A Reflection on Black History Month
by E.L., FCO Placement Student
Black history month originated in the United States, known as African American History Month, a year after Black educators and students observed Black History month in 1969 at Kent University. President Gerald Ford recognized it in 1976 during the celebration of the United States Bicentennial, where he urged Americans to “seize the opportunity to honour the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavour throughout our history” (Ford, 1976).
In 1978, the Ontario Black History Society (OBHS) was established in Canada. Its founders, including Dr. Daniel G. Hill and Wilson O. Brooks, petitioned the City of Toronto to have February formally proclaimed as Black History Month. In 1979, the first-ever Canadian proclamation was issued by Toronto. The House of Commons officially recognized Black history month in Canada in 1995 in a motion passed by Dr. Augustine, the first Black woman to be elected (Government of Canada). In February 2008, Senator Donald Oliver, the first Black man appointed to the Senate, introduced the “Motion to Recognize Contributions of Black Canadians, and February as Black History Month,” which was adopted on March 4, 2008.
The theme of Canada’s 2023 Black History Month celebration, Ours to Tell, commemorates the life and legacy of the Honourable Lincoln Alexander, who made significant contributions to racial equity and social justice. The Honourable Lincoln MacCauley Alexander was born in Toronto and became Canada’s first Black Member of Parliament, Cabinet minister and Lieutenant Governor of Ontario. The theme represents an opportunity to learn the histories, successes, sacrifices and triumphs of the Black population.
I studied anti-oppressive practice at both George Brown College, where I graduated from the Community Work program in 2018 as well as Toronto Metropolitan University, where I pursued my Social Work undergraduate degree. Anti-oppressive practice is a critical social work approach that draws on critical social science theories, and it is “informed by humanistic social justice values, taking account of the experiences and views of oppressed people.” (Healy, 192) Anti Oppressive Practice breaks the barriers between those who face oppression and those who use their privilege to oppress others. According to the City of Toronto website, Black History Month is an opportunity to learn about Black Canadians and to “recognize the role they have played in building our city, to understand the vital need to combat racism, discrimination and inequity in communities, partially through gaining a greater understanding of the discrimination and marginalization often faced by Black Canadians” (City of Toronto, 2023). Anti-oppressive practice is a way for those who care about humanity to step forward and support those marginalized and oppressed.
The City of Toronto website highlights the importance of Black History Month in recognizing the contributions of Black Canadians and combatting racism, discrimination, and inequity. “By learning about the discrimination and marginalization often faced by Black Canadians, we can work toward greater understanding and social change” (Hussen, 2023). One goal of anti-oppressive practice is for everyone to participate in all aspects of social life, experience fundamental freedoms and human rights, and develop an affirming sense of self and group. The City of Toronto is confronting Anti-Black Racism (CABR) by developing the Toronto Action Plan to eliminate barriers and to ensure systemic changes are made to eradicate anti-Black racism and help create a culture that values inclusion and opposes racism and discrimination.
In Canada, February was selected as the month to celebrate the history and contributions of the Black population because it aligns with the birthdays of Abraham and Frederick Douglass. However, it is essential to note that one month is insufficient to comprehend the depth and complexity of Black history fully. Nevertheless, it is a starting point that helps foster a culture of inclusion and anti-racism, emphasizing the importance of unity in the face of discrimination.
Black history month. City of Toronto. (2023, February 15). Retrieved February 16, 2023, from https://www.toronto.ca/explore-enjoy/history-art-culture/black-history-month/
Debates - issue 34 - February 14, 2008. Debates of the Senate. (2008, February 14). Retrieved February 16, 2023, from https://sencanada.ca/en/content/sen/chamber/392/debates/034db_2008-02-14-e#74
Government of Canada. (2023, January 21). Statement by minister Hussen on Lincoln Alexander day and announcement of the theme for Black History Month. Retrieved February 16, 2023, from https://www.canada.ca/en/canadian-heritage/news/2023/01/statement-by-minister-hussen-on-lincolnalexander-day-and-announcement-of-the-theme-for-black-history-month.html
Government of Canada. (2023, February 1). About Black History Month. Black History Month. Retrieved February 8, 2023, from https://www.canada.ca/en/canadian-heritage/campaigns/black-history-month/about.html
Healy, K. (2014). Social work theories in context: Creating frameworks for practice (2nd ed.) Palgrave Macmillan. Pg.192
Message on the observance of Black History Month, February 1976. Message on the Observance of Black History Month, February 1976. | The American Presidency Project. (1976, February 10). Retrieved February 16, 2023, from https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/documents/message-the-observance-black-history-month-february-1976