The provincial Liberal government, with just one African-Canadian member in the 107-seat legislature, celebrated Black History Month at Queens Park last week.
Jamaican-born Margarett Best, who is the Minister of Health Promotion, read a statement in the legislature acknowledging Black History Month before joining Premier Dalton McGuinty and other cabinet colleagues at a reception.
McGuinty recognized Best’s role in helping to bring the 2015 Pan Am Games to the province. The lawyer-turned-politician’s portfolio also includes sport.
“You practice what you preach and you exemplify the best in the public service,” McGuinty told Best. “It’s people like you and everyone in this room today that inspire all Ontarians to be proud of our history and Black history.
“And history starts with individuals who live courageously like the great abolitionist Harriet Tubman who freed hundreds of slaves, and a soldier – William Edward Hall – who fought bravely for the British in the 1850s and became the very first Canadian sailor to receive the Victoria Cross…They have all helped make us who we are today which is a people who cherish our diversity and a people who refuse to allow adversity to deprive us of our dreams.”
Retired Citizenship Court judge Stanley Grizzle was the first Black to run for a seat in the Ontario Legislature in 1959. Four years later, Liberal member Leonard Braithwaite made history by becoming the first African-Canadian elected to a provincial legislature in Canada. The Royal Canadian Air Force veteran and lawyer served in the Ontario Legislature for 12 years up until 1975.
Zanana Akande was the first Black woman elected to the provincial parliament in 1990 while Alvin Curling, who served for 20 years as a Liberal MPP, was the first Black Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario.
“By sharing these stories of hope and courage of those who went before, we can stand firmly where we are today and clearly see where we have to go,” said McGuinty. “That’s where our history has brought us and that’s what our history has taught us. We need everyone at their best and we need everyone to be hopeful about the future, confident in who they are, confident that they belong and confident that they will overcome adversity and achieve their dreams.”
In her statement in the legislature, Best paid tribute to the province’s pioneering legislators and recognized young Ontarians who are shining in various fields of endeavour, including medicine and sport.
She singled out two-time World Junior Championship gold medalist Pernell Karl (P.K.) Subban who made his National Hockey League (NHL) debut for the Montreal Canadiens against the Philadelphia Flyers two weeks ago; Olympic bobsledder Shelley-Ann Brown and Rhodes Scholar Dr. Naana Jumah as some of the province’s brightest young stars.
“These young people are but a glimpse into our future that’s built on historical legacies of African-Canadians and a future bright with possibilities,” said Best.
“A rich legacy which began in Africa – the motherland – prior to the Middle Passage and the bondage of slavery, segregation, racism, oppression to the Underground Railroad, to freedom, voting rights, desegregation and integration.
“From pioneers of communities with strong African-Canadian historical ties – Dresden, Buxton, Owen Sound and Toronto – African-Canadians continue to work diligently to influence and shape the fabric of our great province of Ontario and beyond.
“The history of African-Canadians is a shared history which knows no boundaries. It is informed, affected and shaped by our global neighbours,” she added.