Celina Caesar-Chavannes, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Trade, called on a gathering at the annual Ontario Black History Society (OBHS) brunch on Sunday to rise up and fight injustice and create “a future that has humanity, compassion and peace.”
“Rise up, lock arms with our brothers and sisters and ensure that injustice never wins ,” she told the mainly Black audience.
Speaking at the brunch to “kick off” Black History Month, the Grenada-born Member of Parliament for Whitby, Ontario noted that the story of Black people is ” a painful one.”
” We built nations while we were enslaved. We built the greatest nation with shackles on our feet…we know when we come to the door and we are not wanted, where we are not considered human beings where we have no rights …”
“Our story is one that has often said there is no developed nation on this planet that have become so without stealing from our [African] homeland. There is no [ developed] country that has become so without stealing resources, natural and human, from the [African]continent and that is truth.”
“If we want things to get better, we have to honor that truth because if we do not pay attention to the past and learn those lessons, we will make the same mistakes in the future,” Caesar-Chavannes warned.
She told the gathering that “it is our responsibility to lead. So it is time for our community to rise up…We owe it to those who marched and sat in and boycotted with us. We owe it to those who call the bottom of the Atlantic ocean their grave. We owe it to those who are protesting and marching today to our future – the young people who are sitting in our audience… We owe it to them.”
In her keynote address, Caesar-Chavannes also spoke of problems affecting the Black community in Canada.
” There is ‘over-incarceration’ of our people and indigenous people,” she said.
She also noted that in Toronto ” there is over-representation of our children in social services.”
Toronto Mayor John Tory also addressed the gathering.
Noting the importance of having a ” Black History Month,” he said that although he is a history graduate, he did not know ” all the wonderful things that the African Canadian community had done in and around the city.”
” Black history is our history,” he added.
Mayor Tory told the gathering that “nothing that happens anywhere else will change the Toronto values, the Canadian values, that make us a place that welcomes and celebrates and learns from the different people from around the world,”
Toronto, he said, is a “a place where we say no to polarization, no to division and yes to what has worked so well for us which is to include people.”
The mayor conceded, though, that ” we have work to do on that. ”
“We are not perfect but we are committed to that,” he added.
OBHS President, Nikki Clarke, noted that the organization was launched in 1978 ” to promote, preserve and protect black history.”
She said she hoped that Black history ‘” is not just supplemental information one month of the year” but becomes ” mandatory information ” in Canadian text books.
Present at the brunch was Danielle Beaton, a Mississauga schoolgirl who had high praise for the OBHS for its support in ” getting the word out” in her school about Black History Month.
She said she attended private schools all her life and had not known about Black History Month and had written to the OBHS asking for help in providing information to her school.
Beaton told the Caribbean Camera that in her school Black students are a minority and while gender equality and LGBT issues are ” in the spotlight, no attention was paid to Black issues.
” So I decided to do something about it. Now I feel pretty good having made the move because I have a lot of backup and support from the OBHS and others members of the community,” she said.
At the brunch awards were presented to the following:
Celina Caesar-Chavannes – Dr. Daniel G. Hill Award For Community Service
Spider Jones – Rose Fortune Award For Strength of Character and Firm Resolve
Bryan and Shannon Prince – Harriet Tubman Commitment to a Purpose Award
Lawrence Hill – Dr. Anderson Abbott Award for High Achievement
Dwight Drummond – Mathieu Da Costa Facilitator and Communicator Award
Andre De Grasse – Olivier Le Jeune Trailblazing Award