On Friday, May 26, the University of Waterloo held its inaugural Celebrating Black Communities event at Federation Hall. The evening’s program featured a reception and a sit-down dinner, followed by a keynote address and a fireside conversation with the Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean, former 27th Governor General of Canada and current chancellor at United College.

More than 300 guests from campus and the community joined together for a special evening as we celebrated Black communities at Waterloo. President and Vice-Chancellor, Vivek Goel, addressed the audience and gave thanks to all existing donors for their support of the Black Student Opportunities Fund  — a student opportunities fund designated to support current and future Black students.

President Vivek Goel with Madame Michaëlle Jean and Dr. Christopher Taylor

President and Vice-Chancellor, Vivek Goel, with the Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean and Dr. Christopher Taylor, associate vice-president of the Office of Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Anti-racism

We are here today as a testament to many years of effort and persistence of many individuals,” Goel said. “As we celebrate Black communities today and recognize the progress to-date, we need to also reflect that there's so much more work to be done.”

Goel also thanked Dr. Christopher Taylor, associate vice-president of the office of Equity Diversity, Inclusion and Anti-racism (EDI-R), and the Black Faculty and Staff Collective for their work together in creating a difference in the Waterloo community over the past two years.

A video was presented during the dinner, where Black students, alumni and University leaders share what Black communities mean to them and how donors have helped their journey at Waterloo. Attendees were also moved by a special performance by Waterloo alum, Graham J. Edwards (BA ’21, MA ’23) also referred to as Hamgrady, who expressed his personal experience and multiple identities within Black communities through his spoken word poetry.

“Excellence is behind every person that feels proud to be Black,” Jean said. She is the first person of African heritage to become Governor General of Canada.

In her keynote, she addressed the different initiatives and projects she oversaw while as the Governor General, where she used her office to address multiple social issues across Canada and globally — advancing human rights, supporting the arts and drawing attention to socio-economic problems experienced by racialized communities.

Madame Michaëlle Jean giving her keynote address on stage“What has given us strength and excellence through time and through centuries is the assurance that comes from knowing what our history is and the confidence in our ability to resist and protect the energy around the space where our dreams are legitimate,” Jean said.

The guest of honour commended the audience’s vibrant energy and sees a lot to celebrate as the community came together to create unity. A fireside conversation with Jean was moderated by Ola Idris Ali (BA ’22), community and engagement manager of the office of EDI-R. 

Dr. Taylor gave thanks to all for coming to celebrate Black communities at Waterloo and wanted to remind the audience, “You are good enough, just the way you are.”

Dr. Taylor asked the audience not to forget that our training is ongoing and together, we will continue to push boundaries, challenge equities and create a world that embraces Black communities to the fullness of their demands. Where future Black generations can grow in a space that recognizes and celebrates their worth.

“Your dedication and commitment to fostering a sense of belonging within our community is truly commendable,” Dr. Taylor said. “We are resisting together and generally, we will continue to build bridges, dismantle barriers and amplify the voices that have too often been silence. May this evening be a catalyst for greater understanding, empathy and a renewed commitment to create a future where every individual is treated with dignity and respect.”