February is dedicated as Black History Month to honour the culture and impact of Black Canadians. Every February we reflect on and celebrate the legacy and contributions of Black leaders, innovators, and change makers, and recognize their central role in Canadian history. While we have a dedicated month, celebrating Black history shouldn’t be limited to February. This year’s theme, February and Forever: Celebrating Black History Today and Every Day, reminds us of the importance of promoting and celebrating Black history throughout the year.
Studying Black history year-round provides context for how we got to where we are today and a deeper understanding of issues, injustice, and resilience, and removes barriers by showing us how we are alike. We connect to the human stories that led to progress, like the story of Dr. Ethelbert Bartholomew, a Trinidadian man, who in 1918 was forced to withdraw in his fourth year at Queen’s University for being Black. This action was in line with the discriminatory policies at the time of the American Medical Association (AMA), the organization that ranked medical schools in North America. While the AMA had no control over the policies of Canadian medical schools, the rankings influenced funding decisions. When a group of Black doctors sought membership in the AMA, they were repeatedly denied admission. Subsequently, the National Medical Association in the US was created for Black doctors and health professionals who found it necessary to establish their own medical societies and hospitals. Queen’s University has publicly apologized for its past racist policy, which remained in effect until 1965, and has posthumously conferred a Doctor of Medicine Degree to Dr. Bartholomew.
There are many ways for us to learn about the history and stories of Black Canadians and how they have helped to shape the diverse province and country we live in today. A good first step is to watch the video messages from Deputy Solicitor General Mario Di Tommaso and Deputy Solicitor General Karen Ellis on the Ministry of the Solicitor General’s website. The website directs you to various resources, including upcoming Ontario Public Service-led events and learning opportunities.