his month, in Toronto’s Union Station, there will hang a quilt by Canadian artist and poet Nadine Williams in commemoration of the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent (International Decade). The piece is an intricately stitched work of art depicting the indestructible threads that tie Canadians across the continent of Africa. Separate, and yet at the same time threaded together in a common journey.
The International Decade is a necessary, focused period of time where world leaders have agreed to recognize, achieve justice, and intentionally develop our shared economic destinies. Acknowledgment of the International Decade, which the Canadian government officially began to take part of in 2018, aims to recognize people of African descent as a distinct group whose human rights must be promoted and protected.
As Canadians celebrate Black History month, a national recognition made possible by Canada’s first African-Canadian female Member of Parliament Jean Augustine, there are countless exhibits to engage with from coast to coast.
Meanwhile, Justin Trudeau serves as the first Canadian prime minister to attend an African Union Summit, with travel to Ethiopia and Senegal this week reinforcing a quilted connection over 400 years in the making.
After making his way to Gorée Island, off the coast of Dakar, Senegal and standing at the Door of No Return (a memorial to the Transatlantic slave trade), the prime minister’s understanding of the journey of a distinct people in Canada will be deepened. With this enhanced understanding of our history, his government will be better prepared and hopefully motivated to collaboratively shape our economic futures.
To quote Yaa Gyasi, author of the 2016 novel “Homegoing,” “This was where it started, but when, where, did it end?”
This past week I joined the Black Political Action Committee of Canada’s call for action on economic inclusion for Black Canadians, and positive and responsive measures as it relates to the International Decade. There was a specific focus on entrepreneurship supports, removing barriers for Black owned businesses to access government procurement processes, and increased representation across government and arms length institutions shaping Canada’s future economy.
We further reiterated our support for holistic reviews and reforms within Canada’s justice system using an anti-Black racism lens, mental health supports, an official apology for slavery in Canada, an Emancipation Day Act of Parliament, and capital funding for Black-led community infrastructure projects.
There is no singular leader within the vibrant Black communities that make up the African diaspora across Canada, there are many. The African diaspora in Canada is an interconnected web whose institutions and networks predate Confederation itself.
In this continued trust-building exercise, I turn to the wisdom of my grandmother whose church covenant reminded us to be “slow to take offence, and always ready for reconciliation.” Leading with grace, understanding and hard work.
Over the course of Black History Month the prime minister, and all elected officials, will engage and hear directly from many Black voices. Halfway into the International Decade, and ahead of the 2020 budget, Black communities are expecting measurable results.
Prime Minister Trudeau will do well to listen and seek greater understanding of the Black experience across Canada balanced with Canada’s role in the economic empowerment of African continental states. It is only after this that he will be able to contribute to sustainable change.
In the words of Maya Angelou, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”