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Celebrating Black History Month: Learning From the Past, Action in the Present and Looking to the Future

Black History Month is here. It’s an important opportunity for all of us to celebrate and acknowledge Black histories and truths, to hear and find new ways of listening to Black voices and Black leaders, and in the case of the Alliance for Healthier Communities and its comprehensive primary health care members, to highlight work to improve Black health and wellbeing, which also means how to improve Black mental health. That means we’ll also be talking about anti-Black racism, and its impacts on Black people and communities. It also means discussing the steps needed to address systemic racism in health and social systems in our province and country. And while these are important conversations we’ll highlight throughout this month, they’re important conversations that must continue in the months and years ahead.

This week, we’re highlighting and sharing some of the stories and events shared this week on social media by Alliance members and other leaders. Next week, we’ll share more about the Alliance’s activities for the month.

Black Lives Matter is a movement to end white supremacy and envision Black futures. We’re sharing their thread first to give a bit the history of Black History Month. Alliance members were also sharing the collaboration this month between CBC and Honourable Dr. Jean Augustine, and her championing of the unanimous vote in 1995 to designate February as Black History Month in Canada as the first Black woman elected to the Parliament of Canada.

This month will also continue to be a month of learning and unlearning for people in Canada who aren’t Black, especially white people, on the inequities created by a legacy of slavery and oppression in this country. It’s why attention to and conversations about articles like this one on the history of slavery shared by LAMP CHC are important, as well as events such as this one, “The Colour of Covid”, being held by ACB (African, Caribbean Black) Network of Waterloo Region. As TAIBU CHC points out, one of out every four new cases of COVID-19 in Toronto continue to affect Black families, despite Black people making up approximately 9% of the population. Reckoning with these facts of inequity and the history of systemic racism and oppression that at their core is work that goes beyond the bounds of Black History Month. In rural Canada, too, the recognition and acknowledgement of the erasure of Black histories and identities, and the impacts of hidden racism outside of cities, can be a key starting point for imagining and working towards a future of Black health and wellbeing in every community across the country.

While Black History Month is an important time to look back, it’s also a time to have an eye on the future. This week’s announcement by the city of Toronto that it is supporting a community leaders-led Black Community COVID-19 Response Plan is an important piece of work to celebrate, given the disproportionate impacts that continue to be felt by Black people due inequities, system racism and injustices exacerbated by the tragedy of the pandemic. Black Creek CHC, Rexdale CHC, TAIBU CHC, Women’s Health in Women’s Hands, and the leaders of the Black Health Alliance helped to develop the strategy. We will be talking about theirs and other Alliance members’ COVID-19 efforts during the month, including the voices of Black leaders on vaccination strategies and addressing trust and vaccine confidence. And we’re also listening and celebrating the work of Black health leaders in other sectors, such as this excellent story on Canada’s first Black female interventional cardiologist, who talks about forging a path forward for other Black women in medicine, and the barriers she’s faced to break ground as a “double minority.” We also want to highlight this statement and call to action from NPAO’s Board and Chair of the Black Nurse Practitioners’ Community of Practice.

Pinecrest-Queensway CHC in Ottawa, serving a diverse community that includes many newcomers to Canada, shared the message of “The Future is Now” for Black History Month, encouraging people to look around at the transformative work that’s happened in years gone by, and the legacy of that work being built on today. That message is part of a larger campaign launched by the federal government this month, and we encourage you to have a look at the resources and materials on their page.

Carea CHC in Oshawa-Durham, South Riverdale CHC and Scarborough Centre for Healthy Communities in Toronto shared welcoming and celebratory messages for the month. In Ottawa, Southeast Ottawa CHC began the month by amplifying the launch of a new Pathway to Excellence series to support Black, African and Caribbean students in the Ottawa region, by the Sankofa Centre of Excellence Graduation Coach Program. Bramalea/Wellfort CHC will be holding a virtual event during Black History Month on Feb. 25, to talk about mental health and racism, among other topics. Centre de santé communautaire de l'Estrie shared its program for the month, too.

This month we also celebrate the many different ways that Black leadership is driving a more just, equitable and humane world focused on human rights. Alongside our members, we celebrate the work on homelessness, on LGBTQ2S issues, and the Black History of harm reduction.

It’s also a month to celebrate Black artists, as Planned Parenthood Toronto will be doing, and to look to organizations who are promoting, supporting and encouraging the next generation of Black artists in Canada.

Last November, the Alliance awarded its highest honour for career commitment and impacts made to health equity to Dr. Notisha Massaquoi, the former executive director of Women’s Health in Women’s Hands. If you don’t already, we highly encourage you to follow Notisha on Twitter, for the humour, insights, and celebration of Black leadership in health she shares with us. As she points out there while sharing some great starting points for people, this work goes well beyond a month of awareness and celebration.

This Black History Month, we encourage you to accept invitations to make deeper commitments to learning about Black histories and considering actions on how to support Black futures, as we at the Alliance do the same.