Each day Dion Fitzgerald walks into his office at Eva’s Satellite, he feels invested in what he does. Among many other experiences, this can also likely be attributed to an act of resistance. As a child, when Dion was called the N-word, his response to the cutting words and the physical attack that accompanied them, was to fight back. Yet, despite the fact that a racist word had been weaponized against him, his mother, who understood clearly the impact of anti-Black racism, sat him down and told him that physical retaliation was not always the answer… not even to something as painful as anti-Black racism.
Since joining Eva’s in 2009, Dion has prioritized making room for conversations and has used his mother’s lesson on the power of words, to help build local partnerships. Last year, Dion worked to bring community into Eva’s Satellite, inviting people who knew and were mentored by Eva Smith to share their memories of her. “We organized a panel discussion which was great. People spoke about the work that Eva did, and the kind of woman she was. It was an amazing experience since we talked about her as a person and not just as a name on a business card.”
The experience of building community partnerships and his work with youth helps Dion identify with Eva Smith’s vision and legacy. For him, seeing a young person’s personal growth and success is what his work is all about, “Our recreation projects are (and have been) extremely successful. We held a photography workshop for our residents a few years ago, and one of them fell in love with it. We supported him by giving him a camera, and today he is a successful photographer.”
As a musician and painter, Dion also uses music and art as tools to bring young people together. “Music is a great way to bring positive vibes to young people,” he says. But ever mindful of the role of community he adds, “It’s also a way to expose community members to our young people.”
For Dion, community partnerships are key. “Like all homeless shelters, Eva’s sees an over representation of Black youth,” he says. “The only way to deal with this is by following up our programming and services through strong partnerships within the Black community.” And this is something he is hopeful Eva’s as an organization will begin to do more of.