Congress of Black Women improving women’s lives for 50 years

By Lincoln DePradine

It’s been a half-century since the Congress of Black Women Canada (CBWC) was established and, for the Ontario regional chapter of CBWC, there’s a current urgent need.

Loris Thomas, president of the Congress of Black Women Ontario (CBWO) Inc., told The Caribbean Camera that the organization would like to see an increase in membership.

“We need people; we need human resource, we need the capacity,’’ she said. “We need the bodies. We need people to recognize how important it is, as a Black community, that we have to step in and do some of the work.’’

Kay Livingstone

Thomas was among current and former CBWC members that met last Sunday at the Mississauga Grand Banquet Hall to mark the 50th anniversary of the Congress of Black Women.

The CBWC, a national non-profit organization, was founded in 1973 by the late Kay Livingstone with the dedicated aim of improving the lives of Black women and their families.

Livingstone, who died in 1975, is highly regarded for her public advocacy against prejudice and discrimination, and is credited with first using the term “visibile minority”.

The CBWC’s Ontario Region chapter, which was incorporated in 2015, says it remains “committed to Kay Livingstone’s vision’’.

Loris Thomas

“Voices of Empowerment:  Amplifying Change” was the theme of Sunday’s anniversary celebrations and International Women’s Day Brunch.

“We highlighted the women who have used their voices over the years to impact changes in our community,’’ Thomas said. “It was vibrant and people had a fabulous time. I’m extremely happy with how the day went.’’

Among the highlights of the day were a variety of entertainment, as well as presentations from speakers such as former federal MP Jean Augustine – who also attended the inaugural meeting of the CBWC in 1973 – and a keynote address from Michel Shah, a company executive.

Shah is founder and president of Upskill Corporation, whose areas of specialty include training in “leadership competence and confidence’’, and in gaining “new skills, connections and experiences’’.

Thomas, in her opening remarks, said she believed Livingstone would be proud that the “milestone’’ commemorative event was occurring “during International Women’s Month, and in the year that we come to the end of the International Decade for People of African Descent’’.

“Her idea of a national organization for Black women lives on in chapters across Canada, and more so here in Ontario,’’ said Thomas.

“We acknowledge the women who were there at the beginning with her, and the women who carried her vision forward after her passing. Most importantly, we acknowledge the women who are today keeping the organization alive. The Congress of Black Women has seen its share of ebb and flow, resulting in the reduction of chapters across the country. However, the journey from 1973 to now has been rich and vibrant.’’

CBWC Ontario has embarked on a membership drive designed to attract additional volunteers, saying its “ability to stay the course’’ is “heavily reliant on the right mix of volunteer members, support from funders, and fundraising’’.  

“It’s a volunteer organization. Give five hours of your time per week,’’ Thomas said in an appeal for more members.

“When you join an organization, there’s some training that needs to happen; don’t resist that. Learn about governance and the best practices that it takes to keep these organizations afloat.’’