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OHRC statement on Black History Month: Using the past to build an equitable future

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February 1, 2022

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Black History Month in Canada has its roots in the 1926 USA movement that sought to honour the work of Black educators. In more recent times, 1993, thought leaders such as Rosemary Sadlier, then president of the Ontario Black History Society, helped to make that concept officially adopted in Canada.

Throughout this month, the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) and people across Canada pause to honour and celebrate the immense achievements and contributions that Black people have made and continue to make, across all sectors of society. We celebrate Black people’s determination, perseverance, resilience, and strength toward growing a more inclusive and just society.

We are buoyed by Black women leaders who have and continue to contribute to the legacies and institutions of Canada, e.g., in education, law, medicine, and midwifery. We draw inspiration from them and renowned people such as Harriet Tubman, Jennie Robertson, Millicent Carey Burgess, Viola Desmond, Corrine Sparks, Bernice Redman, Juanita Westmoreland-Traoré and Itah Sadhu.

And we remember the courage and vision of Ontario’s early human rights trailblazers such as the OHRC’s first Director, Dr. Daniel G. Hill, Chief Commissioner Rosemary Brown, Commissioner Bromley Armstrong, and Lincoln Alexander and Dr. Akua Benjamin. Their courage has found expression in our current leaders, as they hone the skills of our youth to become the best leaders of the future. I place significant development on mentorship, sponsorship, and championing the goals of youth. These tools stimulate and encourage the development of their leadership skills, enhance cultural enrichment and academic excellence, prevent a monolithic leadership situation, and avoid intergenerational gaps.

Indeed, Black Canadians continue to battle all forms of discrimination, in particular anti-Black racism. But it is worth noting that our trailblazers – past and present – have buoyed, encouraged, and guided us throughout as we combat discrimination. In our everyday lives, we find inspiration and leadership among our families and friends; our Black sisters, brothers, parents, aunties, teachers, neighbours, and community leaders remind us that together, we must find comfort in our personal lives as well as always striving to build a more equitable and just country.

The future is dynamic. As we ponder our past and plan the future, passing the baton to our youth, we have every confidence that they will continue to imagine a bold future, relying on the legacies of our past to transform the future in a sustainable more inclusive, equitable and just society.

In solidarity and allyship,

Patricia DeGuire
Chief Commissioner