Toronto – January 28, 2016 – February is nationally observed throughout Canada as Black History month (BHM) in honour of the contributions of people of African descent in Canadian society. Historically, it honours the courage and resolve of trailblazers such as Viola Desmond, who in 1946, changed the conversation about why segregation is contrary to one’s human rights. On November 8, 1946, Viola was arrested in a Halifax, Nova Scotia movie theater because she elected to sit in the “whites only” section of the theater. Each activist revered during Black History month sent a very public message of what equality meant to them in the face of oppression, racism, and discrimination of that time. Efforts such as these led to a 1995 proclamation by Parliament marking February as Black History Month in Canada.
As we navigate the first quarter of 2016, labour activists will prepare to engage in many rights-focused conferences and political activity. In recognition of BHM, consider a different approach to your upcoming event. Far less featured than the traditional National Anthem is the Black National Anthem entitled “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing”. It was originally presented in honour of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday on February 12, 1900, by 500 school children in the segregated Stanton School in Jacksonville, Florida.
“Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
Let us march on 'til victory is won” – Black National Anthem
As social activists we understand that no victory is won without hardship, and that Canada is not free from the racism that scars the experience of our own black brothers and sisters. Differential treatment continues to exist in the provision of mental health services, and through the inordinate police profiling of black men, just to mention two examples.
This February, take a moment to reflect on what inclusion means in your workplace. The strength, perseverance and hard fought rights that originated with black Canadians changed the course of Canadian history and improved the lives of many others along the way. Look for events being planned by your provincial Black Historical societies and federations of labour. When we stand in solidarity to honour our black Canadian history, we gain strength in the fight for the equality of all Canadian workers.
Paul R. Meinema