By Gerald V. Paul
The theme of this year’s Black History Month, Proud of our History: 2015 Year of Sport in Canada was revealed at a celebration at historic St. Lawrence Hall this week.
The event included a Canada Post philatelic tribute to the legacy of Nelson Mandela, abolitionist meetings and the Underground Railroad.
The souvenir stamp sheet features a large, international-rate version of the new stamp, designed using a Yousuf Karsh photo taken during Mandela’s first visit to Canada in 1990. Archival photos of Mandela were also included.
“This month presents an opportunity to pay special tribute to the outstanding Black Canadian athletes, past and present, who have distinguished themselves in sport both at home and around the world,” Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in a statement.
Harper encouraged Canadians to participate in Black History Month activities throughout February in their communities to gain insight into the significant role Canadians of African and Caribbean ancestry have played in building Canada and shaping its national identity.
In a release, Premier Kathleen Wynne offered congratulations on behalf of Ontario.
“Black History Month offers the opportunity for all Ontarians to learn more about the remarkable social, cultural, and economic contributions that African Canadians have made and continue to make to our province,” Wynne said. “It also offers an ideal opportunity to recognize the outstanding accomplishments of African Canadians – and to learn from the struggles and resilience of the many African Canadians who have helped define our province.
“This month is a time to reflect on the human experience and aspirations that we all share – and to acknowledge the caring and compassionate society we are building together. I encourage all Ontarians to reflect upon the experiences of the Black pioneers who have gone before us – and on the achievements and triumphs of those who are making their mark today.”
Among the 10 Sports personalities present were the Caribbean’s Perdita Felicien, track and field two-time Pan Am Games silver medalist and world champion hurdler, and Anthony Bennett, first Canadian to be selected first overall in the NBA draft.
Retired senator Don Oliver said Prof. Carter G. Woodson, known as the Father of Black History Month, felt that by encouraging people to learn more about Black history, Blacks would be proud of their heritage. Woodson hoped that it would help to eliminate prejudice.
Oliver noted that Black History Month still embraces Woodson’s vision as a time of understanding and reflection on the contributions Black people have made to building Canada. It provides a special month when students, children and Canadians from all walks of life can celebrate Black achievements, he said.
Minister of Multiculturalism Jason Kenney praised the contributions of the Caribbean and Black community and stressed the work of Lincoln Alexander, Canada’s first Black MP and cabinet minister.
“The proud legacy of Black Canadians goes back to the early beginnings of Canadian history. The great sacrifices and tremendous contributions of their community have helped to create the Canada of today.”
Sen. Don Meredith said Black History Month is more than a celebration of those who made a contribution, saying “it challenges youth to accomplish these things as well as in sports, science and academia.”