February is Black History month. But, while celebrating the accomplishments and contributions of Black Canadians, we need to be mindful of the intersecting oppressions all women of colour face on a daily basis. Living with systemic racism and gender bias makes their accomplishments that much more important as it eradicates stereotypes and paves the way for young women and girls.
Canada has been privileged to benefit from the work of Black women determined to make a better life for themselves, their families and all Canadians. Black women like Mary Ann Shadd Cary who travelled the Underground Railroad to get to Canada.
During the American Civil War, Cary distributed anti-slavery information and taught children arriving from the states. After the war, she earned a law degree and worked as a lawyer, teacher, lecturer, suffragist, and was the first woman publisher in Canada.
Viola Davis Desmond owned a beauty parlor and beauty college in Halifax. On November 8, 1946, she went to see a movie at the Roseland Theatre in New Glasgow. Refusing to sit in the Blacks only balcony, Viola paid full price for a ticket to sit on the ground floor, the Whites only section.
Viola was forcibly removed, arrested, and wrongfully found guilty of not paying the one-cent tax on the Whites only ticket. The case went to the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia where the wrongful conviction was upheld. Viola was sentenced to 30 days in jail and paid a $26 fine. The judiciary successfully avoided addressing the systemic racial discrimination perpetuated by seating segregation.
However, the province of Nova Scotia posthumously granted an official apology and a free pardon to Viola on April 15, 2010.
In 1950, Rosemary Brown left Jamaica to study at McGill University in Montreal. The feminist, human rights and social justice advocate was member of the British Columbia legislature from 1972 until 1986. During that time, she also ran for the leadership of the federal New Democratic Party.
Rosemary’s many accomplishments included serving as Chief Commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission; being a founding member of the Vancouver Status of Women Council and the Canadian Women’s Foundation; being a member of the Judicial Council of British Columbia; serving on the Canadian Security Intelligence Review Committee; and creating inspirational inclusive quotes like, “We must open the doors and we must see to it they remain open, so that others can pass through.”
Jamaican born Afua Cooper is a founding member of the Toronto Dub Poets’ Collective and the Black Canadian Studies Association; and is the James Robinson Johnston Chair in Black Canadian Studies in the Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology at Dalhousie University.
Afua is also an educator, historian, performance artist and poet who currently teaches sociology at Ryerson University.
Despite facing multiple oppressions, these magnificent Black women were, and are, the trailblazers of their day giving back to their communities and making Canada a more equitable country.
The Women’s Centre of Halton (The Centre) is proud of the role it plays providing women with an integrated space that is anti-racist, anti-oppressive, anti-xenophobic and which cultivates inclusion. Staff use a feminist lens when designing programs and services so women experience true equity – possibly for the first time in their life. Drop-in programs like Coffee and Conversation give women a place to be and a chance to let their guard down and be themselves.
The Centre is a safe place to get support while growing through life’s challenges. It’s also a place where women explore possibilities. But, like women’s centres across the province, The Centre receives no core funding. Instead, funding for programs and services comes from generous community-based donations. Thankfully, Halton residents continue to give the financial hand up that’s needed.
This February, have a heart and purchase a ticket or two to The Centre’s second annual gala, Love Does, being held Saturday, February 10th. For $125 graze the antipasto bar, savour a served five-course meal, enjoy a drink from the open bar, and then dance the night away before sampling the sweet and savory tables.
And, while you’re having an incredible time, feel great knowing you’re supporting women and their children from our community as they navigate crises and distress to transition into a more hopeful place. Because, that’s what Love Does.
For more information and to purchase tickets click here.