It’s February and it’s Black History Month! During this month of acknowledging our Black history, our present lives, and our futures, I encourage us to reflect on the people, places, systems, experiences, and objects that have left an indelible mark on who we are, how we define Black History Month, and our relationship with this important month of significance, its history, and its legacy!
This year’s theme is, “Black Excellence: A Heritage to Celebrate; a Future to Build!” We have no shortage of Black accomplishments and contributions of Black excellence in our communities. From arts and culture, education, business, law, science, health, trades, entrepreneurship, sports, and community building and design, to academia, fashion, social services, politics, and beyond we are paving the way for Black futures! Stay tuned. We can do this all year but this month I’ll especially highlight some. I invite you to join me in celebrating the countless ways that Black communities continue to contribute to the rich, social, cultural, economic, and political tapestry of this province. I also want to recognize the unanimous passing of the Emancipation Month Act in 2021, which declared August as Emancipation Month in Ontario. As we know these days and months of significance – while critically necessary and deeply symbolic—are not the end of the story. In many ways, they are a beautiful and hard fought beginning.
This year marks the end of the UN’s International Decade for People of African Descent with emphases on recognition and the right to equality and non-discrimination, justice and our fair and equitable access to it, and our right to development and measures against poverty. While we have made many strides, our work in the fight for equity, justice, and systemic change is far from done. Structural anti-Black racism continues to harm our communities. Recently we saw an OHRC report confirming—unsurprisingly—the profound systemic racism that still exists in policing in Toronto and throughout this province. There is still so much work to be done to ensure the health, wellness, and collective safety of our Black communities.
Today I reiterate my calls for the province to redress the damage done by the legacy and ongoing reality of anti-Black racism and demand proper investments and systemic changes to ensure a bright future for Black folks across the province. This work must happen year-round. We must stamp out barriers to access in health care, education, housing, finance, and the “justice” system among other sectors and institutions. We must declare anti-Black racism a public health crisis recognizing the physical, mental and environmental toll of everyday and structural racism in our communities. For example, many Black-owned businesses—like those in my Toronto—St. Paul’s community of Little Jamaica and Midtown—have been hit disproportionately hard by the COVID-19 pandemic and frankly challenges even before COVID. The same rings true for many Black women entrepreneurs, Black disabled, Afro-Indigenous, and 2SLGBTQIA+ entrepreneurs and community members at large who must bump up against intersecting ongoing violences of misogynoir, ableism, anti-Indigenous racism, homophobia, transphobia, and ageism among others.
Black History Month is one month but investing in Black communities is the responsibility of all levels of government year round. It starts with listening to Black voices – listening never tokenizing. We have perspectives and solutions! It starts with taking account of where policies fall short and actions must meet good intentioned words. As individuals, we must take up the privilege of celebrating our Black lives, uplifting and amplifying our Black joy, and tackling anti-Black racism in all its forms and intersectionalities 365 days a year. We stand on the shoulders of giants in our community - past, present, and future. We are up for the task!
Dr. Jill Andrew, Ph.D
MPP, Toronto-St. Paul's