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Coquitlam writer-in-residence puts lens on Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

Lolu Oyedele is piecing poetry and plays together this summer at Coquitlam's Mackin House Museum.

Lolu Oyedele remembers listening to his grandfather tell folk tales in their homeland of Nigeria.

His storytelling was powerful and captivated the listener as he recounted the fables about poor and rich characters who interacted with animals — all concluding with a moral lesson for the audience.

Now, Oyedele is the writer-in-residence for the Coquitlam Heritage Society this summer, and is weaving local history into his poetry as well as creating a show his ancestors would be proud of.

Next month, the 28-year-old will be in the caboose in Heritage Square — between Mackin House Museum and Place Des Arts — to deliver an original performance about a Black rail porter.

Inspired by the 2012 play by Cheryl West called Pullman Porter Blues, Oyedele imagines he's a Black porter from the early 20th century who meets a spirit on a train; they discuss the rampant discrimination against Black people, especially in the workplace, and their struggle for equality.

However, they also discuss how far Black people have come and their modern-day successes.

"Back then, porters were people working to ease the lives of others travelling across Canada," he said, "but they weren't treated very well. They were paid less, and sometimes not at all."

"Today, we still don't live in a perfect society because people are struggling to be included and represented. There are parallels in society like for Indigenous people and the Pride movement."

In his work, Oyedele ties in the discrimination that Asian and Indian immigrant employees faced in Coquitlam while working at Fraser Mills, once one of the biggest sawmills in the British Empire.

Like the Black rail porters, their courage "speaks to the strength of different ethnicities to figure out a way to survive."

Oyedele, who grew up in South Africa and emigrated to Canada in 2011 with his family, settling in Kelowna, plans to deliver his Porter’s Revival Immersive Performance on Aug. 11 and 25 on the CP Rail caboose.

There will be four shows — at about 12 minutes each — before eight viewers.

Meanwhile, the Surrey resident will also give a poetry performance at Music in the Square on Aug. 25, as well as lead two-part writing workshops with youth (Aug. 15 and 17) and adults (Aug. 22 and 24).

His writing residency at Mackin House Museum ends Aug. 25.

To sign up for one of Lolu Oyedele's scribe sessions or caboose performances, you can visit Coquitlam Heritage's website.