Audny-Cashae Stewart: A Young Activist Fighting Anti-Black Racism and Celebrating Black Excellence
Earlier this summer, Audny-Cashae Stewart invigorated the crowd of protesters who had gathered in downtown Guelph in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. She recited an original spoken-word poem about her experience as a Black woman and shared her passion and electrifying energy with an already excited audience. Stewart became involved in spoken word in the 10th grade after being approached by Denise Francis of the Guelph Black Heritage Society. Francis had seen Stewart perform a rendition of Maya Angelou’s poem “Still I Rise” at her high school’s first official Black History Month assembly that she had helped organize. Stewart was then encouraged to write poems of her own, inspired by current events and underlying societal issues, such as police brutality, murdered and missing Indigenous women and anti-Black racism. Stewart believes that art is an accessible way to open up conversations, teach important lessons and learn about social issues that are neglected by the school system.
Stewart was born in 2002. She has lived the majority of her life in the town of Erin while attending school in Guelph. The lack of diversity in Guelph and Wellington County was made clear to her at a young age as she was often the only Black student in her class. Her teaching and advocacy began in the 5th grade when she was disturbed to learn none of her classmates knew what Black History Month was. She took it upon herself to educate her class on the subject for a school assignment. In the 7th grade, Stewart gave a class presentation about Black hair with the intention of teaching her peers about the everyday difficulties and harassment Black people, especially Black women, face. She was encouraged to begin educating her teachers and classmates on a larger scale after having a racial slur hurled at her on the street the same year.
In the 11th grade, Stewart created a Black Student Union and Alliance at her high school. By her senior year, multiple events had been organized by the group, including sponsored trips to African art exhibitions in Toronto and the appearance of guest speakers such as Lawrence Hill. The Alliance received the "2020 Club of the Year" award during Stewart’s final year of high school.
Despite the advocacy nature of her projects and art works, and the lasting impact of her activities, Stewart did not originally see herself as an activist or spoken-word artist. She was wary of the word ‘activist’ as it is often associated with radicalization. Stewart does not view what she does as radical – she is simply opening discussions about basic human rights and speaking out about injustices that people should not have to face. However, she has come to embrace the term and find pride in the title.
Today, Stewart runs a podcast titled "Looking In," which she describes as “a platform that promotes Black excellence” where she “discuss[es] politics, self-discovery, religion, business and much more.” She started a podcast as a way to use the platform for educational purposes and to market herself as a brand. Stewart will attend the University of Toronto in Fall 2020, where she will study humanities.
Stewart bows after reciting her spoken-word poem at the Guelph Black Lives Matter protest.
Stewart (right) and her friend Carliene Christian (left) pose together after their successful "Black Future Month" presentation at GCVI. The Black Student Union organized the event.