Canadians Encouraged to Learn of Their Own Black History

Time is now for bigger role for blacks
Published On Tue Feb 2 2010
Gary Pieters

In the Greater Toronto Area and across Canada, Black History Month inspires Canadians of all diversities to take the opportunity to recognize and educate themselves about the legacy, achievements and contributions of black Canadians to this nation’s history, culture and heritage.
My perspective is that black history is Canadian history, and this ongoing awareness is important in making the invisible visible, with the goal that black Canadian contributions to this nation’s social, economic, cultural and political landscape will be understood, celebrated and shared by all Canadians.
The three levels of government have taken a step in the right direction by issuing proclamations and declarations of observance of Black History Month in their jurisdictions. Despite these efforts, I believe that many Canadians still do not even know that February is Black History Month.
“The Time is Now” is the theme the Ontario Black History Society (OBHS) has chosen to kick off this decade (2010-2019). It is time for individuals, groups, institutions and the media to join or spotlight efforts to include the black Canadian experience in our diverse mosaic. It is time to inspire people of all diversities to put all the missing pieces together to create a full and accurate depiction of the historical and current contributions of black Canadians to the building and development of Canada.
With another Black History Month in progress, wider society should reach out to ensure that the success and excellence of black Canadians is fully represented and reflected at all levels of this modern 21st century state. From slavery to the Underground Railroad, from emancipation to generational settlements, from Confederation to current events, more than 400 years of black participation in the Canadian story are rooted in the DNA of every province and territory.
According to 2006 census data from Statistics Canada, Canada has about 31 million people of whom 783,795 are black, about 2.5 per cent of the total population. The census data further reveal that the Greater Toronto Area is home to about 352,000 black Canadians, while the black population of Ontario is 473,000. The implication for the social geography of the GTA is significant, as Ontario is home to more than 60 per cent of the country’s black population.
The fact that blacks constitute the third largest visible minority in the Greater Toronto Area behind Chinese and South Asians demonstrates their potential to influence the future leadership, social progress and economic competitiveness of the GTA, Ontario and Canada.
Equity in society demands equity of representation. The time is now to incorporate black Canadian diversity at all levels of decision-making in Canada, including the judiciary, legislatures, tribunals, agencies, boards and commissions and related power structures.
Recently, I was reminded that in the federal cabinet, the Supreme Court of Canada and the Ontario Court of Appeal, there is no black representation. In the Ontario cabinet, there is one black minister, who also happens to be the sole black member of the Ontario Legislature. In the City of Toronto, the most diverse city of Canada, where I live and work, there is only one black city councillor.
One is not enough! It is time to correct this imbalance and close the representation gap that exists in the political power structures of the GTA, Ontario and Canada.
The time is now for black Canadians to get involved, engaged and empowered to participate in campaigns and elections as candidates, supporters and registered voters in every province, especially Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia and British Columbia.
The time is now for black Canadians to put forth their candidacies for appointments to agencies, boards and commissions, and for these organizations to reach out and act to make these bodies more representative. There are many black achievers dispersed across the cities, provinces and territories of this vast nation with the training and talent to ensure their recruitment and participation.
Young people will become what they see. We must reach out to the next generation of black Canadian young people, who are the emerging leaders, and provide them with hope and the means to make a difference in transforming representation to better reflect an inclusive multiracial society.
The representation of black Canadians is a vital issue as we move forward into this new decade – all of us must do our part to build a more inclusive society. The time is now.

Gary Pieters is an elementary school vice-principal in the Toronto District School Board and a former member of the Star Community Editorial Board.