‘Dream big, take charge’

Black History Month

By Gerald V. Paul

Dr. Mary Anne Chambers and Ontario Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport Michael Coteau. Gerald V. Paul Photo
Dr. Mary Anne Chambers and Ontario Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport Michael Coteau.
Gerald V. Paul Photo

“When I tell young people to dream big, I am telling them not to settle for the easiest path or the path that others might define them. Most importantly, I am hoping that they will realize that their destiny is what they aspire to for themselves.

“Take charge of your lives,” Ontario Black History Month kickoff brunch keynote speaker Dr. Mary Anne Chambers told a packed audience last Sunday at Metro Convention Centre.

“We have the opportunity to direct the evolution of Black history as time goes by, without forgetting where we started but with a determination to create a future for our grandchildren. And their grandchildren that will reflect how far we have come, our impressive contributions and achievements, and our potential as a people,” Chambers said at the launch of the 19th-annual Black History Month of February.

“Each of us can help to direct the evolution, to create the history and to write the story. We do ourselves the greatest justice when we consistently take responsibility for who we are and who we are determined to be.

“That’s what I mean by self-empowerment,” Chambers said.

The former senior vice-president at Scotiabank and Ontario government minister, who has personally funded more than 35 scholarships for students attending Ontario universities and colleges and supports early childhood education in Jamaica, the country of her birth, shared her experience of how she overcame the challenges – real or perceived – “stacked against me.

“Today, even while the challenges of poverty and the frustrations of subtle and not-so-subtle racism continue to be the realities for too many of our people, the fact that we are able to publicly speak about our challenges and frustrations while celebrating our achievements suggests to me that while we have further to go, we have come a long way, and there can be no reversal of any gains that we have made,” said Chambers, the recipient of the Dr. Daniel G. Hill Award, for Community Service – in appreciation of her pioneering efforts in business and politics.

She has demonstrated her commitment to fiscal and social responsibility throughout her business career, in governance roles in the voluntary sector and in government.

“So if you are concerned, as you should be about the high percentage of Black students who are not completing high school, get involved in helping to provide better outcomes,” Chambers stressed.

Then she suggested an idea: the Big Brothers and Big Sisters organization where there is a great need for men to serve as big brothers, mentors, for little brothers, especially in Scarborough, North York, Etobicoke and Rexdale.

The recipient of the Prime Minister of Jamaica’s Medal of Appreciation noted the Youth in Policing Initiative, a partnership between Ontario’s Ministry of Children and Youth Services and more than 20 police services, has demonstrated that when youth and police have the opportunity to learn from and about each other under positive circumstances, negative stereotypes are diminished and mutual respect increases.

In Toronto alone, almost 1,500 teenagers have participated in this very special program since its inception in 2006.

And then she issued a clarion call: “So if you are concerned about questionable relationships between youth and police or about the disproportionate representation of Black youth in conflict with the law, help our youth to become better informed about their rights and responsibilities and encourage our young women and men to consider careers in law enforcement and other areas of the justice system, in influencing policies and practices, in helping to reduce recidivism among youth in custody and in driving more positive experiences and better outcomes for our young people.”

Michael Coteau, Ontario minister of tourism, culture and sport, told the event “I am proud that the month of February allows us to reflect and celebrate Black history – a legacy that benefits all Ontarians, connects us and strengthens our province.

“Black history in this country dates back to the early 1600’s. This history demonstrates the longstanding courage, determination and dignity of the Black community and the personal achievements of so many people over the years.”

Ontario Black History Society (OBHS), founded in 1978, is the only Ontario provincial heritage organization in Canada at the forefront in the celebration of Black history and heritage. It has a demonstrated record in the study, preservation and promotion of Black history in Ontario.

Gerald V. Paul
Gerald V. Paul