centre of a circle created for them by black
men. It was profound, even for the women who were there. Women realize that as
incredible mothers they are not equipped to be fathers and children need to be
was a bit of a homecoming and the things I spoke about at that first BH meeting
were actually happening. Black men had come together and had begun to do this
work, and were interested in being there for each other and their women and
their children. That work is beginning. It’s happening.
Richard Stewart is returning to the
Shaw Festival’s 2009 Season, running from April 1 to November 1 in
Niagara-on-the-Lake. The playbill
includes full productions of each play in Noël Coward’s Tonight at 8:30, a collection of ten brilliant
short plays brought to life on all three of the Festival’s stages. Stewart appears in Bernard Shaw’s, The
Devil’s Disciple, also included in the season.
Contact the Shaw Festival Box Office for tickets or information:
905.468.2172 or 1.800.511.7429.
is a writer, broadcast and communications professional working in Toronto. A journalism graduate from Humber College,
Kefenstse has reported news for Rogers Television, Global-TV, and the CBC. She
also worked as a reporter and associate producer for CBC Radio. She remembers
attending between three and seven BH meetings.
Q: Tell me about your most memorable
It was a few years ago.
There was a young man and it was related to young black men and crime. We ended
up talking to a young black man who was in and out of jail and he was being
mentored by one of the guys there who brought him. That was compelling at the
time. To hear his perspective on why he was the way he was and his plans to
work, at the time, in music.
Q: What were your impressions of BH?
It was good to be in a
group of people who were like-minded. People I could relate to.
Currently Dayo Kefentse is working
as a communications consultant on an education project with the Toronto District School
Board. She also reports for Toronto Living, a
popular local program on Rogers
TV which showcases vibrant dimensions of art in the city.
Did you Know Blurbs
1. Did you know?
BH’s first set of meetings got underway, Springer snuck everybody into his
did it at one company S&P Data and also when I worked at Merrill Lynch. I
just hoped that I wouldn’t get in trouble. I waited for people to finish
working and leave then I snuck people in. I actually was putting my job on the
Bentley Kwaku Springer, president of BH
2. Did you know?
Patrick Morris met his wife, through
Springer. Lana Morris
who is Springer’s cousin was
also one of BH’s first guest speakers. In her workshop she tackled skin care.
“Bentley was planning a move to Barbados.
He ended up not going, and I realized, had he gone, Black Habits may not have
happened and I wouldn’t have met my present wife, Lana.”
Patrick Morris, v.p. of operations
3. Did you know?
people dedicated their time to helping BH organize. They were Colin
Skerritt, Ricardo Young and Jacquie
was instrumental in taking it to the next level in terms of a marketing
perspective. He helped us create the newsletter and have a professional image.
That was critical time of growth. Defining our brand.”
was a great support and was an important reminder that we had to charge for
something. He had a business head for things. Patrick and I just wanted people
to show up. Ricardo, in attending our planning sessions, always asked the
questions “how are we paying for that?”
kept us organized and professionalized us on another level with press releases
and even more professional newsletters.”
Bentley Kwaku Springer
4. Did you know?
BH Lyme and BH interactive charged an entrance fee, the BH workshops were
number one goal was about strengthening the black community which would
the country, the planet. I didn’t want any barrier in between someone hearing
about BH and someone showing up.”
Bentley Kwaku Springer
© penned by Saada STYLO, All Rights Reserved 2008.