As Black History Month 2023 comes to an end, I Karen Brown – CUPE Manitoba’s elected Representative for Racialized Workers – want to thank all the volunteers and organizations that work to make this short month a time of great celebration and learning, filled with music, great food and company. With the Youth Symposium and Debate, basketball clinic, history lessons with crafts and music and all the other opportunities to share, teach and learn it has truly been another great month. Thank you all.
Those of you who missed activities you can check out the Black History Month (BHM) website at https://www.bhmwinnipeg.com/ or the cooking classes with Chef Rob Thomas on YouTube! Past years’ classes are also accessible.
Recognizing History, Celebrating Black Achievement
These celebrations are so very important, but so is understanding why BHM even exists. Unfortunately, history classes and books rarely talk about the accomplishments and contributions Black people have made to our local communities or the world at large. The books and discussions have historically glossed over the fact Canadians were involved in the enslavement and ownership of peoples from many African nations and it was not until 1834 that legislation was passed to abolish slavery (less than 200 years ago).
This year in celebration of Black History, CUPE recognized and highlighted Dr. Jill Brown, Ph.D, a Black, queer MPP in Ontario. She is the first Black, queer person to be elected in Ontario and reportedly in Canada. She has been a strong voice for the constituents that elected her on social justice issues and has introduced many pieces of legislation to further enshrine the rights and liberties of all. Find out more about her here: https://www.teamjill.ca/jill.
The Canadian Mint celebrated BHM by commemorating the No. 2 Construction Battalion. Prior to 1916, Black men could not volunteer to serve their country in the forces in Canada. In 2022 Prime Minister Justin Trudeau formally apologized for the racist policies and the failure to recognize, honour and commemorate the Battalion that were denied dignity in life and in the death. Hear the apology to their descendants here: https://vimeo.com/729838044/f87dfbaea6.
And on January 30th of this year, Canada Post celebrated Chloe Cooley, an enslaved woman living in Upper Canada in the late 18th century. She tried to escape enslavement, and her act of resistance when caught on March 14, 1793 led to legislation that would change enslavement in Canada. Find more here: https://www.canadapost-postescanada.ca/blogs/personal/perspectives/chloe-cooley-black-history-month/.
In 2008 Senator Donald Oliver, the first Black man appointed to the Senate in Canada introduced the motion to recognize the contributions of Black Canadians and it received unanimous approval. Learn more about him here: https://www.mulroneyinstitute.ca/people/donald-oliver.
As with so many celebrations and recognitions, the list of Black people who helped form Canada in so many ways is endless and going forward it will hopefully be in the history books and celebrated and recognized not just in February but all year long.
Taking Anti-Racist Action
In order to accomplish equitable representation and recognition we must all take steps to end the anti-Black racism and white supremacy models that prevent, repress and oppress.
CUPE National adopted its Anti-Racism Strategy at convention in 2021. It features 10 strong goals, and timelines for reporting were developed after consultations with Black, Indigenous and racialized members. You can read it here: https://cupe.ca/sites/cupe/files/anti-racism_strategy_en.pdf.
Your Local can help achieve these goals-be prepared to participate in an equity audit, track grievances and complaints that involve racism, be sure BIPOC folks are represented and have full voice at every level and celebrate the accomplishments of Black, Indigenous and racialized members. You can support their advancement with employment equity plans, using an anti-racist lens to review all policies and procedures in your workplace and Local.
I was elected as the first Diversity Representative for racialized members on the CUPE MB executive in 2020 and re-elected in 2022. I want to hear from and support racialized members so I can continue to advocate for change and promote processes that are transparent, equitable and recognize the need to be progressive and fluid.
So, take the time to celebrate in February and then roll up your sleeves to keep the work alive and moving forward.