Every February, we celebrate Black History Month, and learn about some of the Black Ontarians who have made significant contributions to society as we know it today. This is especially true when considering human rights.
For example, in the late 1940s and 1950s, the work of activists including Hugh Burnett and Bromley Armstrong led to Ontario strengthening its anti-racism laws. And 1961, Dr. Daniel G. Hill became Director of the first-ever Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC). Among his many tactics leading to positive change, Dr. Hill galvanized entire communities to advance human rights, and recognized the value of the media to bring previously hidden discrimination into the light, often leading to public outrage.
In the 1990s, Rosemary Brown took the helm as the Chief Commissioner of the OHRC, and continued her lifelong work to bring down barriers, especially barriers affecting women and racialized people.
These are just a few of the many, many Black visionaries who have shaped society as we know it today. But is it enough just to celebrate their historical achievements for one month of the year? No. Black Ontarians have contributed so much more than we see in the history books, and their stories need to be told and retold and supported every day. And, importantly, we also need to tell the stories of today’s visionaries as they unfold today, especially in these challenging times as community members tirelessly work to combat systemic discrimination.
We need to hear about the many members of the OHRC’s Community Advisory Group, who continue to call out and actively work to end anti-Black racism. We need to know about Paul Bailey and the Black Health Alliance, who persistently target racism and racial disparities in health outcomes, and seek to promote health and well-being for Black communities across Canada.
And we need to hear how Nicole Bonnie, leading the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies, has dedicated her career to listening to Ontario’s most marginalized children and youth and pushing for changes to make the child welfare system less harmful, and ultimately more equitable, for them and their families.
In government, we need to recognize the work of Patrick Case, who is leading the way to eliminate anti-Black and systemic racism in Ontario’s schools.
And in the arts, we need to celebrate Toronto-based filmmaker Nicole Brooks, who is incredibly inspiring in her use of the dramatic arts for race advocacy. And in the legal system, Lori Anne Thomas, who was recently appointed to the Ontario Court of Justice, has been a strong advocate and ally for human rights throughout her legal career.
These leaders are just the tip of the iceberg, as Black Ontarians continue to challenge and inspire us all to make Ontario the society envisioned in Ontario’s Human Rights Code. It’s a legacy that needs to be acknowledged and supported, and I call on communities across Ontario to join with us to accept this challenge. Let’s honour Black history in February, and let’s help make new Black history every month of the year.