February 2016 has seen a landmark in Canadian black history. The Government of ‘Ontario just passed legislation to formally recognize February as Black History Month on an annual basis’. Ontario is now the third Canadian province after British Columbia and Quebec to make this celebration official.
However, here is 20 years of Black pride in the Canadian landscape since the Honourable Jean Augustine has used her position as the first black Canadian woman elected to Parliament to push the idea of a Black History Month. Across the border, this commemoration originated from 1915 as explained by the Library of Congress.
While Black History Month is intended to celebrate the contributions of black people to their countries (Canada, USA), it also reminds us of all the sufferings black people have endured in North-America: slavery, segregation, discrimination, and lack of social, political, and economic opportunities.
A lot remains to be done to break free of this vicious circle. Regardless of momentum resulted from the women’s rights movement including the fact that women have pushed the ‘glass ceiling’ in the marketplace and the political spheres, black women still lag behind.
To get rid of poverty, several American studies consider that improvement is needed in the areas of health, education, security, and most of all economy.
“African-American women continue to earn considerably less than White and Asian women, and are much more likely to live in poverty than either group”. – NAACP
“Racialized women have it worse: They’re 48% more likely to be unemployed than non-racialized men”.
The studies highlight evidence of ‘widening poverty and systematic inequality for African Canadians’ and mentioned that these women experience high poverty rates and low-income.
All these studies have one thing in common: the situation of black people, particularly black women is unacceptable. I think as a society, we have a lot to learn in other to break the circle of poverty and discrimination.
This February is the perfect occasion not only to honour amazing black figures, but to learn from the courage, resilience, and humanity of these great black men and women to help shape our future and heal our nations. In my eyes, no one fits better than Mary Ann Shadd Cary the role of teaching us, particularly black women in these areas.
Introducing Mary Ann Camberton Shadd Cary!
Editor, teacher, lawyer, abolitionist, pioneer, Mary Ann Camberton Shadd was born on October 9th, 1823 in Wilmington, Delaware, USA to activists parents. Shadd quickly followed in her parents’ footsteps and dedicated her time to helping black people escape slavery through the Underground Railroad. She came to Canada alongside slaves who were fleeing the tragedy of slavery in 1851.
Her passage in Canada had been more than remarkable. She had been a teacher, created a school, and became the first black female editor. She married Thomas F Cary in 1856 and had two children.
In the wake of the American Civil War, Shadd returned to the United States to fight against the Confederacy and slavery. Later, she went to Howard University and became in 1883 the second Black American Woman to earn a law degree. Shadd died on June 5th, 1893 in Washington, DC. (Data from bio and The Canadian Encyclopedia)
What we can learn from this leading black figure
Born free, Mary Ann Shadd decided anyway to face the unknown and follow to Canada the cohort of slaves who were crossing the border in their quest for freedom. She left behind family and friends not only to pursue her dreams, but to teach, to motivate, and to encourage slaves to break the path of slavery by boldly reclaim their freedom.
Her sacrifice, courage, and self-reliance represent a living testimony. In today’s fight to gain access to society’s power, economy, and wealth, we black women can learn a great deal from Mary Ann Camberton Shadd Cary.
Shadd understood that access was the key to true emancipation, so she used her powers to help in the black community. She created The Provincial Freeman as way to give a voice to slaves in the fight against slavery.
Despite scary times, Shadd tirelessly advocated the abolition of slavery and wrote numerous articles to encourage slaves to cross the border and gain their freedom. Shadd had shown true leadership by taking matters into her own hands and by encouraging others to dare take the risk of being free.
By working with others, she also proved to be a genuine leader, one who does not only tell others what to do, but one who sets examples. To win the fight against the circle of poverty, discrimination, and racism, we black women need to lead the way, to work hard to change our fate and to claim our place in the world.
She stood up against slavery, segregation, and male power. Mary Ann Shadd Cary was truly resourceful and resilient. She came to Canada to work as an educator after years of teaching experience in the United States. However, her stance against segregation resulted in a fight with her fellow male educators.
Therefore, she created a non-segregated school where children of all colours and upbringings can learn together. When the fight got revolting and she lost funding for the school, Shadd would not admit defeat. Instead, she moved to Chatham and created a newspaper that was the reflection of her beliefs.
Once again, this pioneer set the path for the world and particularly for black women to follow. Her emancipation in a time where women were considered as second class citizen and black women as no citizen at all is an ideal that today’s black women have yet to envision.
- OUTSPOKEN AND ABOLITIONIST
In the wake of the U.S. Civil War, a widowed Shadd moved back to the United States to recruit black men for the war against slavery. Later, Shadd obtained a law degree from Howard University and became a tireless advocate for black women cause.
History reported that she fought for black women’s right to vote, and financial independence. Her example told us not to be afraid to be outspoken, and to take action against injustice and discrimination. It’s also a reminder to stand up and shape our own future.
- HUMANITY AND INNOVATIVE VISIONARY
Against the idea of segregated schools, Shadd created a school to teach children of all races to become the change of tomorrow. She understood that hate wouldn’t change anything and that the only way to annihilate slavery was by including everyone, by changing the then society mindset.
She was a visionary who taught us that with resilience, courage, humanity and intelligence the world is beyond our reach. We just have to work to grab it. The persistent state of poverty, discrimination, and racism that is still the norm in Canada, North-America, and the rest of world does not only concern the victims. It is a shame for all human beings.
As for us, black women we are mothers, sisters, wives, lovers, educators, workers, we should set the example in our own circle (family, church, workplace, and friends). We should teach our children, our students, our friends, our colleagues to be inclusive, to let go of the past, and to build a brighter future for ourselves and future generations. We need to make sure that our children understand they deserve the best but they have to give their best to obtain the best of this world.
[i] MLA (Modern Language Association) style:
“Women’s Rights Movements.” Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia. Grolier Online, 2014. Web. 1 July 2014. (Retrieved on February 21st,2014)