Feds allocate $1.5 million to Jean Augustine Chair at York U

By Lincoln DePradine

Jean Augustine

For 15 years, a campaign has been underway in support of the Chair in Education, Community and Diaspora, which is named after former Member of Parliament Dr Jean Augustine.

Augustine, who served as a cabinet minister and also as parliamentary secretary to Prime Minister Jean Chrétien from 1994-1996, said she herself “tried to shake every tree that there was in the community’’, in the fundraising drive for the Jean Augustine Chair in Education, Community and Diaspora at York University.

The Grenada-born retired politician and ex-school principal is now welcoming $1.5 million that the Liberal Party government in Ottawa, as part of its 2022 budget allocations, proposes to disburse “to the Department of Canadian Heritage for a federal contribution towards an endowment which would support the ongoing activities’’ of the Jean Augustine Chair at York.

“With this money, the Chair will be now fully funded and the endowment will be working,’’ Augustine, 84, said at a meeting recently.

The hybrid roundtable meeting, with both in-person and virtual participation, involved community members and representatives of the ruling federal Liberal Party Black Caucus, which is chaired by Arielle Kayabaga.

The group, also referred to as the “Canadian Caucus of Black Parliamentarians’’, was formerly chaired by Greg Fergus, who was first elected in 2015 as MP for the Quebec riding of Hull-Aylmer.

Kayabaga, a rookie MP, was elected to the House of Commons last year to represent London West.

The aim of the Black Caucus is “representing you the best way that we can’’, Kayabaga told the meeting that was hosted at the Toronto headquarters of AfroGlobal TV.

Marci Ien

It included presentations, explanations, questions and comments on investments in the budget for housing, healthcare, Black-owned businesses and other issues, specifically as they impact Canadians of African descent.

“I’m so excited that this budget includes an investment into the Jean Augustine Chair in Education, Community and Diaspora at York University,’’ said Michael Coteau, Liberal backbencher in the House and Caucus of Black Parliamentarians’ member, who attended the meeting.

The Jean Augustine Chair focuses on addressing systemic barriers and racial inequities in Canada’s education system with the aim of improving educational and social outcomes for Black students.

York University Professor Carl E. James is the holder of Chair, whose objectives include fostering “an understanding of the diverse cultural and educational needs of students’’.

James, a prolific author and well-known community activist, has described the promised federal government funding as an “important boost’’ for the Jean Augustine Chair at York University.

“This federal contribution will ensure the longevity of the Chair,’’ he said. “It’s rewarding to know the work of the Chair, to support Black youth across the country, is being recognized and given this important boost by the Canadian government.”

Augustine, recalling the idea of establishing the Chair, said she was able to negotiate “the best deal from York University’’, which offered $1 Million for the project. Another $2 Million was needed.

“I started since 2007 trying to raise the money to complete the chair,’’ Augustine said at the Black Caucus meeting, where she also appealed for assistance for the Ontario Black History Society.

Michael Coteau

“The Ontario Black History Society needs a museum,’’ she said. “So, put that on the list.’’

Several of the issues highlighted by community members are linked to her ministry, said Marci Ien, who has been serving as Toronto Centre MP since October 2020. She’s a Black Caucus member and minister responsible for women, gender equality and youth.

“My ministry touches every other ministry in government,’’ said Ien. “My ministry is about levelling the playing field for women and for young people and for the LGBTQ2S communities, who were disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.’’

Coteau, MP for Don Valley East, spotlighted some budget items, such as investment in healthcare.

“One of the things that I think is most attractive to me is the investment into healthcare in general. Dental care for young people, 12 and under, that’s an important thing; $5.3 billion over five years will be unvested into dental care,’’ he said.

As well, there’s $9.7 million “to support targeted scholarships and fellowship programs for Black students’’, added Coteau, a former Toronto District School Board trustee and one-time Ontario government cabinet minister.

“There are so many people doing such extraordinary things in our community. Each person has a unique story and has contributed in so many ways,’’ he said.