The poetic heart at the centre of Montreal's City Hall
Published Friday, February 14, 2014 1:09PM EST
Last Updated Monday, February 17, 2014 7:18AM EST
Three decades after coming to Montreal as a child, Frantz Benjamin has become not only a respected city councillor, but the first black man to be appointed Speaker of Montreal City Hall.
"For me it's an honour to serve as first black man, you know Chairman of the city council," said Benjamin.
His parents left Haiti during the Duvalier regime when he was 13 years old. He quickly adapted and felt at home until several years later when he had his first brush with racism.
Almost 18 years old, someone on a bus used a racist slur.
It was a novel experience that, at the time, stung.
"I see that oh they're judging me on the colour of my skin because when you're in Haiti you don't know that you are black, just that you're Haitian," said Benjamin.
Though he laughs about it now that first experience with racism propelled Benjamin.
"I started not only to think about that but I started to get involved also with other people in the fight against discrimination," he said.
He soon became a school commissioner, then ran for city council under the Union Montreal banner.
But halfway through his first term in office, the corruption scandals in the Gerald Tremblay-led party broke wide open.
"That was in 2011, like a circus."
In 2012 he left Union Montreal, then joined Team Denis Coderre for the last election.
But Benjamin is not only a husband, father and politician -- he's also a poet with five books of prose.
He's also known to break into poetry during council meetings.
"When Nelson Mandela passed away he started to quote Invictus, so we have now poetry at City Hall," said Mayor Denis Coderre.
"I think it's good for the tone. It's good for the inspiration."
Three months after his appointment Benjamin is getting comfortable in the speaker's chair.
"Sometimes you have to take a step as a a referee," he said.
But he still hopes to open doors for people of all backgrounds in a city that welcomed him as a young child.