Noel Alexander, longtime leader in Montreal's Black community, had 'courage to stand up'

Noel Alexander was born outside of Montreal but made the city his home like few do. He was loud and outspoken but also made time to have a quiet word "anytime you were in need," said one of the many he mentored.

Alexander, the longtime president of the Jamaica Association of Montreal, has died at the age of 87. 

Known for his activism against police brutality and for the fair treatment of all Black Montrealers, Alexander is being remembered as a beloved defender of his community who pushed the fight for equality a long way through endless concrete, creative projects and tireless one-on-one help.

"He was a pioneer; he was a trailblazer," said Denburk Reid, one of the younger generation whom Alexander took under his wing.

"He was one of those individuals who wasn't afraid to challenge... he was always there to be a voice for the community."

Alexander, or "Prezy," as he was affectionately known, was born in England and trained as a welder. After arriving in Montreal in the 1970s, he sat at his association’s helm for 34 years over his two terms.

"He was an inspiration to many of us," read an open letter posted online this week by current president Mark Henry.

"“[He was] a great source of knowledge and direction."

Alexander was known as someone who would tackle instances of police mistreatment. But, Henry wrote, he also built bridges with the police.

"He established bonds between the Montreal police force and the Black community, specifically the Caribbean community, which also exists today," wrote Henry.

First becoming leader in 1980, Henry says Alexander was "instrumental in establishing the organization to what it is."

He remained at the post until 1987 before resuming the leadership role two years later. He then stayed on as president for more than two decades before finally stepping down in 2016.

In that time, he founded projects for kids and for young mothers, and for people needing job skills. He organized cultural celebrations for everyone in the Jamaican community to take pride in their origins.

He also helped individuals through countless more personal episodes of mistreatment at the hands of police, in school or in other institutions.

"He was outgoing but always there when needed," said Reid, who went on to found a major community youth organization, Montreal Community Cares.

"You could call on him anytime... and he'd answer the phone."

If someone was having "issues with police, at school... he was always there," Reid said. 

ALEXANDER ARRIVED IN A DIFFERENT MONTREAL

In 2015, Alexander was honoured with a medal of the National Assembly for his advocacy work in Montreal’s Black community.

At the time, he told CTV News that when he arrived in Montreal in 1974, he was shocked by the thinly-veiled racism present in everyday life.

"I remember picking up a newspaper and it said 'Room for rent. No blacks, no dogs, no Irish, no kids,'" he said.

"When I came to Montreal, they won’t tell you you can’t rent a room. They’ll tell you it was gone and still advertise it."

Beyond his own day-to-day projects, he was also always striving for a bigger goal, Reid said: mentoring younger people to learn to speak up as well, to take a big place in Montreal. He often pushed Reid (unsuccessfully, so far) to run for office, he said.

"That's something that he was always preaching and pushing, for us to take the chance and go out there and try," Reid said.

"At the end of the day it's about finding your voice, having the courage to stand up and be a voice for the voiceless."

Reid recalled coming into meetings or events in his younger years, and Alexander would call out to him and say "come sit down beside me," Reid said. He would always "give me some kid of lesson, give me some historical facts," or talk about his recent ideas of community projects.

Not only his projects live on, including the one for young mothers that is now a permanent fixture. His protegés will never forget his example, either, Reid said.

"I think the challenge is, he's done so many great things, so it's big shoes to fill for sure -- but I think we have to learn from what he's done," he said.

"He's going to be greatly missed, from his family and from the community, but I feel that what he would want is to take his life, celebrate his life and move it forward, and continue the good fight that he was doing to make sure that our community is safe and respected and has a place in the city."

He is survived by his wife Molly Young, his children and other family members.  

--With files from CTV's Matt Grillo

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