Black History Society opens Black History Month with luncheon and awards

By Lincoln DePradine

Elise Harding-Davis and Natasha Henry

Elise Harding-Davis is proud of her African-Canadian heritage, but she’s also relentless in the pursuit of seeking formal apologies for the enslavement of Black people in Canada. Last Sunday, she made a public appeal for others to join her in petitioning to obtain that apology from the rulers of Canada and Britain and the French government.

“I would appreciate people keeping their eyes open on Facebook. I’m going to be launching a second petition demanding the Canadian government give an apology to African-Canadians for enslavement and the racist legacy that is with us to today,’’ Elise Harding-Davis said in the keynote address at an Ontario Black History Society (OBHS) event in Toronto.

“I also would be forwarding that letter and petition to King Charles III and President Macron in France for all the involvement of the French and the British for enslaving us,’’ she added. “I’m not going to stand by and let that moment go. When you see that petition, please put your name on it and please forward it to other people, because it’s time. There is no reason why we can’t speak up about what we want and demand.’’

Sunday’s event marked the 35th annual Black History Month launch of the OBHS. The theme was, “Our Roots, Black History in Canada’’.

Kathy Grant
John Tory talks law

According to Natasha Henry-Dixon, OBHS president, “Black roots in Canada go back over 400 years through the various waves of Black migration – forced and voluntary; those who were enslaved; free and freed Black people; freedom seekers from the United States and subsequent waves of immigration from the Caribbean, the United States and Continental Africa’’.

Black Canadians have been “planting roots’’ and “fostering family and community; establishing the social infrastructure to support growth and success’’; and have “worked collectively to improve our conditions and have been steadfast in challenging the barriers that impede our roots from flourishing’’, said Henry-Dixon, who also is an assistant professor of African-Canadian History at York University.

VIPs at the event
Patrice Barnes with her people

“It’s 2023 and there continues to be no mandated learning expectations on Black Canadian history. The 400-year presence of Black people on Canada is worth being included as part of the common public knowledge. Mandated expectations will demonstrate to Black Canadians, and students of other backgrounds, that people of African descent have contributed to the development of this nation and are important enough to learn about.’’

The OBHS launch, which featured a variety of cultural entertainment, also included award presentations, including one to the African Canadian Heritage Association. It was the recipient of the Dr Jean Augustine Award.

“It’s wonderful, wonderful to get an award from members of the community; people who are doing the same work that I am doing and even more. For them to have decided that they wanted to honour me is huge for me. It’s something that has pleased me enormously,’’ award recipient Joy Bullen, a project manager who supports Black Canadian youth in music, told The Caribbean Camera. She received the Harriett Tubman Award.

Other individuals honoured by the OBHS were Bernice Carnegie, who was given the Anderson Abbott Award; Kathy Grant, the Mary Matilda Winslow Award; Joel Zola, the OBHS/UN International Decade Award; and Ebonnie Rowe Kardinal Offishall were the first recipients of the OBHS’s new arts and culture awards.

Keynote speaker Harding-Davis, an educator and African-Canadian Heritage Consultant, said despite the grueling ordeal of enslavement, Black people endured to become the “underpinnings of North America’’.

Black people have been tough and resilient and were “never slaves’’ but “were enslaved’’, said Harding-Davis, a former curator and administrator of the North American Black Historical Museum & Cultural Centre Ltd., and the Nazery African Methodist Episcopal Church National Historic Site, which is now The Amherstburg Freedom Museum.

“There is so much richness, there is so much glory, in what we have done as a people,’’ she said.

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