Heroes in history

Christopher, a regular member in Ontario

There are so many important Black leaders in Canadian history. Who inspired you the most and why?

For me, the most inspirational Black leader in Canadian history is the Honourable Lincoln Alexander who, amongst many accomplishments throughout his life, was a Canadian Military veteran, a lawyer, the first Black Member of Parliament (1968), the first Black federal Cabinet Minister and was the 24th Lieutenant Governor of Ontario.

Many quotations attributed to Lincoln Alexander are lessons to live by. The one that most resonates with me is, "It is not your duty to be average. It is your duty to set a higher example for others to follow". Throughout this hero's many years, he would accomplish so many things that would take the ordinary person several lifetimes to achieve.

Born to parents from the Caribbean (Jamaica and St. Vincent and the Grenadines), Lincoln Alexander showed the world and Canada what successes can take place in the face of adversity and racial prejudice, through perseverance, positivity and non-acceptance of the status quo.

To read about Lincoln Alexander warms my heart and continues to give me the courage to advocate for what I believe in, to speak my truth, be proud of my history, encourage those who are not as strong and to share my experiences with those who want to listen.

Lincoln Alexander is a great Black Canadian hero. I encourage you to learn more about his inspirational journey.

Who is your favourite Black historical figure and why?

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is my favourite Black historical figure. He was the most visible and outspoken leader of the Civil Rights movement and his influence and impact were not self-serving or for financial gain, but were an opportunity to rise up and speak about deep-rooted injustice and inequality throughout the U.S. His message and reach were worldwide and, although he received a great deal of pressure to stop sharing his message and even received death threats, he continued to forge ahead because of what he believed in. His beliefs, passion and advocacy unfortunately led to his assassination, but his legacy and message continued to live on through peaceful protest and demonstration in the U.S. and around the world.

As anti-Black racism continues to exist, the peaceful demonstration I witnessed as a youth and today in Canada, the U.S. and in other places around the world, speaks our truth. It's part of the same struggle witnessed by Dr. King so many years ago. The youth carry Dr. King's torch as they continue to advocate against racial injustice and for fair treatment. His legacy continues to live on to this day.

My favourite Dr. King quotation is, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

Who was your hero growing up? What did they teach you that will help us all fight anti-Black racism?

My heroes growing up were, and still are, my parents.

The focus of their teaching centered on being a good and genuine person. Thanks to my parents and my upbringing, I always knew where I came from and what my mixed cultural background was. In teaching me about my roots and the harsh realities of the real world, my dad told me, "If you have one drop of Black blood, you're Black." That's how people see you and that's how people will treat you. My parents also taught me that Black is beautiful.

From a young age, I was observant and I saw that we are not all treated equally. I learned early on about racial injustice.

I was born and raised in Toronto. In the neighbourhood where we lived, I had the good fortune to be exposed to a variety of cultures that built on my cultural competence. My birthday parties were like a United Nations event. My dad always promised that we would move 'back home' to the Caribbean one day and when we did, it was a seamless transition for me.

Not only did my parents teach me who I was, they also taught me how to stand up for myself and others, and to be aware and self-aware. In the early 80's, I remember learning about Apartheid after my mom got very upset at my dad for unknowingly buying a canned product from the grocery store that was produced in South Africa. I couldn't fathom the height of racial injustice until I went to Cape Town, South Africa, sat on a 'Non-Whites Only' bench and reflected on how lucky I've been. People think that the injustices and inequalities in other countries don't exist here in Canada, but they are mistaken.

Yes, anti-Black racism is a thing, and yes, it exists in Canada. My parents taught me to be kind, understanding and patient – sometimes, the patient part is tough. They also taught me to be positive and strong, to speak my mind and not be afraid to make a tough decision. Even if it's not the 'popular vote', I prefer to err on the side of right. I will continue to support all my policing brothers and sisters through our journey as we make this country a better a more equitable place for all.

To further quote my Black inspirational leader, Lincoln Alexander: "Canada [is] the greatest country in the world, but it isn't perfect."

Let's all do our part to aim for perfection. Enjoy this Black History Month and never stop learning.

Craig, a regular member in Nova Scotia

There are so many important Black leaders in Canadian history. Who inspired you the most and why?

Reverend Richard Preston is one of the most exciting and dynamic individuals in Canadian history. He came to Nova Scotia out of enslavement in Richmond, Virginia, around 1816, following the War of 1812. He came in search of his mother and after locating her in Preston Township, he took Preston as his surname. In 1854, Reverend Preston established the African Baptist Association later to become the African United Baptist Association, more commonly known as the AUBA throughout the province. Preston brought all of the Black Baptist Churches together under one umbrella. The AUBA is 167 years old, is the oldest active Black organization in Canada today, providing a unified voice for the Black community and a foundation for mentoring future leadership.

Who is your favourite Black historical figure and why?

Malcolm X is one of my favourite historical figures because of who he was at a time when the African North American population needed a strong Black sense of identity to accompany Dr. King's non-violent approach. He was vilified by the American establishment and portrayed as a violent individual to be feared.

In reading many of his speeches and lectures, Malcolm X was an intellectual and a deep thinker, who became so influential throughout the USA that he became a threat. Imagine wanting to have your country put on trial by United Nations in the 1960s for its record on treating Black people? That kind of forward thinking led to his assassination.

Who was your hero growing up? What did they teach you that will help us all fight anti-Black racism?

Keep in mind that for many of us, Black history was not included in our education, nor was it depicted or included in our textbooks.

This is an easy question for me to answer. My parents, my mother Muriel Borden Smith and my late father Bobby Smith, were my heroes. They laid the early foundation for my personal growth. They encouraged my four siblings and me to achieve the best in whatever we would pursue and they led by example. My mother, along with Geraldine Parker, Lillian Strugnell and Iona States helped to create the first Parent Teacher Association at an inner-city school in Halifax and pushed the Halifax School Board to do better by her children. My father was a letter carrier for Canada Post for 36 years and he showed us how to put in a hard day's work, no matter the weather or the circumstances. He was involved in several boards and groups that served in various capacities: Cornwallis Street Church Men's Brotherhood, Equity Lodge, Halifax Community Credit Union, and the Halifax Umpires' Association.

My parents instilled in us a sense of obligation to give back to our community and to society, to be aware of the greater world around us and of Black contributions to that world. We grew up with Ebony and Sepia magazines in our household promoting a positive self-image. They surrounded us with people in our home who were working towards personal achievements in medicine, education or athletics. We were taught to never look down on anyone, but we were also taught to never feel we were less than someone else. Every day, we had the newspaper in our home and we were expected to read more than the sports page and comics and to become aware of what was happening in the world around us. I remember watching Dr. King's funeral on TV and Neil Armstrong's first steps on the moon and the nightly news every day. My love of history and events comes directly from my parents.

They also made sure each of us would know that life would not always be easy for us because we were Black and that at times, we would have to work twice as hard as our white counterparts just to be recognized for our work. With that mindset, I joined the RCMP and that's how I have approached my job for the last 22 years.

My parents instilled in us a strong sense of identity and respect for ourselves and for those around us. Respect breeds respect and encourages you to treat people the way you expect them to treat you in return. Correcting miseducated folks about what it means to be Black in Canada and the accomplishments of Black Canadians is a tool I have used to battle anti-Black racism. That ideal comes to me from my parents.

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