Every year, the month of February brings an opportunity to recognize painful historical truths, as well as the luminous, exemplary struggles for freedom that brought more humanity into all of our lives.
You can use Black History Month as a source of personal inspiration. There is nourishment, courage and fierce determination to be found. I know it serves me always, and it may serve you.
We come from 400 years of humiliation, abject violence, untold cruelty and endless suffering. For centuries, colonialism feasted on the odious practice of mass enslavement of its conquered peoples, Black and Indigenous, deemed inferior, deprived of their humanity, robbed of their freedom, reduced to being called “savages” and treated as beasts of burden. This gruesome reality, with the most abusive and barbarous acts ever perpetrated against human beings, gave rise to the most epic, uplifting struggles ever waged. Against all odds we emerged, our humanistic values harder than steel through the fire of hatred.
Black history is Human History, inextricable from the story we all share, the story of our one and only race: the human race, its labours and ultimate triumph.
Black history shows how strength of character and a collective capacity for protracted struggle can become the greatest force for change. And that is good news. Shining examples of intelligence and perseverance in the face of extreme adversity are there for the taking.
It is a legacy we yearn to share with the world. How cultural resistance keeps us alive. The feat of the abolitionists who ended the systemic practice of slavery, the first movement to go global. The campaigns to stop public lynching. The right to vote. The end of racial segregation and now the current worldwide Black Lives Matter movement. Countless stories await to sustain you. Look around. Read the many books, watch the many movies and documentary films on the subject on CBC, the National Film Board (NFB). This month and beyond, online and in the flesh, join the celebrations, join the work.
The year 2020 heard a resounding cry for justice rising from the depths of history. This year, our many voices will continue to come together with concrete actions to eradicate racism, the age-old template for other forms of oppression.
As the organizer of the National Black Canadian Summit, the Michaëlle Jean Foundation has been successfully involved in facilitating such mobilization since 2017, answering the call of the International Decade of People of African Descent (2015–2024) from the United Nations. The aim is to ensure that Black communities across Canada, under the leadership of young people, with their creativity, self-confidence and impatience, can articulate forcefully the terms of a national strategy for the eradication of such pervasive and systemic racial discrimination. After two high-profile summits, one in Toronto and one in Ottawa, the Covid-19 pandemic forced us to cancel the one we had planned for Halifax in March 2020. So far, it remains impossible to meet in person. But we will keep up the momentum with a series of virtual Summits to continue working on all these issues. In 2022, we will be meeting in large numbers, ready to launch what will be called “The Halifax National Black Canadian Summit Declaration.”
My invitation to you: please consider joining Black History Month as Shared History Month. Make it a year. Make it a life. Your voice needs to be heard and together we are stronger.