Black History Month was launched this week with stirring and dynamic speeches as Toronto basked in the proud glow of a CN Tower lit in iconic red, black and green.
Those colours, seen in several Caribbean flags, graced the tower for the first time as a result of a request by Gary Pieters, former president of the Urban Alliance on Race Relations.
Trinidad and Tobago-born Dr. Akua Benjamin won a standing ovation for her speech while Grenada-born Dr. Jean Augustine got love for her comments as Ontario Black History Society (OBHS) launched Black History Month (BHM).
Included in the festivities was Andy Phillips, Trini to de bone, and his steel pan musical delights.
Keynote speaker Augustine, a recipient of the Mary Matilda Winslow Award for Advocacy in Public Education, for whom Peel District School Board’s newest secondary school in Brampton will be named, told the 600 people at Metro Convention Centre last Sunday how as an MP she introduced a motion that was unanimously passed recognizing February as African Heritage and Black History Month.
The former principal, who was appreciative of the CN Tower display, said, “I have dedicated my life’s work to these SAIL principles (service, activism, innovation, leadership) and I’m excited to see how they will inspire future generations to engage in their community and the world.”
During Benjamin’s Resistance speech, she referred to the display on the CN Tower in light of Jamaican-born Marcus Garvey’s “Show me the race or the nation without a flag and I will show you a race of people without any pride. Aye! In song and mimicry they have said, ‘Every race has a flag but the coon.’ How true! Aye! But that was said four years ago. They can’t say it now …”
Garvey, Jamaica’s icon and a world-renowned freedom fighter and inspiration for Bob Marley, proposed the colours red, green and black for the following reasons:
“Red because of sympathy for the Reds of the world, green for their sympathy for the Irish in their fight for freedom, and the Black for the Negro.”
While Augustine took issue with Ontario’s decision to proclaim February 2016 as Black History Month in a “been there, done that attitude,” a news release from British-born, Grenada heritage Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport Michael Coteau noted, “Black Canadians have made vital contributions to Ontario’s economic, social and cultural landscape – and our province is fortunate to benefit from this legacy.
“Black History Month is an important celebration of the accomplishments of Black people, and our government is proud to formally recognize this rich heritage.”
Coteau noted the government intends to introduce legislation in the near future that, if passed, would formally establish February as Black History Month in Ontario on an annual basis.
Ontario first proclaimed February as Black History Month in 1993 to mark the 200th anniversary of a law banning the importation of slaves into Upper Canada. Since then Black History Month has continued to be celebrated but lacks official provincial status.