Every February I look forward to soaking in the events and festivities that honour the legacy of Black people, in Canada and across the world. Although exploring Black history can and should be done on an unending basis, I am filled with immense pride to see the efforts put forth to acknowledge such rich history. The 2023 theme for Black History Month is: “Ours to tell”. This theme rings bittersweet as it’s an opportunity for many to share their stories and the harsh truths lingering within them. For many in the Black community, specifically older adults, feelings of pride throughout this month are often accompanied by remembrance of traumatic events that have altered the thoughts, experiences and livelihoods of many generations.
For over four centuries, individuals from Black and Afro-Carribbean descendent communities have made valuable contributions to science, technology, medicine and worldwide infrastructures. These communities have housed some of the greatest ideas and inventions we may ever see in our lifetimes. Unfortunately, the poignant part of this recognition is the trauma, hardship and sacrifices that came before the greatness. With all that’s happened in the world over the last few years – from the unjust killings of Black men and women by law enforcement to how COVID-19 disproportionally impacted racialized communities, the greatness is often overshadowed by current day circumstances. For many of us, February marks an annual reminder that difficult conversations with our peers, colleagues, friends and families are inevitable. To be frank, these uncomfortable conversations are an everyday reality for most, whether it be with others or self reflection. For me in particular and at this stage of my life, it means worrying about how my older loved ones will fair in a long-term care setting if circumstances lead them down that path. Being exposed to the innerworkings of this sector has been an eye-opening opportunity and tough pill to swallow.
Health disparities research shows that many Black older adults, namely those living in North America have cumulative race-related stressors that have had a negative impact on their physical and mental health. While race alone doesn’t account for higher rates of illness, oftentimes warning signs related to illness go unrecognized due to systemic racism and bias on the part of healthcare providers (Koepp, Psychology Today, 2020). The stigma surrounding mental health also continues to be a predominant barrier for those that require support for anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses. The reality stands that many Black Afro-Caribbean people living, working and caregiving in Long-Term Care communities carry invisible baggage; baggage that can be exacerbated by multiple things that come from the healthcare system’s complex and unpredictable ecosystem. Discrimination and Anti-Black racism directed at residents, their families and frontline staff is prevalent across Canada. While many assume prejudice and intolerance is no longer a problem across the country, data shows there is a need to double down on initiatives that protect the liberties of Black people in many areas including health, education, employment, and the justice system.
This month offers platforms to discuss Black diaspora and this dialogue is often filled with successes, triumphs and the legacies of heroes. With that being said, we should all play a part in facilitating spaces to heal, honour and validate layered lived experiences. So why not do both authentically and meaningfully? With the knowledge amassed on diverse Black experiences in various settings, it is an opportune time to unpack the lows and highs to better protect, support and empower Black communities. While overarching equity is an ambitious and enduring goal, it is definitely possible.
Please take a moment to peruse through these educational Black history resources from the Government of Canada website:
- Black History Month in Canada's Digital Collections
Canada's Digital Collections (CDC), produced in partnership with Industry Canada includes Black history related content.
- Black History Canada Portal
An annotated guide to online resources on the history of Canada's Black communities.
- Canadian Encyclopedia: Black History in Canada
The Canadian Encyclopedia plays an essential role in providing Canadians and others with accurate, updated information about Black Canadians and their communities.
- Digital Museums Canada – BC's Black Pioneers: Their Industry and Character Influenced the Vision of Canada
In 1858, leaving behind an increasingly racist and divisive America, some 800 educated and skilled Black men and women came to the Colony of British Columbia, at the invitation of its Governor, Sir James Douglas. Discover the stories of determination, achievements and endurance of these intrepid pioneers, who helped lay the foundation of a newly colonized Vancouver Island, while also contributing to Canada's development and diversity.
Koepp, Regina. (2020)How Does Racism Affect African American Seniors? | Psychology Today Canada
Government of Canada (2023) February is Black History Month - Canada.ca