By TOM GODFREY
Many of us look forward to Black History Month to learn of interesting people or events that are taking place around the city or to reconnect with the past.
The month of February is a great learning experience for many students whose teachers work hard to prepare programs on diversity and the culture of others.
There are tours to places like Uncle Tom’s Cabin, in Dresden, where students are taught of our past and some of the men and women, like first Black Toronto councillor and acting Mayor William Peyton Hubbard, or even first female Black publisher Mary Ann Shadd, who helped to make a difference in our lives.
A heritage plaque marks Hubbard’s home at 660 Broadview Ave., just south of Danforth, where he lived.
We cannot forget others, like former slave Josiah Henson, who helped to free 200 slaves through the Underground Railroad; and more recent activists as Harry Gairey, Donald Moore, hockey player Herb Carnegie, Lincoln Alexander, MP Rosemary Brown and others, who have fought for our place in history.
Black History Month began as “Negro History Week” in the U.S. in 1926. It wasn’t until the 1960s that the month-long event was celebrated south of the border.
The event began to gain steam in Canada in the 1950s, with groups like the Canadian Negro Women’s Association, which began to celebrate the Black community in Toronto.
It took some prodding by individuals and organizations such as the Ontario Black History Society (OBHS) before Toronto in 1979 became the first city in Canada to proclaim Black History Month, where it has been celebrated for 36 years.
Former MP Jean Augustine in 1995 introduced a motion that was passed unanimously by the House of Commons to recognize Black History Month across Canada.
The City of Toronto also proclaims Bob Marley Day every February 6, which has been recognized for 24 years since being introduced by community lawyer, Courtney Betty.
And although a large majority of people grew up with Black History Month, there are calls by some to have it enshrined in Ontario laws.
There are many who insist that students in Toronto and other large cities are more exposed to Black History than those in rural areas, where there may be less diversity or students of colour.
OBHS president Rosemary Sadlier, who is a historian, said more students across the province will be exposed to Black History if the month is enshrined in the Ontario education curriculum.
“I think Black History Month has to be instilled in the curriculum for schools across the province to recognize the contributions of African Canadians,” she said.
Sadlier is passionate that the month has to be officially recognized by the Ontario Ministry of Education so it can reach all students and teachers.
She said Black History Month programs are not mandatory in classes but the Ontario government can set guidelines for all schools to follow.
It may not be a bad idea to have the event enshrined; this way we can showcase African Canadians to groups, for example, in Thunder Bay, Sudbury or other areas where they may have not heard of abolitionist Harriet Tubman or former slave Henry Bibb, founder of the abolitionist newspaper, Voice of the Fugitive.
It is now up to teachers to work long and hard to create and establish Black History Month programs and then find speakers, volunteers and so on.
The Ontario government has to place in its curriculum the month-long program since it will help all our students succeed, whether in the online world or in classrooms.
If we can get our children to learn about each other and their cultures at an early age, we can foster a successful tool in fighting prejudice and ignorance as they grow older.
I agree with Sadlier that our Black History Month program should be included in provincial laws for the benefit of all students, Black or White.