Toronto – January 29, 2015 – Black history month in Canada has a long and ambitious history. The imperative to reflect upon the immense contributions of Africans and people of African heritage, started over 60 years ago in the 1950s in Toronto. At that time, railroad porters began to commemorate the typically untold history of Black people in Canada. In 1978, with the founding of the Ontario Black History Society, the City of Toronto was petitioned to proclaim February as Black History Month. It took until 1995, when the Parliament of Canada finally recognized February as Black History Month across the country.
We commemorate Black History month as a celebration of greatness, perseverance, and struggle. We reflect upon those of African heritage who have done so much to build this country. We think of the immense struggles of people like Rosemary Brown, who was the first black woman elected to public office in Canada in 1972, or Mary Ann Shad, who in 1853 established a weekly newspaper that covered issues relating to Black Canadians and promoted the cause of black refugees arriving from the United States. (To learn about the struggles and triumphs of African Canadians and Americans, please click here.) To this day, these names are, embarrassingly, not as well-known as it should be.
In addition to celebrating, we know that there is a tremendous amount still to be done across our union and across our great country to end racism. While laws exist that prohibit such discrimination, racism is undoubtedly still a very tangible facet of Canadian society and workplaces. Racism unfortunately explains a chronic systemic, and sometimes deliberate, underrepresentation of Black Canadians in staffing, leadership and decision-making roles across most Canadian organizations and businesses. In fact, decades of social science research confirms that racism is an abhorrent thread woven through the fabric of Canadian society. We continue to see systemic discrimination in wages and promotion, racial profiling by authorities, negative media depictions of black Canadians, and often, the exclusion of their voice.
To combat this, over the last several years UFCW Canada has embarked upon a bold new road. This road will lead to a stronger, more vibrant and inclusive national union. With the unanimous support of our local union presidents, we are building Canada's most diverse and inclusive union. UFCW Canada is working diligently to ensure that our 250,000 diverse members feel included, and that our staff are clearly heard, and that our leadership is reflective of Canadians.
Since 2008, UFCW Canada has built diversity and inclusion systems and structures that have provided guidance to our union and its leadership. We are honored by the accolades that UFCW Canada has received as a pioneering force on diversity and inclusion. I am proud to say that UFCW Canada has now taken the next progressive step in our evolution as Canada's private sector union. On the auspicious day of Martin Luther King's Birthday, in January 2014, UFCW Canada launched our National Strategic Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives (SDII). SDII is an ambitious three-year training, skills development and leadership program for all UFCW Canada staff of local unions across the country. Our approach is to empower our staff and leadership to become diversity and inclusion heroes.
It is this type of social justice based ambition that drives us to build a union that includes all of our sisters and brothers. With Black History Month upon us, my greatest hope is that this message acts as a catalyst for you to learn and take part in Black History Month festivities, while empowering your network to take the next steps to eliminate discrimination wherever it is found.
Paul R. Meinema