• Dagma Koyi

Celebrating Black History

Honouring the success of the Black community's contributions to society and understanding their current struggle

Black History Month: an occasion for us to honour the achievements, sacrifices, and contributions of Black individuals. Without them, Canada most definitely would not be where it is today. It is an opportunity for us to educate ourselves on the centuries of adversity and oppression experienced by the Black community. It is a celebration of their heritage, culture, resilience and courage. It is a reminder to us about the challenges that they continue to face even today and the importance of working together to achieve equality, inclusivity and diversity.

Throughout the history of Canada, there have been many Black Canadian leaders who have played a critical role in shaping our country. As early as in the 1700s and 1800s, many Canadian social activists were involved in freeing slaves from the United States. Some of these individuals include Harriet Tubman and Mary Ann Shadd Cary.

Harriet Tubman dedicated her life to helping others and fighting for equality. She helped countless Black individuals escape to freedom through the underground railroad. She even delivered speeches against slavery and promoted women empowerment. Similarly, Mary Ann Shadd Cary devoted her life to fighting for freedom for the Black community. She became the first female publisher in North America after she founded the anti-slavery paper named “The Provincial Freeman”. The paper advocated for equality and raised awareness about the concerns of the Black Community. Just imagine. At a time of severe discrimination against Black individuals. At a time of widespread female sexism. With all odds against them, these women persevered and fought for the rights of their community. Of course, these are just two of the many people who were involved in the freedom fight. There are so many who remain anonymous in the history of our country - unnamed but nevertheless heroes.

The sacrifices and efforts of Canadian freedom fighters paved the way for many Black individuals to thrive in all fields of life. Engineer Elijah McCoy completely transformed the transportation industry with his various inventions related to steam-powered engines. Olympic champion Donovan Bailey was one of the greatest sprinters of all time; his athletic achievements have inspired many. Former lieutenant governor of Ontario Lincoln Alexander was the first Black member of parliament in Canadian history. Popular artists like Drake and The Weeknd continue to dominate the music charts across the globe. Evidently, whether it be in the sciences, sports, politics or the arts, Black Canadians have made countless contributions to society and have truly made our country proud. These individuals have become role models for youth today, providing inspiration and strength.

Unfortunately, despite all this, racism and discrimination against the Black community continue to be highly prevalent in society. We saw this in the year 2020 after the devastating death of George Floyd. The Black Lives Matter movement gained traction and showed us that the fight for equality for the Black community is far from over. Many individuals and organizations are continuing to fight for social change and bring forth a positive difference. Social activist Janaya Khan is the co-founder of Black Lives Matter Toronto and has spoken out against police brutality on several occasions. Author and activist Desmond Cole has raised concerns about racial discrimination against Black people. His book “The Skin We’re In” discusses the prevalence of systemic racism in the Canadian society. In Akil McKenzie’s heartfelt spoken word production, he passionately talks about the lives of Black men and women who have been taken from us because of police brutality. All of these people are raising awareness and helping to effect change.

Discrimination against Black individuals is also one of the reasons as to why Black youth are disproportionately overrepresented among the homeless youth population. Organizations like R.E.S.T are dedicated to combating youth homelessness by providing housing, financial support and culturally safe emotional support for Black youth.

For Black History Month, let us take the time to celebrate a community who has played a major role in shaping Canada. At the same time, let us also take the time to reflect on our personal actions, biases and gaps in our knowledge. Being well-informed is the only way that we can move forward and foster a society that is based on equality and justice.

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