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Written by Dave Hylton, Member of CUPE Local 1356 and Racial Justice/Anti-Racism committee
Black History month is important to me because it serves as a reminder of the struggles, tribulations and achievements of black people both past and present. It also serves as a reminder of where we came from as a people, where we were brought to and where we are going.
For over 300 years of Western History, black women, men and children were taken by force from Africa and transplanted to the Americas and the Caribbean as slaves. My ancestors were among them. In the slave society of the past blacks were forbidden to read, write or participate fully as citizens. They were exploited and suffered all manner of indignities. Their descendents myself included suffer the legacy of this trauma. However, in darkness there is always a beam of light that shines through. We are survivors. For me, Black History month reaffirms my people’s ability to survive and to forgive. In surviving the brutality of slavery, my ancestors taught me that I could carry on. I remember them with pride and I honor them by celebrating Black History month.
Black History month is also important to me because it allows others to learn about the many black people who came before us who helped build a better world. Together we celebrate their accomplishments, people such as Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and Brother Livingston of CUPE, to name just a few. Their lives serve as an inspiration to us all.
It is equally important to acknowledge the impact made by those living among us today, people such as Lincoln Alexander (former Lieutenant Governor General of Ontario) and Barack Obama (President of the United States of America). Through their hard work and perseverance they have taught us that all things are possible.
I would be remiss not to mention other great leaders and activists in my own backyard such as CUPE Ontario President Sid Ryan, who spoke out in support of Afro centric schools. CUPE National has also contributed significantly to raising awareness of the history, contributions and cultural heritage of people of African descent. As well I would like to thank Yolanda McLean (Diversity Vice-President, CUPE Ontario), Ajamu Nangwaya (CUPE Ontario Executive Board member) and Antoni Shelton (CUPE Ontario Executive Assistant to the President) for their contribution and dedication to the promotion of equality and justice for all.
For all these reasons Black History month is important to me. While my perspective may be different than that of others, given our different lived realities, in my opinion there is a common thread that binds many of us. That thread is the desire to share and celebrate together the many accomplishments made by Afro Canadians in our quest for mutual respect and equal opportunity for all the people of Canada, past, present and into the future.