Each February, as we pause to reflect, celebrate and to listen during Black History Month, we’re invited into a space to recognize and reckon with the past, to take accounting of the present, and to dream, plan for and commit to equitable and just futures for Black people and communities in Canada.

Listening to and creating spaces for sharing histories of struggle, resilience and triumphs, some personal, many familial, others community-based, helps to deepen understanding of what is at stake. Anti-Black racism persists in systems and at individual levels in our society and structures today. Black people’s lives and health are at higher risk today because of racism, discrimination, ignorance and apathy, including racism embedded and hidden within Canada and Ontario’s systems of health, education, justice and policing.

At the Alliance in recent months, we’ve toured with and at the Ontario Black History Society, to learn more about the roots of anti-Black racism in housing, zoning in the province, and also about the legacy of advocacy and activism that Black people in Ontario created for the labour movement, the arts, government, higher education and more.

We are also grateful that, at the outset of Black History Month, we were able to spend time with and listen to Alliance Board member Elise Harding-Davis, an author, historian, an African Canadian Heritage Consultant and Order of Ontario recipient, whose own personal and family history as a seventh generation African Canadian, brings to life Black liberation and contribution to Canadian history.  

Harding-Davis, who also serves as Chair of Harrow Health Centre Family Health Team, took us deep into the world of Black history and a life dedicated to education and correcting the erasure and white-washing of Black histories and lives by colonial Canada. Harding-Davis also made explicit the connection between the health and wellbeing of Black people, and the leadership and courage needed to combat centuries of racism, to change systems, and to re-establish Black history as core and integral to Canada’s history, no matter the obstacles and white fragility encountered along the way. Her advocacy continues, as related in this recent CBC article, for an official apology from the Government of Canada for slavery in this country.

In that spirit, this Black History Month, we continue to listen and engage with histories, to learn from experiences, to trace and celebrate the progress being made in Black health.

Ontario now has a Black Health Plan, a joint effort across many Black health leaders, including Alliance members, working with Ontario Health and the Ministry of Health and ensure the province is supporting the work needed to close health disparities faced by Black people and communities, and to address system barriers that perpetuate anti-Black racism. The work of the Black Health Committee and their Black Health Strategy will compliment this work. We know changing the past is impossible, but if we want a new present, we need to look to the future, so it’s encouraging to see the Ontario government mandate Black History learning in public schools.

In March, the month will kick off with Black Mental Health Week (March 4-10), and later on, TAIBU Community Health Centre will host “ACT Now! Black Mental Health and Wellness 2nd Annual National Conference 2024” from March 20 to 22. This conference is part of TAIBU’s Amandla Olwazi-The Power of Knowledge. Building on existing research around anti-Black racism and its impact in Canada, the project raises awareness of the impact of anti-Black racism on the mental health and wellness of Black communities.

At the Alliance, work continues to support Black mental health through the Black-focused Social Prescribing project. Four CHCs are developing a social prescribing model that is grounded in Black and Afro-centric values and principles, with a focus on supporting family and children. The work is focused on ensuring Social Prescribing is culturally safe and decolonizing aspects of the health care system to improve health outcomes for Black people in Ontario.

This involves using the values of Kwanza to guide the work, to work collectively and thinking deeply about the referrals provided to ensure they are culturally affirming. Referrals might include AfriCan Food basket, African dance classes, hair drop ins and collective meals. This project is being evaluated in partnership with two Black-led evaluation firms: Logical Outcomes and Transform Practice, who is completing a Participatory Action Research evaluation.

As the International Decade for People of African Descent draws to a conclusion in 2024, new tools, such as Ontario Health’s Equity, Inclusion, Diversity and Anti-Racism Framework are coming online and gaining wider application across our health and social systems. Alliance members have long understood the importance of collecting race-based and sociodemographic data, and our health system partners are increasingly recognizing it as well. We are now looking forward to a future where instead of exposing inequities, race-based health data will show that they are being addressed, and that Black health outcomes are improving towards more equitable health and wellbeing for everyone in Ontario.

So whether you’re searching for a Black History Month celebration that’s happening soon, want to learn more about Black demographics in Canada, or the social problem of anti-Black racism and its impacts, or you want to go deeper into some of the Black histories of Ontario, we’re inviting you to join us and others to continue a journey that Black history invites us all to take, towards truth, understanding and more equitable future for the health of all Black people and communities in Ontario and across Canada.

Friday, February 16, 2024