Black History Month is shared history month

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

A message from St. Paul’s University College Chancellor Michaëlle Jean

Chancellor Michaëlle JeanWhen you start feeling despondent, discouraged, and so very alone, who can you turn to? These trying, turbulent times put the core of our humanity to the test. Will we overcome the suffering brought on by this deadly global pandemic? How can we survive and maintain sanity?

Every year, the month of February brings an opportunity to recognize painful historical truths, as well as the luminous, exemplary struggles for freedom that brought more humanity into all of our lives.

As your new chancellor for St. Paul’s University College, I’d like to extend this invitation to you: you can use Black History Month as a source of personal inspiration. There is nourishment, courage and fierce determination to be found. I know it serves me always, and it may serve you.

We come from 400 years of humiliation, abject violence, untold cruelty and endless suffering. For centuries, colonialism feasted on the odious practice of mass enslavement of its conquered peoples, Black and Indigenous, deemed inferior, deprived of their humanity, robbed of their freedom, reduced to being called “savages” and treated as beasts of burden. This gruesome reality, with the most abusive and barbarous acts ever perpetrated against human beings, gave rise to the most epic, uplifting struggles ever waged. Against all odds we emerged, our humanistic values harder than steel through the fire of hatred.

Black history is Human History, inextricable from the story we all share, the story of our one and only race: the human race, its labours and ultimate triumph. Black history shows how strength of character and a collective capacity for protracted struggle can become the greatest force for change. And that is good news. Shining examples of intelligence and perseverance in the face of extreme adversity are there for the taking.

It is a legacy we yearn to share with the world. How cultural resistance keeps us alive. The feat of the abolitionists who ended the institution of slavery, the first movement to go global. The campaigns to stop public lynching. The right to vote. The end of racial segregation. The current worldwide mobilization to value racialized lives as much as other lives … Countless stories await to sustain you. Look around. Read a book. Watch a movie. The CBC, the NFB, your local library all have tons to offer. This month and beyond, online and in the flesh, join the celebrations, join the work.

At St. Paul’s University College, where community learning and social innovation serve the larger purpose of creating a more just and humane world, the foundational Indigenous presence, the African diaspora, every culture is honoured. Here lies our greatest treasure, a source of unimaginable wealth.

The year 2020 heard a resounding cry for justice that arose from the depths of history. This year, our many voices are coming together with concrete actions to eradicate racism, the age-old template for other forms of oppression. To fight against discrimination—and the fatal inequities it produces—is to fight against all forms of systemic exclusion based on ethnic, racial and other features including age, gender, sexual orientation, language, religion, social origin, political opinion, property, birth … This is a fight for humanity itself. Human beings were not made to be oppressed.

In the end, the question that matters most is this: what role you will want to play “in the fierce urgency of now,” as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. used to say. To borrow another phrase dear to President Obama, Dr. King, and other anti-slavery abolitionists before them: Will you join in helping bend the arc of history faster towards justice?

My invitation to you

Please consider joining Black History Month as Shared History Month. Make it a year. Make it a life.

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