Black History Month lands in the shortest month of the year, and one of the busiest ones for me. In 2024, we get one extra day – for me, one more day of sharing, listening, and healing.
The requests start pouring in weeks and weeks ahead of time. “Can you speak to my students about your story?” “Can you travel to my community for a special event?” “Are you available for an interview?”
The answer, as much as possible, is yes.
Typically, by the end of February, I am exhausted. Chances are, I’ve cried during or after most of these conversations – because if we’re not digging deep, confronting challenging emotions, and being vulnerable, what is the benefit of these conversations? This is the emotional labour of Black leadership, of Black History Month.
Visibility matters, and I take centre stage during these events – young Black people need to see leaders who look like them. It’s my responsibility to tell my story, but it’s my honour to hear about other people’s journeys.
My vulnerability gives other people permission to share, too.
Throughout the month, I will talk about my intersectionality as a Black francophone, the daughter of a Trinidadian father and franco-manitoban mother. How my identity as a Black woman evolved over time – through federal and municipal elections, after the murder of George Floyd, and as a Canadian senator in a position of privilege who still faces barriers and loneliness.
I’ll be honest that it’s still hard to be Black in Canada, despite the role I hold as a senator. And because of these challenges, I’ll share my gratitude: connections with my community, with young people, with folks from all walks of life feed my soul and give me strength.
When they ask to hear my story, they are giving me permission to be open, to share hard truths, and to give them some responsibility, too. I want them to hear me, to sit in discomfort, and to walk away with questions and new perspectives. This is how people of all ages can practice being an ally.
There is no end to the resources Canadians can consult during Black History Month: podcasts, books, blogs, social media feeds, articles, television, music… These resources can challenge perceptions, appreciate creators and innovators, learn more about the past, and consider laws and policies that are helpful or harmful.
I encourage everyone to take advantage of these accessible opportunities for learning.
Allies have a responsibility to seek out information on their own, without fully relying on people with lived experience to do the heavy lifting. But human connection is transformative. It is necessary for us to grow. When Black people have conversations about race, they’re expected to be vulnerable. Sit in that space with them, while you listen. It can be scary to ask questions face-to-face – but when done with respect, you’re opening the door to the possibility of better understanding.