When I reflect on what International Women’s Day represents for many, it can be expressed in this single verse. “We know that we are walking in footprints made deep by the confident strides of women who parted the air before them like the forces of nature that you are.” This powerful proclamation is taken from the beautifully penned poem, titled, “We Speak Your Names” by re-known, best selling African American author and poetess, Pearl Cleage. She recited and presented the entire poem for the first time for the world to hear at Oprah Winfrey’s Auspicious Legends Ball in 2006.
As Canadians and the world rise to celebrate the outstanding accomplishments of Women and voice the concerns surrounding the disparities that still remain for many across the globe, March 8th, 2011 marks the centenary anniversary of International Women’s Day. The Editor’s at Black Ink Magazine found this to be an opportune time to showcase the outstanding accomplishments of African Canadian Women over past 100 years. In the story of women’s rights, African Canadian Women possess several pages of living histories and accomplishments worthy of recognition.
These luminaries are women who have transformed our lives, experiences and empowered us through their grace, dignified perseverance, vision, drive, personal aspirations, cracking the ‘glass ceiling’, social consciousness and liberation by confronting the struggles for equality and pursing personal and professional excellence. Their achievements and collective voices have improved the status of all women in Canada.
Andrea Elaine Lawrence: Was the first Black RCMP Constable in Canada when she reported for duty in 1987. Sadly, Andrea’s rising star was extinguished when she passed away in 2003 at 39 years of age.
FACTS on The Status of Women in Canada:
According the Status of Women in Canada, Canadian women today have made great strides on quest to achieving equality:
- The current Government has the highest percent age of women in Cabinet in Canadian history with 67 standing strong in The House of Commons.
- Women are highly educated and make up the majority of full-time students in most university faculties.
- The labour force participation rate for working age Women (15-64 years) has increased to 74.3 per cent during the years 1997-2008
- In 2007, women comprised 35 per cent of all self-employed individuals.
Ange la James: Considered a pioneer superstar for women’s hockey. She led the women’s national team to four world championship gold medals (1990, 1992, 1994, and 1997). She is the only African-Canadian to captain a national hockey team. James is the first woman to be inducted into the International Ice Hockey Federation Hockey Hall of Fame. She was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame (2010) and the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame (2009).
The Honourable Anne Cools: After an exemplary career in social work and an agent of change voicing concerns surrounding violence against women, Cools entered into politics to further serve her life’s ambition to help others, The Barbadian born Canadian was the first person of African descent summoned to the senate in Canada by recommendation of Prime Minister Trudeau in 1984.
Cassandra Dorrington: Is the current President of the Canadian Aboriginal and Minority Supplier Council – CAMSC since September 2010. CAMSC is a non-profit organization dedicated to the economic empowerment of Aboriginal and visible minority communities through business development and employment. An active participant in business initiatives and community services boards, Cassandra was named one of the YWCA’s Women of Distinction recognizing her commitment to community service.
Delores Lawrence: Founder, President and CEO of Nursing Healthcare Inc. (NHI), a health care services provider for private care and numerous public institutions in the Greater Toronto Area, has been listed on Profit Magazine Canada as a Top 100 Women Entrepreneurs for several years with annual revenues of $8,000.000. The Jamaican born Canadian was awarded the prestigious Order of Ontario in 2004. She continues to give back to the community through various initiatives.
Dr. Avis Glaze: Known as a tour du force in the Field of Education, Dr. Avis Glaze has the distinction of being Ontario’s first Chief Student Achievement Officer and founding CEO of The Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat. She was also appointed as Ontario’s Education Commissioner and Senior Adviser to the Minister of Education. She was chosen by the Canadian government to assist with educational reform in South Africa. She represented Canada at the UNESCO conference on Inclusive Education in Riga, Latvia.
