By Ivy Jones, Black History Month Coordinator at St. Mark’s Presbyterian Church in Malton, Ont.

“If a race has no history, it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes an insignificant factor in the thought of the world and stands in danger of being exterminated.”

Those words were spoken by famous historian Dr. Carter Woodson, who petitioned the United States government in 1926 to have a week to celebrate and highlight the large contributions of Black people who have made and are making contributions to the growth and development of American society. Since then, it was extended to the entire month of February every year. The month of February was chosen as it is the birth month of Dr. Woodson and President Abraham Lincoln, who helped in his own way to end slavery.

In 1995, Black History Month celebrations were petitioned by Senator Jean Augustine, Parliamentary Secretary to the then Prime Minister. She was the first Black woman to be elected to Parliament and the first Black Senator to the House of Commons.

Black History Month

“Black History Month” was adopted by the House of Commons in 2003. It has been said that history books in Canada do not record the life of Black people who have contributed to the society in which we live. Black slaves took refuge from their owners in many small towns of Canada where they made a life and helped to build these small towns. Roadways, buildings, bridges, and railways were named in their honour but nothing of their history was recorded in Canadian History books. Those history books also often fail to mention that slavery existed in Canada too.

Also important to the celebration of Black History in Canada is the late Rosemary Brown who was born in Jamaica in 1950 and became a politician in British Columbia. She was the first Black woman to be elected to the B.C. Legislature, and she also ran for the leadership of the New Democratic Party. Rosemary Brown was a fierce leader for women’s rights both here in Canada and around the world. She will be remembered for her strong human rights advocacy as the Chief Commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission. Both Jean Augustine and Rosemary Brown were born in the West Indies and became an integral part of Canadian society. Both of these women have won many accolades and awards—too numerous to mention—for their tireless efforts in promoting the rights and contributions of Black people. Senator Jean Augustine continues to work in all areas of her community to improve the lives of everyone.

I will close with Dr. Jemar Tisby, a historian and author who stated in one of his writings the reasons why we should celebrate “Black History.” He said, “we should reflect on how we treat each other, regardless of our colour or race, everyone deserves dignity and respect, as we are a tapestry of God’s creation, all woven together to shine.” As we celebrate another Black History Month this year, we also remember the words of the great poet laureate of our lifetime, Maya Angelou, who said, “people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

We can all work for a more just society. Happy Black History Month to you all. May God give us the grace and heart to do God’s will as we work towards a bright and prosperous future. Thank You.