Recognizing the opportunity of Black History Month

Many thoughts come to mind as we recognize Black History Month at the University of Lethbridge and throughout Canada. On the surface, Black History Month is an open invitation for everyone to celebrate the legacies of Black Canadians and their contributions to building the multicultural society for which our country is praised. I, however, invite everyone to scratch a little below the surface, because it is there where we can do so much more.

Black History Month provides us with an opportunity to look critically at how social organization, including race, gender, class, age and even sexual orientation, interact to determine the social reality of people — and specifically Black people living in Canada.

As a person of colour in a senior administration position at a Canadian post-secondary institution, I recognize I am part of the substantial change that has taken place. As I look across the nation and struggle to find reflections of myself in similar senior management roles, I realize we have so much more to accomplish.

Do we, as a University and as the post-secondary sector as a whole, focus more on the disadvantaged as the site of our intervention instead of focusing on the structures which cause people to be disadvantaged? What are we, as an academy, doing about this?

Seared in my memory is our 10-dollar note, the portrait of Viola Desmond representing, highlighting, educating about the racial injustice she fought against in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia in 1946. Examples of her struggle can be found here in Alberta and all across Canada.

We have come a long way since Viola Desmond, and we can take pride in our progress toward establishing a truly multicultural society and achieving racial equality. That progress is real and tangible and deserves to be recognized and celebrated. However, my own experience also says that truth is thin.

I challenge everyone to objectively look at the world and what we’ve seen in the past year and understand that we cannot stop striving until we achieve a deep respect for the intrinsic value and dignity of every human being, including Black Canadians, and further that we take this month to educate ourselves on the legacy of those who have moved our society forward — and reflect upon what we can do now to continue that progress.

Dr. Erasmus Okine, Provost and Vice-President (Academic)


Erasmus Okine |