Recognition, justice and development

Ontario Black History Society logo

Photo: Ontario Black History Society logo


Rosemary Sadlier

Black heritage

Published Date: Nov 10, 2011

How do we recognize people of African descent in Ontario? How do we deal with their issues to provide them with justice? How do we facilitate and acknowledge their contributions to the development of our society? While the legacy of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade was racism, part of the challenge of the International Year for People of African Descent is creating the opportunities to raise awareness on an ongoing basis.

The Ontario Black History Society (OHBS) was formed to study, preserve and promote Black history and heritage. Since 1978, through the tireless efforts of this volunteer-run provincial heritage organization, a number of initiatives have been undertaken – from the creation of the first African-Canadian historical film, an oral history collection, resource centre, nominations of people/places and events for historic recognition, school presentations, free-standing exhibits and the most-accessed African-Canadian website.

In 1979, the OBHS successfully petitioned the City of Toronto for the first Black History Month proclamation. Clearly, this acknowledgement provides support for issues of recognition, justice and development. But there continue to be obstacles to overcome.

The OBHS has participated in several preparatory conferences for the World Conference Against Racism (WCAR) and special consultations carried out by United Nations-appointed Independent Experts providing opportunities for various communities to share their experiences and offer suggestions for transformation. One of those experts, Gay McDougall, listed a number of areas requiring improvement in Canada. Among her points, she mentions the pervasive issue for African-descendant students who are learning through curriculum and textbooks that ignore their histories – a shortcoming that strips people of the story of themselves.

The OBHS is involved in a range of new initiatives to engage youth through the Africentric Resources being compiled for educators. Another OBHS project is the creation of a centre for African- Canadian culture and history to be a space that informs African-descendant students and other community members about the important legacy of our past and the hope of our tomorrow.