Black History Month is in full swing and, as usual, it is replete with varied and interesting activities and events. In the virtual environment, I have been fortunate to attend events hosted locally and in different countries around the world. The subjects under discussion have been diverse: health and wellness, including increased attention on mental health awareness; education; criminal justice and policing; career progression. These topics all speak to the different aspects that impact a person operating in our world today – albeit with a Black focus.
What struck me the most is that although the themes are disparate, there was a common thread that ran through them all: the need for awareness and a call to action. It occurred to me that these are the true purposes of Black History Month – Awareness followed by Action.
On the awareness front, it is both external and internal. On the one hand, this month affords the opportunity to educate others about ourselves, our various cultural and ethnic identities, and our histories. The opportunity to shine the spotlight on Black achievement and Black excellence; to raise and discuss issues that are important to our community. On the other hand, it is a time for self-reflection – to consider ourselves and our place in the world. Are we living according to our values? Have we been playing small so that others may feel comfortable in our presence?
This awareness of self and others then spurs us to action: to encourage, motivate, inspire, and enact change. My Black History Month journey of reflection led me to explore some African principles that I share with you. Black History Month affords us with the opportunity to gather together (Umoja) with purpose (Nia) and collectively brainstorm (Ujima) the larger issues that we face today and come up with creative solutions (Kuumba) on how to address them (Kujichagulia).
Moreover, the overarching philosophy of Ubuntu – I am because we are – is in alignment with Dr. Martin Luther King’s philosophy of lifting as we climb, which has been a personal guide for me. This philosophy embraces the spirit of mentorship and sponsorship and agency that you may have heard so much about over the past couple of years.
So in the spirit of Black History Month, I encourage you, dear reader to increase your awareness through the plethora of sources available to you, including the Black History Month library curated by Mante Molepo (https://www.mantemolepo.com/black-history-month-library); and move into action: mentor a junior person of colour in your firm; offer opportunities that they might not be aware of; question your privilege; notice systemic structures that disadvantage others and speak out about them. We all have a hand in dismantling systemic barriers. Finally, certainly, celebrate black excellence every day, not only during Black History Month.
About the author
Jacqueline Beckles is General Counsel with the Department of Justice Canada and a part-time professor at Algonquin College. She is also an executive member of the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers; co-chair of the LSO’s Equity Advisory Group; a member of the OBA Equality Committee and Institute Committee; and a member-at-large of the CBA Criminal Justice Section.