Originally published: 02/06/2004 The Toronto Star
Section: Opinion Page: A21
February is Black History Month. And for good reason. People of African heritage have a long history and have made many contributions to this country and to the world. We celebrate Black History Month because in the “white” world the word “black” seems to conjure up images of violence, and instils fear.
Once a year, the black community celebrates and reminds the world, and us, of the inventions, innovations and other positive gifts that we contribute to society in the hopes that through knowledge comes understanding, acceptance and equality.
But so often the images of blacks that are seen are of mothers, wives, sisters, and friends mourning the death of black fathers, husbands, brothers and friends lost to them through acts of senseless violence.
The media portray black women as voiceless and powerless against the drugs and guns that are consuming our community. However, the opposite is true.
While many of these women are single parents who live in low-income housing and work two or three minimum-wage jobs to survive, they are a part of a vocal and powerful community that also includes professionals, artists, students, entrepreneurs, employees, mentors and community leaders who are working continuously towards rebuilding a culture of pride and prosperity.
Women have always been the foundation of the black community – not out of choice, but necessity. During slavery, men were often sold away from their families and could not offer the protection and stability that was needed to maintain the family structure.
Today, many factors contribute to this continuing vicious circle. Many black children are being raised without fathers.
Without positive black male role models, black youth are losing their way and are being deceived by music videos with their images of extravagant lifestyles, gyrating half-naked men and women, sexual lyrics, palatial homes, obscene amounts of money, enormous gaudy pieces of jewelry, and expensive logo-embossed clothing.
Black History Month is a vehicle to remind black youth of their histories as kings and queens, as inventors and innovators, and as a people who have overcome the worst atrocities in history. And still we rise!
We are not helpless, voiceless or powerless. Our voices and power can be seen in the myriad of community organizations that we have built to provide information, education, networking, integration, economic development and leadership to our community.
In essence, it is applying the seven principles of Kwanzaa, (the African holiday celebrating family, community and culture that is celebrated worldwide from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1) – unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, co-operative economics, purpose, creativity and faith – to our lives to reconnect our spirits and get back to our roots.
The power is real. In fact, African-Canadians control more than $25 billion in disposable income.
Half of the African-Canadian market is between the ages of 25 and 44 with 56 per cent of those being women. Seventy per cent of the black population in Canada live in the Greater Toronto and Montreal areas. African-Canadians are the third largest ethnic group in Canada (based on 2001 figures) and are the second largest diverse group in the GTA.
And the voice is real. It’s heard on Flow 93.5 and between the covers of The Black Pages Directory.
The Black Business and Professional Association and the National Black Alliance are among organizations that showcase the entrepreneurial spirit of our community. The Jamaican Canadian Association, the Ontario Black History Awareness Society and It Takes a Village are organizations that all play a role in cementing our past and paving our future.
And these are just a few of the numerous voices with something to say not only during February but all year round.
There are many activities happening in celebration of Black History Month throughout the GTA and surrounding communities.
While these events are a celebration of our African heritage they are not events that are exclusive to the black community. Feel free to participate in any activity and hopefully you will have a good time and learn something positive about your black neighbours.
I hope through that knowledge will come understanding, acceptance and one day, equality.
Carol Brown is a member of the Star’s community editorial board.