Black History Month 2021: Spotlight on six Black Canadians and their lasting legacy in Toronto

DATE

February 12, 2021

Each year, February marks the beginning of Black History month — A time where we celebrate the achievements of Black Canadians through events and festivities that honour their legacies and the transformative work they are doing for their communities.

The theme for this year’s Black History Month is “The Future is Now,” which is befitting of the events that unfolded in 2020 and the collective call to action that we as a community, listen, learn, and amplify Black voices. As the sentiment beautifully suggests, the future is among us. The time for change is now.

Toronto is home to a plethora of talented Black artists, politicians, journalists, activists, and community leaders who are forging their legacy. As we celebrate the achievements of those gone before us, we also wanted to highlight a few of the remarkable Black Canadians who are champions of change in our city presently:

Oscar Peterson is regarded as one of the greatest jazz pianists of all time, known for his exceptional speed, dexterity, and unique swinging style. A prolific musician, mentor and advocate for racial equality, Peterson was the first recipient of the Governor General’s Performing Arts Award for Lifetime Achievement and was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1978.

Fun fact: Located in the heart of Yorkville at 21 Park Road, and steps away from 55C Bloor Yorkville Residences, was once home to the Advanced School of Contemporary Music, which Peterson and his colleagues founded in 1960.

Masai Ujiri became the first and only African-born President and General Manager of a professional sports franchise in North America in 2013. Best known for his role with the Toronto Raptors and leading the franchise to its first NBA championship in 2019, Ujiri’s commitment to the sport transcends the court at the Rogers Centre. In 2003, he co-founded Giants of Africa (GOA), an organization that strives to educate and enrich the lives of young boys and girls through basketball. Established first in Nigeria where Ujiri was born and raised, GOA has now expanded into camps and programs across the continent including Kenya, Ghana, Rwanda, Mali, Morocco, Senegal and more.

Marci Ien is a veteran journalist, talk-show host, and now politician within the Liberal party of Canada. Throughout her incredible 30 year career, Ien has always found many ways to be an inspiration to women of colour in Toronto, whether that be through her various roles within Bell Media or by simply being a voice for young women that want to pursue a career in journalism and politics. She was the first Black woman to co-host a morning show in Canada and continues to champion causes by speaking out in support of issues that face First Nations as well as the Black Lives Matter movement.

 

Kayla Grey is an award-winning journalist that uses her platform to discuss everything from what’s happening in the sports world to racial injustices happening in the Black community in Toronto. A frequent contributor to CTV’s Your Morning, ETALK and The Social, Grey became the first Black woman to host on-air for TSN in 2018.

Lincoln Alexander served as the first Black Canadian member of Parliament, Cabinet minister, Lieutenant-Governor, and was the first Black Canadian to sit in the House of Commons. He made history in Canadian politics and was known for his compassion and humanity, as well as his constant fight for equal rights within all communities. The Honourable Lincoln Alexander has received numerous awards and honorary degrees from six Canadian universities for his contributions to politics and justice. In his honour, January 21st was titled “Lincoln Alexander Day” in 2015 and has been observed across the nation ever since.

Viola Desmond was a Canadian business woman, civil rights activist, and mentor to young Black women in her native hometown of Halifax, Nova Scotia. Best known today for her courageous stand against racial discrimination when she refused to leave a segregated section of the Roseland Theatre in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia in 1946. Desmond was then unjustly arrested, jailed, and convicted of a tax offense without any representation, despite the efforts made by the Nova Scotian Black community. Her stand against racism is widely recognized by generations of Canadians and in December 2016 the Bank of Canada announced that Viola Desmond would be the first woman to be solely featured on the face of a banknote. In 2018, the $10 note was released and she was subsequently named a National Historic Person.