Black History Month is a timely reminder of the many and varied achievements African-Canadians have made in the province and nationally, says Ontario’s Lieutenant Governor, David Onley.
“For most, especially in the past, these achievements were gained despite systemic obstacles,” he noted at the Ontario Black History Society (OBHS) Black History Month kick-off last Sunday. “Because Canada’s Black history is legally rooted in voluntary immigration rather than slavery, one could infer that it is untarnished by racism. But any such assumption would be a mistake because even the most cursory scan of Black history would show many of those who succeeded did so in the face of racial prejudice in the society around them.
“We know that despite obstacles, the accomplishments of Black Canadians have contributed greatly to the development of our province…Throughout our history, the impact of Black Canadians on society has been out of proportion to their numbers of the population.
“So it’s important therefore for all Canadians – especially young Black Canadians – to know that the Black Diaspora is a key component of our national identity. So every year during Black History Month, Canadians have the opportunity to learn more about our society through the unique contributions of Black citizens to its evolution.”
The month of February was declared Black History Month in Canada in 1996.
Black History Month evolved from the work of American scholar, Dr. Carter Woodson who, in an attempt to spread the concept of African-American history, suggested its celebration during a week in the middle of February.
That month was chosen because it’s the birth month of Abraham Lincoln and the chosen birth month of Frederick Douglass, who was born a slave and therefore was unsure of his actual birth date.
Minister of Citizenship, Immigration & Multiculturalism, Jason Kenney, represented the federal government at the annual celebration. He recognized the OBHS’ longevity and its achievements over the years in promoting and celebrating Black history.
“Black History Month really has become a national phenomenon, but I have to say – speaking from a Canadian perspective – that that would not have happened without the diligence and perseverance of the Ontario Black History Society,” said Kenney.
He also said the federal government will celebrate the contributions and achievements of Black Canadians in law enforcement at its annual Black History Month celebration on February 5 at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa.
“Together with those who serve in our country’s uniform in the military, the men and women who serve in uniforms in our police and other law enforcement agencies are folks who literally put their lives on the line to keep our communities safe,” said Kenney. “One of the most important things about Black History Month is that it presents positive role models for our youth and I cannot think of more positive role models than those we will be featuring during our celebration this year.”
A few senior Black Canadian law enforcers were at this year’s Black History Month launch at the Liberty Grand. They included Toronto Police Service deputy chiefs Peter Sloly and Mark Saunders, Inspector Rohan Thompson – the highest ranking Black officer with the Ontario Provincial Police – and Keith Merith, who is one of four visible minority Inspectors with York Regional Police Service.
As part of this year’s Black History Month launch, awards in the name of Black trailblazers were presented to African-Canadian community members.
Rev. Don Meredith, Canada’s fourth Black senator, was presented with the Rev. Addie Aylestock Award for leadership in the church ministry, community and politics; Margarett Best – the first Black female politician to be re-elected to a Canadian legislature – was the recipient of the Leonard Braithwaite Award for exemplary contribution to law and politics; Canada’s first Black tenured faculty member and the second Black federal member of parliament, Dr. Howard McCurdy, was honoured with the Mathieu Da Costa Award and Kemeel Azan – considered a pioneer in Canada’s Black cosmetic industry – received the Rose Fortune Award.
Entrepreneur Denham Jolly was the recipient of the Dr. Anderson Abbot Award; Toronto District School Board principal, Thando Hyman-Aman, was recognized with the Dr. Daniel Hill Award; drummer Archie Alleyne was presented with the Olivier Le Jeune Award; the Harriet Tubman Award was awarded to Delores Lawrence for leadership in nursing and the health care profession; retired citizenship court judge, Stanley Grizzle, received the Mary Matilda Winslow Award; photographer Eddie Grant received the Mary Ann Shadd Award and retired football player and successful financial industry leader, Chuck Ealey, was recognized with the Charles Roach Award.
The special Barack Obama Influencer Award recipient was 17-year-old motivational speaker and author, James Valitchka.
In keeping with this year’s celebration theme, “Reflections”, the OBHS paid tribute to several prominent Canadians who passed away last year, including Lincoln Alexander, Charles Roach, Herb Carnegie, Don Carty, Leonard Braithwaite and Phyllis Brooks, who was honoured at the 2012 OBHS celebration. She died a month later.