Statement on 2024 Black History Month

Rideau-Rockcliffe Councillor Rawlson King gave a statement celebrating Black History Month at the February 7, 2024 Council meeting.

Today, City Council is pleased to recognize the significance of Black History Month.  

It is an amazing time for us to come together as a community to honour both the achievements and lived experience of Black Canadians.  

February serves as a time of remembrance, education, and celebration of the invaluable contributions made by Black Canadians in the City of Ottawa.

The 2024 theme for Black History Month is: “Black Excellence: A Heritage to Celebrate; a Future to Build”. This theme celebrates the rich past and present contributions and accomplishments of Black people in Canada, while aspiring to embrace new opportunities for the future. 

This month is an opportunity to collectively listen, engage and learn about Black Canadian histories and the cultures of newcomers, which greatly contribute to our city, province, nation, economy, and society.

When we reflect on our history, we are witness to stories of resilience in the face of adversity, of courage amidst oppression, and of unwavering determination to forge a brighter tomorrow. 

From the earliest settlers to contemporary leaders, Black Canadians have left an indelible mark on the cultural, social, and political tapestry of our City and Nation.

In Ottawa, we are privileged to stand on the shoulders of giants.  

We think of the contributions of the late Ewart Walters, an esteemed diplomat, journalist, and community elder who tirelessly promoted equality and social justice.

We acknowledge the incredible contributions of Black History Ottawa, especially our Elder, June Girven, in promoting the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent and who worked with the City of Ottawa to have our municipality formally sign onto its principles.

As the decade for people of African descent approaches its conclusion, we contemplate the advancements achieved and hurdles overcome, aspiring toward a future defined by fairness and inclusivity.

We also acknowledge the commendable efforts of the Jaku Konbit organization, led by Kenneth Campbell, who last year hosted Canada’s largest Kwanzaa Celebration, held right here in Ottawa, which featured the Honourable Jean Augustine, the first female Black MP who in 1995 secured unanimous legislative support to designate February as Black History Month throughout Canada.

The community has also been impressed by Leading Ladies Canada, which has worked to empower black women, youth and children through various programs and initiatives, such as community outreach and education.

The continued expansion of Black-led community services through the African Caribbean Black Wellness Resource Centre, the Somali Centre for Family Services, and the African Canadian Association of Ottawa must also be acknowledged especially for their work with Black seniors, along with the public health work being advanced by the Ottawa Black Mental Health Coalition and the Somerset West Community Health Centre.

We are also enthused about all the entrepreneurial initiatives that have emerged in the City, which included the recent openings of one-stop-shop business incubators and accelerators by the Ottawa Black Business Alliance in Vanier and by the Chnge Mker Innovation Hub in the Byward Market.  We were also amazed by the 100+ vendors who participated in the second annual Black Business Expo in May 2023, which was proclaimed the first Black Business Month in the City.

Regarding arts and culture, the community was excited that the Ottawa Black Arts Kollective worked with the Ottawa Art Gallery to present the exhibition “We do not dream of labour” last summer, which featured both young Black artists and curators, giving them an opportunity to gain professional experience and an opportunity to sell their art. 

We have absolutely been impressed by the contributions of our youth who will host an action showcase this month to demonstrate their community engagement.  The contributions of our Black Francophone community are invaluable, enriching our cultural tapestry, fostering diversity, and creating a sense of unity that transcends linguistic and ethnic boundaries.

We also want to thank all the grassroot organizations and networks that have been moving Ottawa progressively forward toward creating the structural change we need.

It was those groups who urged the establishment of an Anti-Racism Secretariat, in consultation with over a thousand residents, which led to the creation of the City’s first Anti-Racism Strategy in 2022 that outlines a blueprint to address racial disparities that impact the Black, Indigenous and racialized communities. 

The City’s Anti-Racism Strategy aligns with the work of the City’s Women and Gender Equity Strategy and the Municipal Reconciliation Action Plan and recognizes that to combat racism and discrimination, it is not sufficient to simply equip people with knowledge and tools. It is also important that we expose and address all forms of racism.

The Strategy is enabling substantive action that will meaningfully and measurably address the multiple barriers and disadvantages that many people in our City face.  We heard very clearly from Ottawa residents that they wanted issues of racial inequity addressed in governance, housing, economic development, health, child and youth development, the workplace, and institutional practices. 

The five-year Anti-Racism Strategy provides 28 recommendations and 132 actions to proactively identify and remove systemic barriers from City policies, programs, and services to help realize racial equity.  Implementation of the Anti-Racism Strategy will lead to data-based, practical actions which will enable systemic and structural change to create new models for diversity, equity and inclusion.

Council has demonstrated its commitment to the Strategy by making a $100,000 investment in the City’s anti-racism office in its 2023 budget, along with an additional $120,000 investment in its 2024 budget specifically for the expansion of Black-led community initiatives, as well as allocating resources for the creation of  new City-wide, anti-hate initiatives. 

We applaud the hard work of the City’s Gender and Race Equity, Inclusion, Indigenous Relations, and Social Development Office on working on and implementing the Strategy. We also want to thank the African Caribbean Black Employees Network at the City for their continuing contribution to the workplace and the community. 

In Ottawa, as in communities across the nation, Black History Month serves as a catalyst for dialogue, education, and empowerment. It is a time to amplify Black voices, to elevate Black narratives, and to confront the uncomfortable truths that lie at the heart of our shared history.

As we come together to celebrate Black History Month, let us reaffirm our commitment to building a more inclusive and equitable society – one where every individual, regardless of race or background, can thrive and succeed. Let us honor the past while embracing the future, knowing that the journey towards justice is one that we must walk together, hand in hand.

Let us remember that Black history is not confined to the pages of a book or the walls of a museum – it is alive in the stories we tell, the songs we sing, and the dreams we dare to dream. May this Black History Month be a time of reflection, of renewal, and of rededication to the timeless ideals of freedom, equality, and justice for all.

Thank you.

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