Black History Month 2023: Ours to Tell

Nicole Bonnie, CEO of OACAS

Reflections from Nicole Bonnie, CEO of OACAS

Since the mid-1990s, February has been recognized as Black History Month in Ontario and across Canada. It’s a time dedicated to celebrating the contributions and accomplishments of Black Canadians and communities. It’s a time for sharing and for storytelling, for listening and for learning. This Black History Month’s theme “Ours to Tell” reminds us that we each have a story that is worthy of being shared, of being heard, and of being honoured.

In child welfare, Black families have long been telling us their stories. They have detailed the ways the system has harmed Black communities, putting them under surveillance and questioning their capacity to care for their children. In 2015, One Vision One Voice (OVOV) was launched as a direct response to community voices to address the overrepresentation of Black families in the child welfare system.

And then, last year’s Ontario Incidence Study (OIS) report released by OVOV in partnership with the University of Toronto’s Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work (FIFSW) gave evidence to the narratives that were well known in the Black community. It showed so clearly that anti-Black racism persists in child welfare—and in all the systems connected to it—and that Black families across Ontario are being directly, negatively, impacted.

This report reinforced the importance of listening to the stories of the children, youth, and families served by child welfare agencies in Ontario and the need for urgent response. Their experiences and their knowledge are essential to transforming the child welfare system—a system committed to dismantling White supremacy, focused on prevention and early intervention, on family and community strengths, and on improved outcomes for all children, youth, and families. We need their voices to push us further, faster.

We have not arrived as a system, but we continue to work to centre the voices of Black community and Black children, youth, and families. If we take the time to listen, we will find that Black youth have a lot to share about their experiences. And they also have solutions on ways to improve the system to provide better care. That’s why I’m so excited about the fourth annual PowerUp! symposium, taking place on March 6. At PowerUp!, OVOV will bring together Black-identifying youth from across Ontario to share their experiences in child welfare. The goal is to build connections, community, and to celebrate Black identity. A key response to honouring their stories will be to take action with our members and stakeholders across the province to make real change. Learn more about PowerUp! at

I often get asked what it was like to be appointed as the first Black CEO in the Ontario child welfare system. When I do, I think about a phone call I got from a community member shortly after I started at OACAS. She shared with me her joy and pride in being able to share my story with her teenage daughters. She wanted her children to know that they too can become leaders. That similar to my own, their pathways to success have been paved by the tireless efforts of other Black women. In difficult times, this is one of the conversations I go back to. It reminds me that my story is bigger than just me. It connects both those that came before me and those who are yet to come. That is the power of storytelling.

So, this Black History Month, take the time to truly listen and learn, and then join us in the work we are doing to address anti-Black racism across our province and across systems to ensure the safety, well-being, and success of all Black children, youth, families, and communities.