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Celebrating Black Canadians

Today marks the beginning of Black History Month in Canada. This month honours the countless contributions of black Canadians and black communities throughout Canada’s history. From Da Costa to De Grasse, passing by Desmond, Alexander and Tulloch, black Canadians have long played an understated role in shaping Canada’s identity. Together, we celebrate their achievements, and take the time to learn about their story. This cannot be done without also recognizing the dark history of racism and slavery that first brought black Canadians to turtle island.

Black History Month is a critical time of the year, fostering understanding, education and renewing the appreciation we have for the Black Canadians that have helped shape our country. We want to start this month by highlighting some of the outstanding contributions of those who’ve made Canada a better place:

- Viola Desmond was also a fighter and a trailblazer. She defied the racist norms of her era when she refused to submit to segregation at the Roseland Theatre in Halifax. This gesture demanded equality in a society that lacked the tolerance, diversity and inclusion that now defines our country’s highest aspirations. For her courage, Viola Desmond was arrested and forced out of the theatre but took her case all the way to the Nova Scotia Supreme Court. The issue of race was not mentioned during the proceeding. This is despite the fact that Desmond’s only offence was to violate the implicit rule that Black persons were to sit in the balcony seats, segregated from White persons on the main floor. Despite losing her appeal and at a huge personal sacrifice, Ms. Desmond’s sacrifice gave birth to a groundswell of resistance in the heart of the African Canadian community. Later this month, we will provide a detailed analysis of this case.

- Lincoln Alexander will forever be remembered for constantly breaking new barriers. As Canada’s first black member of parliament, cabinet minister and lieutenant-governor of Canada, Lincoln Alexander never seemed to run out of steam. He took on a unique burden in speaking ‘at the table’ for Black Canadians and others subject to discrimination and racism. All the while the man showed the utmost dignity and humility to all. In his first speech before the House of Commons, Lincoln Alexander said:

I am not the spokesman for the Negro; that honour has not been given to me. Do not let me ever give anyone that impression. However, I want the record to show that I accept the responsibility of speaking for him and all others in this great nation who feel that they are the subjects of discrimination because of race, creed or colour.

- Jean Augustine had her name etched in the history books when, amongst other accomplishments, she introduced and unanimously carried the House of Commons Motion proclaiming February Black History Month in Canada. From working as a schoolteacher in Grenada, to working as a domestic and shoe clerk in Canada, to becoming a school principal, and then serving as President of the Congress of Black Women of Canada, the Honourable Ms. Augustine’s journey is emblematic of her vision and dedication to public service.

We honour these leaders and others for their courageous dedication to fulfilling Canada’s aspirations of equality for all. We look forward to releasing our blog next week on the contributions of Black women to Canadian heritage, as we celebrate Black History Month.

- By Babacar Faye & Katie Black

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