A #YUBlog Guide to Black History Month

Posted by York & U on February 19, 2019

Events | Get In The Know | Inside Perspectives

As you may know, February is Black History Month in Canada! We are excited to share a brief introduction to Black History Month, Black-Canadian culture and on-campus clubs and resources in today’s #YUBlog post! 

What is Black History Month?

Black History Month celebrates and honours Black Canadians’ contributions to Canadian history and culture. We also take this opportunity to highlight and learn about key Black Canadians who have shaped our nation. 

African-American historian Carter G. Woodson initiated the celebration of Black history in 1926 as a way to focus on the accomplishments of African-Americans. He chose to celebrate Black history during the second week of February because it aligned with the birthdays of two important historical figures: Abraham Lincoln (born February 12) and Frederick Douglass (born February 14). Lincoln fought for the abolition of slavery in the United States, while Douglass, a former slave, spoke out against slavery and inequality. Woodson’s Black history week is the precursor to Black History Month.

Carter G. Woodson is known as the Father of Black History Month.

Black-Canadian York U Alumni 

There are numerous important Black-Canadian figures who are celebrated during Black History Month in Canada. In this post, we will commemorate Black-Canadian alumni from York University, but you can find many more noteworthy figures on the Canadian Heritage webpage.

Jean Augustine

Jean Augustine, a former member of the Board of Governors at York University, was the first Black woman to be elected to Parliament. In 1995, while representing the riding of Etobicoke-Lakeshore, Augustine succeeded in having Black History Month officially recognized by the House of Commons. 

Augustine’s work in Parliament inspired the launch of York U’s Jean Augustine Chair in Education, Community & Diaspora in 2008. Augustine has also donated her personal records to the Clara Thomas Archives & Special Collections here at York U.

Former member of the Board of Governors at York University, Jean Augustine (MP) worked to have February officially recognized as Black History Month.

Nadine Spencer 

As the current CEO of BrandEQ Group Inc., Nadine Spencer graduated from York University with a Bachelor of Arts in 2004. She is currently the President of the Black Businesses and Professional Association (BBPA)[, which is a non-profit, charitable organization that addresses equity and opportunity for the Black community. 

“Black History is a time to reflect on the brilliance and accomplishments of our ancestors. It’s only though an understanding of the past that we can take strength from the journey, determination and resilience of our Black leaders.”

Nadine Spencer (BA ‘04), CEO of BrandEQ Group Inc.

Roderick Brereton 

Roderick Brenton graduated from York University in 1993 with a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology and currently works as a Conflict Management Expert. As an African-Canadian raised in Toronto, Roderick has a strong interest in diversity and social change. 

“Black History month is a time to reflect on the countless contributions people of African descent have made to the global village.”

Roderick Brereton (BA ‘93), Conflict Management Expert

Shernett Martin 

Shernett Martin, a 1995 York U graduate with a Bachelor of Arts, is currently the Executive Director of the Vaughan African Canada Association (VACA) and is a teacher with the Toronto District School Board. Martin is not only an award-winning equity and inclusion consultant, speaker and workshop developer and facilitator, but she also provides support for the black community in Vaughn and York Region in her role as Executive Director of the VACA. 

“Black History is not some word on paper—it is a moving, fluid history and present all moving together.  It must be read, studied, taught, researched and experienced. If you know nothing but what pop culture is telling you about Black history, you are missing out on some of the most incredible, brilliant minds and stories of lives lived that you can imagine.”

Shernett Martin (BA ‘95), Executive Director of the Vaughan African Canadian Association (VACA)

York U Resources 

York U offers a variety of courses and opportunities for you to learn more about the Black community and their culture. For example, the Black Canadian Studies Certificate opens a door for students to explore Black-Canadian culture using cultural, historical and fine arts lenses.

If you are interested in learning more, here are a variety of course options for you to explore: 

  • AP/EN 2240 6.00: Introduction to Postcolonial Literatures in English: African, Caribbean, South Asian and the South Pacific 
  • AP/SOSC 2480 6.00: Introduction to African Studies 
  • AP/HUMA 3315 3.00: Black Literatures and Cultures in Canada
  • AP/CLTR 3318 3.00: Black Popular Culture
  • AP/HIST 3535 6.00: African-Canadian History

If you would like to become more involved with the Black-Canadian presence at York U, explore the many clubs and associations at York U, including:

York U & Toronto Black History Month Events

This month, York University students will see a variety of events and information celebrating Black History Month, ranging from symposia and films, conversations with alumni and art exhibitions. 

You can attend the “Many Rivers to Cross: The African Canadian Experience” photo exhibition running from Tuesday, February 20 to Friday, March 7 at the McLaughlin College Art Gallery at the Keele Campus. In addition to this event, check out EventBrite’s Black History events and the City of Toronto’s Black History Month Events!

Success Tip:Student clubs and associations are also hosting a variety of events. Check out the Black Law Students Association and York University Black Student Alliance for more!

We at the #YUBlog hope that this guide to Black History Month has offered you a great starting point to learn more about Black History Month and Black-Canadian culture! We encourage you to explore the resources mentioned in this post and attend an event on campus or in downtown Toronto. Happy Black History Month, Lions!

How are you celebrating Black History Month this year? Let us know in the comments down below or tweet us at @YorkUStudents

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