Multicultural Community Storyteller, 2022-2024
Multicultural Community Storyteller Teajai Travis proudly identifies as an Afro-Indigenous descendant of the Underground Railroad travellers that made a home in North Buxton, Ontario, following the passing of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. He is currently serving as Executive Director for Artcite Inc. in Windsor, and as an Artist Educator and Workshop Facilitator with Arts Can Teach Windsor-Essex. He was a commissioned poet and performer with the Omoluabi News Paper, produced by the Nigerian Canadians for Cultural Educational and Economic Progress as part of the Black Youth Action Plan. Travis facilitates workshops on poetry, hand drumming, meditation, and personal development. He is also the founder and administrator for The Bloomfield House – a Sandwich Town community collective dedicated to grass roots community-run outreach with a mission to provide a safe and accessible space for human growth through community outreach.
Travis is a current board member with the Friends of the Court at Mackenzie Hall, and with Literary Arts Windsor and Artist-Run Centres and Collectives of Ontario. He previously served on the boards for the Windsor Youth Centre, and Windsor Women Working with Immigrant Women. He received the Windsor Endowment for the Arts award for Arts Leadership in the Literary Arts, and the Arts Infrastructure Award, and was presented with a Community Leadership Award by the Province of Ontario. Travis is a member of the Windsor Storytellers Collective, an alumina of the Sandwich Teen Action Group, and the Our West End Round Table, to name a few of his affiliations.
As a spoken word artist, Travis turned his family’s story into a piece of performance art titled Born Enslaved: A Freedom Story. He later used that work as an educational tool, and continues to go into schools to provide workshops for both students and teachers. Over the years, Travis has worked as a storyteller with the Windsor Symphony Orchestra, 4th Wall Music, Destination Ontario, the University of Windsor, Urban Farmhouse Press, Greater Essex County District School Board, Charles Wright Museum in Detroit, Freedom Museum in Amherstburg, and with Windsor Endowment for the Arts Changing the Odds program.
As Windsor’s first Multicultural Community Storyteller, Travis plans to build on the work he is already doing as a storyteller in the community. He plans to collaborate with local and regional literary arts organizations, food entrepreneurs, educational institutions, and more, using his unique tools to bring our community together through shared stories.
“Coming from, and being raised within a tradition of storytelling, I carry a responsibility and passion for collecting, inspiring, and encouraging the community to identify and celebrate their unique stories," Travis said. "I’m privileged to have been able to dig into the roots of my family story, excavating the layers of my ancestral diversity and complexity, but more enriching is the opportunity I’ve had to share it with others. The great ancestor Maya Angelou wrote, ‘There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.’ We live in a beautifully diverse community that represents the many cultures of the world, but to this day we are mostly siloed and surrounded by the familiar. We don’t listen to the stories of our neighbours and so we don’t always know how to relate and respect them. Storytelling is the key, and that is what I will bring to the role.”
The selection committee remarked, “Teajai Travis is very focused, understands the requirements of a storyteller, and is the living-embodiment of what the role of Multicultural Community Storyteller should be. He celebrates diversity and storytelling for all ages and has lived experience in Windsor-Essex that details how he is already delivering in the role. He works in our schools, he has worked with other artists on our international border, and he understands the importance of tapping into the elders in our community who can share and pass on our rich history. He brings a multi-generational (youth, family, seniors, long term care) approach, passion, and new and innovative ideas. He understands the art of engagement and how to work with diverse community groups. Mr. Travis commands attention, and understands history is important as part of storytelling, and the education value that has.”
Request for stories:
An invitation from Teajai Travis, Multicultural Community Storyteller for the City of Windsor
Do we still have LOVE in the HEART of the city? What is your opinion regarding the state of our city? Do you feel safe and supported? When you imagine the best version of your life, do you see yourself thriving in our beloved city?
To be honest, I have conflicted feelings about our city. When I reflect on my childhood memories of growing up in Windsor, I’m reminded of a bustling downtown culture that exploded my young mind with wonder and excitement. The sounds of the city rang with a symphony of baritone winds that swept beneath the wings of melodic bird call that danced feverishly with the buzz of storefront songs and driving cars. That city bumped with the bass of two 12-inch subs that could beat the bolts out of the trunk of a 1985 Cutlass Supreme, but alas that city and that kid are now light years away from yesterday.
I have the fondest memories of my dad bringing me downtown on the weekends. When I was a young boy, Ouellette Avenue always smelled of the sweetest freshly popped and drizzled caramel corn and fudge. Who remembers The NUT HOUSE? Wasn’t it the absolute best? To be a kid in that candy shop was heaven. We always hit-up The Nut House for a treat and literally spent hours going in and out of the flea markets and gift shops that lined the avenue. I bought my very first butterfly knife and switch blade from one of those shops. Of course, my old man said, “I’ll hold on to these until you’re mature enough to respect and appreciate them.” Funny thing, I don’t think I ever actually saw either of those old souvenir knives. Now that I think about it, he probably didn’t buy them at all. Oh well, the memory is still solid. After a decent afternoon of downtown picking, we would catch a movie at the Palace Movie Theatre. We watched The Garbage Pail Kids three weeks in a row! I was in love with the city.
