Black women struggled, bled and died for equal rights and justice, yet their courage, tenacity and sacrifices for others to thrive without facing barriers seem to be in vain, says motivational speaker and artist, Nicolle Coco LaRain.
While there is much to celebrate, she is concerned with the individuals girls are looking up to as their role models.
“My fear is for the young girls I work with in schools,” she said at the fifth annual Trent University Durham Black History Month celebration last Friday night. “Their hero is Beyonce. I like her and she’s a wonderful lady, but how is she their hero or ‘shero’. She has the capacity to be, but somebody is controlling her.
“Is that what Rosa Parks and the other trailblazers fought for? Did Rosa Parks fight for us to sit at the front of the bus and twerk? No.”
The theme of the celebration was “Black Women Paving the Way: Continuing the Dialogue”.
Doctoral student, Patrina Duhaney, is paving the way for Black women through her pursuit of higher education.
She is using her research as a tool to speak up against social justice.
“Through my involvement in student groups and committees, I am demanding that institutions rethink the way in which they determine what constitutes knowledge, who has access to it, who controls it and whose interests are served by this knowledge,” said Duhaney, who is a PhD student at McGill University. “I am helping to pave the way for future generations by conducting research that speaks to the experiences of Black women who have been charged without perpetuating violence against their intimate partners.”
Graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Toronto in 2005, Duhaney completed her Bachelor of Social Work degree with honours four years later at York University and her Master’s at Ryerson University five years ago.
Just one of three Black women in her doctoral program, Duhaney addressed some of the challenges she faces in pursuit of higher education.
“It gets lonely sometimes because there are only a few students to identify with and little to no professors of colour that I can identify with,” she said. “It gets lonely sometimes, because like some students, I have felt silenced, culturally alienated and physically isolated by school policies and practices that are overtly and covertly racist. Systemic racism which seems like academia’s dirty little secret, is not talked about often and when it gets talked about, it’s seldom taken seriously or people simply ignore it. But systemic racism becomes real when you don’t have equal access as a graduate student to work as a research or teaching assistant and an instructor and when you are not considered for in-house grants and stipends.”
Despite the challenges, Duhaney said quitting is not an option for her and she hopes other Black women in her position feel the same way.
“We cannot quit because there are so few of us who have been awarded access to certain spaces,” she said. “We remind ourselves that although the journey ahead is rough, rocky and downright brutal, we must be strong for each other and the students who are encouraged to do their very best when they see positive role models that look like them. We must be strong so that we can help debunk negative stereotypes that construct Black people as lazy, deadbeats, low achievers and criminals.”
As part of the annual celebration, the organization established the Local Hero Award in 2014.
This year’s recipient was Grenadian-born entrepreneur and politician, Celina Caesar-Chavannes, who represented the Liberals in last November’s federal by-election in Whitby-Oshawa.
Though finishing behind Conservative Party candidate and former mayor, Pat Perkins, who won the riding with 17,033 votes (49.2 per cent), Caesar-Chavannes garnered 14,082 votes (40.7 per cent), representing a marked increase in support in the Durham riding for the party, which managed just 14 per cent of the votes in the 2011 elections.
The University of Toronto and the University of Phoenix graduate is a former research assistant with the Rotman Research Institute and research co-ordinator with the University Health Network and the University of Toronto.
The Rotman School of Management Executive Master of Business Administration candidate lectures widely on the inclusion of marginalized populations in clinical research.
Failing to secure full-time employment after graduating with a Master of Business Administration degree inspired Caesar-Chavannes to launch ReSolve Research Solutions (RRS) 10 years ago. It’s a site management and clinical research consulting firm whose clients include pharmaceutical companies, private firms and non-governmental organizations.
She’s the recipient of a Harry Jerome Young Entrepreneur Award in 2007 and the Toronto Board of Trade 2012 Business Entrepreneur of the Year Award.