Dr. Daurene Lewis: Dr. Daurene Lewis is descendent of Black Loyalists who settled in Annapolis Royal in 1783 in Nova Scotia. She is a highly accomplished woman, acquiring a nursing degree and teaching certificate from Dalhousie University she also has a Master of Business Administration (MBA) from Saint Mary’s University in Halifax. In 1984 Lewis decided to throw her hat in the arena of politics and was elected Mayor of Annapolis Royal becoming the first Black mayor in Nova Scotia, in Canada and North America.
Juliette Powell: Is a Canadian television host, reporter, producer and author. She won the Miss Canada title in 1989, the pageant’s first Black Canadian winner.
Kay Livingstone: A staunch social activist and radio personality, Kay Livingstone is best known for her role in organizing the first National Congress of Black Women in 1973, but her life was devoted to social activism and radio host for many shows including on the CBC. She was an instrumental guiding force behind the first National Congress of Black Women convention in Toronto in 1973, assembling 200 women from across Canada. Workshops discussed education, single parents, and senior citizens, and resolutions on many subjects were passes. Today the National Congress of Black Women has over 600 members and is one of Kay Livingstone’s legacies. Kay Livingstone passed away in 1975.
The Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean: Renowned International Journalist, documentarian, social advocate for women’s right and poverty, Michaëlle Jean was the First Afro-Caribbean Governor General in Canada. Born in Port Au Prince Haiti, Jean was sworn in to office on September 27, 2005, as the Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean, the 27th governor general since Confederation in 1867 and carried out the duties of head of State as Governor General of Canada. Her Term ended in 2010.
Michie Mee: A.K.A. Michelle McCullock has bragging rights as Canada’s first notable female emcee, considered by many a Hip Hop Pioneer. The Jamaican-Canadian became the first Canadian emcee to sign a record deal with a major American label in the late 1980’s. She’s opened for top artists such as Boogie Down Productions, Salt n Pepa, Sinéad O’Connor, and Judy Mowatt. She released two albums, Jamaican Funk: Canadian Style in 1991 as duo – Michie Mee and L.A. Luv and a solo effort in 2000 The First Cut Is the Deepest in 2000. She was nominated for 2 Juno awards for each album.
Viola Davis Desmond: She has been referred to as a Canada’s Rosa Parks. Desmond’s story is one of the most publicized incidents of racial discrimination in Nova Scotia and Canadian history. In 1946 her refusal to be seated in the balcony of a movie theatre that was reserved for blacks only, sparked on the Nova Scotia’s most highly publicized legal cases challenging the provinces segregation laws of the day. She’s become a notable figure and a symbol of civil rights history in Canada.
Dr. Rita Cox: Is a Canadian Icon who has enabled the literary voices and experiences of those in the Black and Caribbean community to find a place in the shelves of Toronto Public Libraries. Dr. Rita Cox joined Toronto Public Library as a children’s librarian in 1960. In 1973, Dr. Cox pioneered the Black Heritage and West Indian Resource Collection, which was renamed the Black and Caribbean Heritage Collection in 1998. It soon became one of the most comprehensive collections of its kind in Canada. Today, it continues to be a source of pride in the community. She retired in 1995.
Portia White: A teacher and musician of African-Nova Scotian descent, Portia achieved international fame as a classical concert singer and chanteuse, singing European classics and Negro spirituals in the 1940s and 1950s. She travelled throughout Canada and the United States and performed in various concert halls to critical acclaim. The Nova Scotia government created an award/honorarium for artists in her memory.
Mary Ann Shadd: An American Black abolitionist and educator. Shadd was born in Wilmington, Delaware, US in 1823, Shadd was an inspiration and trailblazer during a challenging time in history for blacks in North America. She birthed the first integrated school in Canada and was the first female newspaper editor for the weekly published paper, The Provincial Freeman from 1853 to 1857 in Windsor, Toronto and Chatham. the paper was a voice for equality, integration and self-education for black people in Canada and the United States. She also has the distinction of being the first female black lawyer in North America. She passed away in 1893.