With the arrival of February comes Black History Month, a time to celebrate and reflect on Black history in Canada. Diversity always has and will always be part of Canada, and today, Canadian society is proud to accept people from different races and backgrounds. However, we must not forget that racial discrimination persists even in 2022, and we still have a long way to go.
In celebration of Black History Month, here are three notable Black Canadian figures that have paved the way for Black Canadians. Even after February passes, let’s continue celebrating Black diversity all year long.
The Honourable Jean Augustine
In 2002, the Honourable Jean Augustine became the first Black female MP and Cabinet minister in Canada. Later that year, she was also selected to be a member of the Queen’s Privy Council of Canada, and in 2003, was appointed as the Minister of State (Multiculturalism and Status of Women).
In parliament, Jean Augustine served for three terms as Chair of the National Liberal Women’s Caucus. In 2005, she retired from politics but remained actively engaged in advocacy work. In 2007, Ontario appointed her as the first Fairness Commissioner, an office that ensured foreign-trained professionals received the credentials required to work in Ontario. In 2014, the Jean Augustine’s Centre for Young Women’s Empowerment was founded, an organization that supports the well-being and prosperity of young women and girls.
In the mid-1990s, Jean Augustine played a significant role in establishing Black History Month in Canada. Back then, many communities celebrated Black culture and history informally, but it was through Jean Augustine’s support and push that aided the unanimous agreement that February would be named Black History Month.
(The Canadian Encyclopedia).
From 1993 to 2015, Rosemary Sadlier was the president of the Ontario Black History Society. There, she sought to raise Black history awareness through education, research, and programming.
In 1993, Sadlier proposed the idea of Black History Month to the Honourable Jean Augustine, both of whom played a significant role in pushing the Canadian government to acknowledge February as Black History Month, to which they were successful. In that same year, she also helped establish Emancipation Day, now acknowledged on August 1st. Emancipation Day marks the anniversary of when the British Government abolished slavery. Today, Sadlier continues to spread awareness of Black history throughout Canada.
(Speak Truth to Power Canada).
Dennis Mitchell is the CEO and CIO of Starlight Capital. Before acquiring this leadership role in 2018, Mitchell held high leadership positions in the financial industry, including the Senior Vice-President for Sprott Asset Management. Mitchell has won several awards, including the Brendan Wood International Canadian TopGun Award in 2009, 2010, and 2011, and the Brendan Wood International 2012 Canadian TopGun Team Leader Award (Starlight Capital).
In a study conducted by Corporate Knights, which surveyed 60 companies, they found that out of the 79 executive leaders, only 6 were Black—that’s less than 1%. Black people make up 3.5% of Canada’s population, and this ratio gives us a stark reminder that although Canada has become much more inclusive, there are still ways to go. (Toronto Star).
In an interview in The Globe and Mail, Mitchell discussed the importance of diversity in organizations. “When you’re putting together a work force, you want people from diverse backgrounds and experiences. [...] If your work force is diverse, you can pull the answers from a wider range of knowledge and experience.”
McLeod, Susanna McLeod. “Jean Augustine.” The Canadian Encyclopedia, 23 Feb. 2016. https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/jean-augustine Accessed 15 Feb. 2022.
“Our Team.” Starlight Capital. https://starlightcapital.com/en/about-us/our-team Accessed 15 Feb. 2022.
Ravilojan, Uhanthaen. “New study finds less than 1 per cent of Canadian corporate leaders are Black.” Toronto Star, 4 July 2020. https://www.thestar.com/business/2020/07/04/less-than-one-per-cent-of-corporate-leaders-at-tsx-60-companies-are-black-researchers-find.html Accessed 16 Feb. 2022.
“Rosemary Sadlier.” Speak Truth to Power Canada. https://sttpcanada.ctf-fce.ca/lessons/rosemary-sadlier/bio/ Accessed 15 Feb. 2022. “Where we stand: Four leaders on being a Black person in corporate Canada - and what needs to change.” The Globe and Mail. https://www.theglobeandmail.com/business/article-where-we-stand-three-leaders-on-being-a-black-person-in-corporate/ Accessed 15 Feb. 2022.