Black history month and beyond our Black lives (and votes!) matter

Black history month and beyond our Black lives (and votes!) matter

 By Jill Andrew

Jill Andrew

As February wraps up for another year, Black History Month events will begin to wind down. However, for those of us who live proudly in our Black skin day in and day out, we remain the embodiment of Black history, Black present day, and Black futures twelve months a year. We are the wildest dreams of our parents, elders and ancestors.

Now, more than ever, as we have witnessed the disproportionate impact COVID-19 has had on our community, we must wind up for what lies ahead. After all, our Black lives are not only personal. They are deeply political.

Our Black Votes matter. From elected school board trustees, municipal city councillors, Members of Provincial Parliament (MPP) to our federal Members of Parliament (MP),. it is crucial we make ourselves seen and heard through our mobilizing and organizing around the issues that matter most to our communities.

No elected official is above you. It is your right to evaluate an elected official’s response and should they be party-affiliated, their party position on your key community issues and demands. An even sharper eye pays attention to not only how or if they respond but when. Are they engaging community throughout their tenure in office or are they only ‘showing up’ on Black doors months before an election?  

Our community has spoken out loudly. Black community members predominantly represented in frontline health and essential jobs need paid sick days now and we, the NDP official opposition, are  leading that call at Queen’s Park. No worker in Ontario should have to decide between going to work sick or staying home and being unable to pay rent, their mortgage, food or medicine. The federal ‘paid sick day’ scheme isn’t enough and it’s got more holes than Swiss cheese. You deserve a provincial government ready to step up and deliver their own social safety net.

We continue to fight for an eviction ban which would see evictions prohibited until twelve months after the Chief Medical Officer of Health confirms that the pandemic has ended in Ontario. We need to ensure every member of our community has a home to live in not only during the pandemic but throughout our recovery and beyond.

All responses to the pandemic must prioritize equity and an anti-oppression lens. Even before COVID-19, our businesses experienced more systemic barriers than others. Now is the time for real Ontario government investment in Black small and medium businesses, entrepreneurs and the very artists and cultural workers who have helped sustain our mental health throughout this health crisis while navigating their own struggles with income precarity. We continue to demand funding to help save our main street as well as a comprehensive arts strategy recognizing the integral role of Black artists, arts organizations and institutions to our community identity and economy.

It is critical that our Black communities are vaccinated against COVID-19. I am looking forward to receiving my vaccination. However, Ontario government must ensure vaccine information is shared with our community through a culturally-relevant lens that takes into consideration many of our lived experiences with racism in healthcare.

And while we continue to fight for classrooms caped at 15 students, comprehensive in-school COVID testing and improved air quality in our schools to help ensure our children, teachers and education workers are safe we will not allow the erasure of Blackness to go unchecked by way of curriculum that after years of demands from community to this government and previous ones remains glaringly void of our Black histories and Black lives.

The calls of the Ontario Black History Society (OBHS) and TDSB teachers like D. Tyler Robinson and his three Black colleagues, Barrett, Remy Basu and Kiersten Wynter from Newtonbrook Secondary School in North York who have co-created the course ‘Deconstructing anti-Black racism in the Canadian and North-American Context’ must be heard and acted on by government. Action looks like ensuring Black curriculum is mandatory at every grade of a child’s education – Black, white, pink or purple. 

Before COVID-19, we, the  NDP Official Opposition,  called for a Provincial Strategy to Address Anti-Black racism across all Ontario School Boards. Our demand stands.

Our Black lives matter and while politics is far from perfect, voting remains the sole method for electing the very politicians who will create the laws that directly impact your life. Our Black voices are stronger than ever. We cannot be absent. The fact that we still live in a province where racial-profiling and carding is legal should be enough to get each and every one of us out to vote.

What community issues are concerning you?

(Dr. Jill Andrew is the Ontario NDP MPP for Toronto-St.Paul’s. She is also the Women’s Issues, Heritage and Culture critic and a founding member of the Ontario NDP Black Caucus. )