Fabrice Vil earned a law degree from Université de Montréal in 2006. He now dedicates his time to helping young people in schools, mainly through basketball.
“You dirty n***er!”
A Montreal cab driver shouted those words at Fabrice Vil after a Christmas party last December. Then he told him to get out of his car. Shocked, the young man complied. The next day, he recounted the incident on Facebook, and the reaction was massive.
Of the 469 friends who commented on his post, one in particular stuck out. It was his father, with some words of advice: Don't sweat the small stuff; keep your eye on the big picture. “Of all the people who might have been outraged by the episode or concerned about my well-being, you'd think my dad would be the most upset, right up there with my mom," Vil said afterwards in the column he writes for Le Devoir. "But he wasn’t, because he’s been dealing with discrimination since he arrived in Quebec in 1977.”
Vil – an affable and athletically built young entrepreneur and UdeM law graduate – sat down recently in his office on St. Catherine Street to talk about the incident and the issues it raises. “Quebeckers aren't more racist than anyone else, but racism exists here just like it does anywhere else," he said. "I believe that the over-representation of the black population in prisons and the under-representation of people of colour on TV are signs that we haven’t fully integrated the concept of equality into our lives."
One thing's for sure: this gifted, energetic and multi-talented Montrealer is becoming an important voice on issues of equal opportunity for minorities. Last February, when Michelle Obama visited Quebec at the invitation of the Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal, Vil was one of four Montrealers who appeared in a video welcoming her to the Palais des Congrès. This earned him a photo op with the former U.S. First Lady, and her thanks. “I was over the moon,” Vil recalled.
Son of immigrants
Fabrice Vil was born in Anjou, Quebec, to immigrants from Haiti. From a very young age, he spent a lot of time playing basketball at his school, Académie Michèle-Provost, and on the vacant lots in his neighbourhood. The sport would have a big impact on his life. Vil’s parents, who believed education was a springboard to success, encouraged him to work hard. He decided to go to a private high school, Collège Jean-de-Brébeuf, because of its basketball program. There, he discovered the thrill of competition and the finer points of being that often-underestimated mentor in an athlete’s life: a coach.
When the time came to decide on a career, Vil chose law. His bachelor’s degree completed, Vil passed the bar and joined a prominent Montreal law firm, Langlois Kronström Desjardins. He then did an unexpected about-face: he left law to become a social entrepreneur. He had already started up a new organization called 'Pour 3 Points' (For 3 Points) and decided to devote himself full-time to it. “I realized that I couldn't just spend my evenings and weekends on it anymore," he recalled. "Basically, my work as a lawyer was no longer meaningful for me.”
Vil has never regretted his move, especially since his professional activities now include several that draw on his legal training, such as those with the boards of the Mallet Institute and 'Culture pour tous,' a not-for-profit arts group. For the past two years, he has also been a columnist for Le Devoir and a commentator for two TV programs (Radio-Canada’s Entrée Principale and Vrak.tv's ALT) – each an extraordinary platform, he believes. “Luckily, I'm reasonably articulate, so I can take advantage of the opportunity.”
Coaches are key
Above all, Vil is driven by his dedication to Pour 3 Points. “Coaches are the adults with the most influence on a young athlete's life, after their parents,” he said. “I'm convinced coaches can help young people succeed and engage them in building a better society.”
“Fabrice will do a lot to fight for what he believes in, but he's always civil about it,” said lawyer Pierre Jauvin, vice-president of legal and organizational development at Nova Steel. Vil coached his son, Nicolas; that's how they met. Jauvin later helped Vil get an internship at the law firm where he worked. “I wasn’t surprised when he quit law to dedicate himself to his organization," Jauvin said. "Fabrice doesn’t do things by halves."
“Perseverance” and “altruism” are the words that lawyer Annahita Kiarash uses to describe Vil. She's known him since high school, where they both played basketball. "He's completely devoted to his cause," Kiarash said. "He wants to spark positive change in the world around him.”
At 33, Vil has spent half his life coaching young people. “Sports offer young people an amazing space to grow and develop,” he said. “I learned that early on and I’ve never stopped seeing it as something that deserves our attention."
The organization that Vil helped launch now has seven full-time employees. This year it will work with 30 coaches from 14 Montreal schools that have extracurricular sports programs, making a difference in the lives of more than 400 children and young people. Pour 3 Points offers coaches customized training to help give youngsters the skills they'll need to succeed in the outside world.
The big payoff
How did his organization get its name? It's about those three points. The 3-pointer is the toughest shot in basketball: the line is far from the hoop, and the risk is always high of missing. The potential payoff, however, is big.
“You’ve got to take risks in life," said Vil, who coaches at a Saint-Henri school twice a week. "It's the only way to succeed.”