By Leroy Graham
As February rolls around and Black History Month (BHM) is celebrated across Canada, Rosemary Sadlier, president of the Ontario Black History Society (OBHS), says it’s important to recount the long legacy and development of this annually recognized event, which was created in 1926 in the U.S.
“The work in Canada to formalize this celebration, which came into the country with the porters, [was started] at the B.M.E. Church in Toronto by the Canadian Negro Women’s Association in the 1950s,” says Sadlier. “It was not until the first of a series of petitions that the first ‘formal’ celebrations of Black History Month in Canada occurred. The first BHM proclamation with the City of Toronto happened in 1979, and a national declaration became effective in 1996. These actions have worked to ensure annual recognition of the contributions and experiences of Canadians of African origin.”
Although Black History Month is now widely recognized across the nation, Sadlier and many Black Canadians working to establish educational activities that occur throughout the year continue to find systemic and societal obstacles. “BHM was never intended by its originators to be practiced as a one-off with much hype [and often little substance], the way it is celebrated in Canada,” she says. “Instead, the idea was to have February as the culmination of a year spent learning, researching, discussing, reading, sharing and writing on all aspects of Black contribution.”
In the face of roadblocks, the OBHS continues to advocate for the recognition of African-Canadian contribution, while educating the present generation regarding its responsibility to formalize a continuous, year-round platform to examine collective identity. Sadlier insists that the charge for change must come from within our communities to achieve any real success.
“Even with our limited resources, we have provided thousands of individuals with insight into our experiences. We now look out from a precipice and view our collective future with a question. As the torch bearers of Canada’s Black identity, are we satisfied with our efforts concerning Black History Month or will we rally together to ensure that more is done?”