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Senators offer inspiration and advice to young Black leaders for Black History Month

A collage featuring several Black people.

To mark the beginning of Black History Month 2024, senators reflected on the people and events that inspired their success and offered advice to the next generation of Black leaders.

Senator Wanda Thomas Bernard

I view the most significant time in our history as the Civil Rights Movement. I personally benefited from the work of Black community leaders, advocates, allies and decision makers who were leading change. As a student of the civil rights movement, my success was not only about my personal journey — I had the responsibility to use my education to help create change! I did not realize at that time that I was also making Black Canadian history.

Every step on my journey has been framed by the question, “How does the work that I do as a social worker contribute to social change and social justice?” I was inspired by the leaders of the civil rights movements and I continue to be inspired by them. That is why my work in the Senate is rooted in the African principle Ubuntu: They were — therefore I am

To aspiring young Black leaders, I would invite you to be brave and courageous leaders. Be brave enough to be a source of inspiration for those you work with as you join the struggle and the fight for equity. I encourage you to find your purpose and build on our rich history. Black history is Canadian history and you will contribute to this history, not by what you say, but by what you do. I graciously pass the torch to you.

Senator Sharon Burey

I share with you my journey, so that you may find something that resonates with you and gives light to your own leadership path.

I often say I am so thankful for my parents and those ancestors who came before me, who sacrificed and lighted the path for me so brightly that I have been able to contribute to making this world a better place for my community, country, children and grandchildren. We are on a journey to make sure that we pass the baton of life from one generation to the next.

Having gratitude and thanksgiving daily and living a life of service will guide you always on your leadership journey to find the purpose that will not only direct your initiatives but sustain you.

Explore your history, those of your parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and the history of our great country. This history encoded in your DNA will allow you to understand who you are, make you more resilient and give you the courage to press forward, especially when difficulties arise. Let your curiosity allow you to engage with everyone with humility and listen respectfully to a diversity of perspectives.

For me, living a life of service for the common good is the most important part of leadership.

Senator Bernadette Clement

Black History Month is a special time for me, as it is for many in the Black community. During this special time, I feel more connected than ever to my community and to people who look like me.

It’s no secret that these days, establishing yourself as a woman is one thing, but doing so as a woman of colour in our societies, past and present, means even more challenges in the broader spectrum of intersectionality. Feeling included, understood and valued is a challenge worth considering and appreciating every day. But you might say that this should be the norm!

To young Black leaders, never forget where you come from: you’re bright, you’re capable and you’re beautiful. Believe in yourselves and surround yourselves with the right people — you have a bright future ahead of you!

Senator Amina Gerba

Two incredibly inspiring people have shaped my life. The first is my mother, who showed me how to run a business and taught me how to be self-sufficient. When I was a child in Cameroon, I would go with her to the market to sell the food she had prepared. I saw that with hard work and perseverance, women could be masters of their own destinies. The second is my cousin, who raised me, taught me how important education is, and how important it is to never stop learning. Her knack for learning and her feminism deeply shaped the person I am today. She was living proof for me that women can be leaders in their families and society.

To young Black leaders, my biggest piece of advice is to never stop learning, growing and surrounding yourself with the right people, even if it means stepping out of your comfort zone. Be proactive!

Senator Mobina Jaffer

Dare to stand up for what matters to you. Do not hesitate to question existing policies and practices. It is through discussion, constant questioning, and activism that the greatest progress occurs. Over the years, Black people have been denied the right to vote, the right to education and the right to contribute to civil society. Today, it is important to step up and defend principles of equality, pluralism and unity. It is our responsibility to ensure that the values on which our country is built reflect our convictions.

Senator Marie-Françoise Mégie

In settling as an immigrant in Quebec, as in all of life’s difficult situations, I’ve always followed a principle instilled by my mother since childhood: build a hard shell to face and overcome barriers. Making one’s way through life brings its share of challenges, but the successes are always worth it.

To the young leaders of Black communities: have a dream in life. To realize it, set your own goals and make every effort to achieve them. Whatever the pitfalls, don’t let yourself be distracted by others or even sometimes by negative self-talk. Go for it!

Senator Mohamed-Iqbal Ravalia

I was born and raised in Zimbabwe, and the vibrant local Shona culture had a profound influence on my personal growth. Despite the many hardships that the broader Black community faced, they remained welcoming and hopeful, and showed a willingness to foster change by engagement.

I was inspired by the wisdom and spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela.>

My advice to young aspiring Black leaders is to remain proud of your heritage and steadfast in your aspirations.

We live in a time when institutional racism continues to challenge the progress of young Black leaders. The increased awareness of racial bias has resulted in a broader societal response to address this blot in our day-to-day lives.

I believe that this awareness will open doors for young Black leaders in a variety of professional arenas.

Hard work, diligence and the inherent quality of progress against the harshest odds will allow you to lead the next generation of Canadians in making diversity, equity and inclusion a reality.

Senator Rosemary Moodie

Your journey as a young Black leader will be complex, shaped by experiences both good and bad. The path to success is not always easy, but if you honour your roots and embrace your identity, you can overcome the many challenges coming your way. While navigating this road may be difficult, resilience and passion will push you forward. Education is key. It will broaden your perspectives, provide you with the necessary skills and open doors that would otherwise remain shut.

As a young Black leader, you will likely be a trailblazer — the first of your kind or the only one in the room. Look for those who have forged their own trails and seek their wisdom. And when the time comes for you to be that mentor to someone else, honour the legacy of those who came before and offer a hand up to those who follow.


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