Do you remember when our downtown streets were constantly, and shamelessly alive with music and style? Windsor was a major music town; movers and shakers dressed to the nines with their long fancy weekend cars. As a child I imagined myself growing up to be part of that swinging scene. I aspired to be as hip as the cool cat in the Cadillac with the “diamond in the back, sunroof top, diggin’ the scene with the gangsta lean” – William Devaughn. I wanted a casket sharp tailored suit from Freeds with a fresh pair of powdered blue suede hush puppies and a feathered fedora. I wanted to spend late nights at the Aardvark listening to jazz musicians flip politics in abstract soundscapes. I wanted to groove with the candied soul of our rose city, but the thing about a fast city is sometimes it moves too quick. Our spinning city moved way too quick for me to catch it, and just like that it was gone.
I was born and raised on the west end of town in the 1980s. First on Bloomfield Road, in “The Courts”, later, I lived on the corner of Brock and Baby in the basement apartment of a red brick house once owned by the Purple Gang. That house was torn down two years ago. Next, I lived at 3456 Millen Street in Essex Court – The Projects. We often got a bad rap on the west side. Our little "hood" was hated on by the rest of the city. The funny thing is we preferred it that way. We enjoyed being the "wild west" – it kept us safe from the rest of the city. As a kid, I had friends whose parents forbid them from coming into our neighborhoods; that was a bummer, but it kept our culture and traditions intact.
In Olde Sandwich Towne we have a special kind of pride in our community. If we could bottle the history, resilience, and charm of Sandwich Town, we could buy and sell the Sun a million times. I attended St. Francis elementary school, located on the corner of Detroit and Donnelly. In the late 80s, St. Francis was nestled in one of Sandwich Town’s most charming neighborhoods. Streets like Alexander Avenue, Rosedale, and Indian Road, were lined with gorgeous character homes. Paterson Park was always alive with the playfulness of young families, and the main strip of Sandwich offered a wealth of delicious food and fun places for a kid to hang out and have a good time. We enjoyed our chicken wings with fries and gravy from Hurricanes, pizza, and pasta from Trevi’s Pizzeria, and had way too much fun at the old sub shop and arcade on Mill and Peter Street. Our community and city were untouched gems. We swam at “The Pyramids,” jumped trains on College Avenue in the summer, and we’d ice skate in the flooded field along the railroad tracks in the winter. Growing up in the city was a cornucopia of good times, but like most things, it ran its course. By the time I graduated into high school, the neighbourhood had already begun to change and sadly thin out. I attended Forster High School and was a proud Spartan. At the time of enrollment, Forster had a school population of approximately 500 students. Families were moving out of the neighborhood at a rapid rate, and the migration out of our community took a major toll on small businesses, social resources, and all-around neighbourly morale. Our one and only bank moved out of the area; schools and community centres began to close; and empty homes became boarded up vacant buildings. Many of those buildings continue to be vacant and boarded up today. It was tragic to witness our neighbourhoods transform into slums with very little intervention. For a community that was and continues to be home to several multimillion-dollar and billion-dollar corporations, we were struggling to carry on.
Crime and drugs touched down on every corner of our city. It didn't matter who you were, how much wealth you had, or where you lived; the desperation of a hungry city was being felt all over. The downtown core had hollowed out, and the cool vibe of its heyday turned cold and clammy. Tunnel Bar-B-Q (TBQ), The Aardvark, Loop, Epps, Fast Eddie's, Spotted Dog, all gone. The Nut House, gone. Flea Markets, gone. Palace Movie Theatre, gone, Downtown Market, gone. My city disappeared. The Windsor of my childhood was gone.
Getting fitted for a new Windsor...
Although I often find myself conflicted about the state of our city, the resilience of my west-end heart can’t help but to be optimistic about the future. I’m reminded of our potential every time I walk along the riverfront and remember the ancestors that crossed the river in search of freedom. I reflect on the lives they miraculously built for themselves, and for us. We are a beautiful city with an awesome landscape of stories. Our collective story is incredible. I often find myself puzzled by the political decisions that are being made on behalf of the people in our city, and I wish the people were playing a more active roll in the political process, but I also realize community is bigger than wealth, power, and politics. The city’s growth in diversity is exciting, and its gentle turn toward equity and inclusion is noted. I hope to be alive to witness the dismantling of racist, discriminative traditions that have been systemically engraved into our cultural memory. If these steps are taken with sincerity, it could lead us toward the revitalization and reconciliation of our city’s heart and soul.
Personally, I adore this city. I love observing and participating in its growth. Over the years, I’ve contributed to both its making and its breaking; at times I've been reactive and short-sighted when addressing the state of the city, but I'm learning how to move with the groove of its eccentric and eclectic vibe. I now know that everything I miss about the city is still very much part of the city, and that provides me and us with the power to build the change we wish to see in our city.
What are the changes you wish to see in our city?
Send your thoughts and stories to firstname.lastname@example.org by email.
Works Shared During Term