Focusing on the Present During Black History Month: A Personal Reflection

“Until all of us have made it, none of us have made it.”
 – Rosemary Brown
(First Black Woman in Canada to be a Member of a Provincial Legislature)


Taïna Mayberry, OACAS Youth Programs Coordinator, offers some personal reflections on Black History Month.

What Celebrating Black History Month Means to Me

For me, every month is Black History Month (BHM). There is no month my pride in Blackness wanes nor am I any less of a Black woman the rest of the year. That being said, there are many ways to celebrate BHM. The important thing is to be thoughtful about it: Who does it resonate with? How inclusive it is? Is it culturally appropriate?

BHM to me means an opportunity to have conversations with people who don’t usually engage on this topic. Celebrating BHM also reinforces the importance of activities I try to engage in all year round: supporting Black-owned businesses, attending community-led events, and listening to my Ancestors who paved the road before me.

Black History Month: A Canadian Context

Oftentimes BHM is associated with recognizing people such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Harriet Tubman, and Rosa Parks. Although these individuals are incredibly important, I am conscious that most individuals celebrated during BHM are American. I encourage Canadians to also acknowledge the African-Canadians who have made significant contributions to our country. When we celebrate BHM from a local perspective it becomes more personal and relevant.

African-Canadians Who Inspire Me

As a Haitian-Canadian, I am inspired by Michaëlle Jean, the former Governor General of Canada (2005-2010), who came to Canada as a refugee from Haiti when she was 11 years old. I had the honour of meeting her during a school field trip in Ottawa.

Local BHM Events That Make a Difference

I also volunteered last week at the BHM Celebration: Returning to Our Roots, Youth Voices Leading the Change delivered by the Black Education Awareness Committee at the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto. The event focused on how Black youth today are eager to learn about their vast and rich history, which in turn, will aid in their development of a positive self-image and instill the desire to thrive and succeed.

Black History Month: Say It Out Loud…Racism.

Another element I reflect on is how often BHM focuses on key events before or during the civil rights movement. Although these time periods are pivotal to Black history and have paved the way to where we are now, focusing solely on the past can perpetuate or create several negative outcomes:

  • slavery is seen as the only way a group can be oppressed even though oppression takes multiple forms
  • Black history is seen as starting at slavery, even though there is a rich, vibrant history beyond that
  • racism is viewed as a past issue that was ”solved”
  • conversations about how to address current issues related to race and racism are silenced
  • the connection between past and current issues related to social disparities is ignored

It can be hard to talk about present day issues related to racism and intersecting forms of oppression experienced by African-Canadians with more than one marginalized identity (e.g., LGBTQ+, low-income, and disability). At the same time, these issues do not disappear when they are not named nor confronted. There are numerous age-appropriate tool kits and resources to begin these important conversations. They include:

Whatever form your BHM takes, I encourage you to be mindful of your actions and enjoy in the beautiful harmony of celebration and meaningful reflection.

Happy Black History Month.

-Taïna

Taïna is a Registered Social Worker (Master of Social Work) with experience in youth engagement, program coordination, psycho-educational workshop facilitation, and clinical interventions. She utilizes anti-oppressive, strength-based, and equitable practices throughout her work. In her spare time, Taïna enjoys hanging out with her cat, reading, jumping on trampolines, and traveling.

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