You have to know the past to understand the present and prepare for the future.
In 1954, community leader Donald Moore led a 29-member delegation to Ottawa to protest Canada’s restrictive immigrant policy that shut out Blacks and other visible minorities.
The Canadian Congress of Labour, which merged with the Trades and Labour Congress of Canada in 1956 to form the Canadian Labour Congress, organized the meeting on behalf of Moore, who was the chair of the Negro Citizenship Association (NCA), which was established in 1951.
The landmark trip and the subsequent relaxation of immigration laws partly because of Canada’s demand for cheap and unskilled labour led to the introduction of the West Indian Domestic Scheme that paved the way for 100 Caribbean women to enter Canada annually. They were subsequently granted landed immigrant status in return for their services.
Mary Batson of Montserrat came to Canada in 1964 under the program and her son – Cecil Roach – followed four years later.
A York Region District School Board (YRDSB) educator since 1999, he’s the co-ordinating superintendent of equity and community services.
The recipient of an African-Canadian Achievement Award (ACAA) last Saturday night for excellence in education, Roach paid tribute to Moore, who died in 1994 at age 102.
“He’s the reason why I am here,” said Roach, who completed his high school and university education in Montreal before coming to Toronto nearly three decades ago with his wife of 35 years, Dr. Roz Roach. “I am standing on the shoulders of him and the rest of those courageous delegation members.”
The younger of two children, Roach said the award was for his mother, who passed away in October 2013 at age 75.
“Moore and the Canadians opened the door and she walked right through and created opportunities for me to be successful,” said the former Board for the Black Community Council of Quebec member. “It was because of her that I became the first in my family to go to university.”
Batson was an accounts payable clerk at Eaton’s and Zellers for 21 and 20 years, respectively.
“My mom never made over $30,000 a year, but she knew the value of a good education and ensured that we got one,” said Roach. “Education for Blacks, in most cases, is the only thing at our disposal that we can utilize to uplift ourselves and become productive societal citizens. If it wasn’t for public education, I would not be where I am today. That’s why I fight so strongly and passionately to ensure that all kids, particularly Blacks, stay in school and benefit from an education.”
To ensure that Black kids in York region complete high school, Roach co-founded the Alliance of Educators for Black Students (AEBS) in 1998.
“Cecil is a staunch advocate for equity inclusivity for all students, staff and community,” said AEBS member and YRDSB administrator, Camille Logan, who attended the awards ceremony. “He never wavers from his commitment to ensure that some of our most marginalized students in our school board are provided with the appropriate support mechanisms to help with their success and achievement. It’s because of his vision, in consultation with many members of staff, that YRDSB is seen as a leader across the province in the area of equity work. This work requires not only dedication and commitment, but also courage as it challenges societal and organizational norms in the interest of serving those who need it the most. We are very honoured and proud to have such an exceptional leader in our school board who not only serves as a role model to Black educators and students who are aspiring leaders, but to all educators who wish to lead with integrity, dedication and commitment.”
The first Black principal of an YRDSB school (Middlefield Collegiate Institute) and the founding principal of Richmond Green Secondary School, Roach created the board’s inclusive school and community services office.
“Under his leadership and guidance, the school board’s focus on equity and inclusivity developed to ensure that students who experience marginalization in the school system are supported, their parents included and learning diversified so that all students could find themselves reflected in their curriculum and schools,” said Dr. Kim Tavares, a teacher in the YRDSB inclusive school and community services unit who also attended the awards event at the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts.
Outside his valuable work with the school board, Roach served as the Markham African Caribbean Canadian Association’s director of education and is a huge supporter of the Nubian Book Club that uses literacy as a tool for enhancing leadership and social skills, community engagement, respectful peer relationships and overall student success.
Markham resident, Donna Cardoza, started the club seven years ago. Students from kindergarten to university level meet four times during the summer in the serenity of her backyard to collectively explore selected literature.
“Cecil has been instrumental in ensuring that this cross-generational learning opportunity for members of the community in the Markham area and beyond that helps students to learn from a range of Black leaders in various careers is a success,” said the mother of two children. “He has never missed a meeting since we started the program. That speaks volumes about his commitment.”
Other ACCA winners were rapper and author Wes “Maestro” Williams, who is considered the dean of Canadian hip hop; Sickle Cell Disease Association president and executive director, Lanre Tunji-Ajayi; retired college professor, Erma Collins; RBC diversity leadership council founder, Jennifer Tory; Toronto Police deputy chief, Mark Saunders; retired judge, George Carter; radio personality, Matt Galloway; dentist, Dr. Victor Obasuyi; husband and wife, Victor and Sharmon Carrington; Faith Family Church senior pastor, Fredrica Walters; Olympic freestyle wrestler, Ohenewa Akuffo and jazz pianist, Quincy Bullen.