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‘The Future is Now’: Senators, students mark Black History Month in Canada-wide event
March 23, 2021

In celebration of Black History Month, more than 100 Canadian students connected virtually with five senators on February 19, 2021 to exchange questions and ideas about shaping the future. Building on the theme of this year’s Black History Month — “The Future is Now” — the momentous, Canada-wide event sought to inspire a new generation of Black leaders.

Senators Wanda Thomas Bernard (Nova Scotia), Mobina Jaffer (British Columbia), Marie-Françoise Mégie (Quebec), Rosemary Moodie (Ontario) and Mohamed-Iqbal Ravalia (Newfoundland and Labrador) connected with diverse students across the country. Senators Bernard, Jaffer, Mégie and Ravalia spoke with secondary students in Halifax, Vancouver, Montreal and Twillingate, respectively, while Senator Moodie connected with a younger group of students in Toronto.

The compelling discussions they had covered a wide range of subjects, including heritage, identity, Black Canadian history, education and advocacy.

Read the senators’ personal reflections on those conversations:

“I was pleased to join African Nova Scotian Grade 12 students, their allies, and their student support workers from Citadel High School in Halifax. During our session, I discovered that I had met these students a few years earlier at their junior high school. I had also attended an African Heritage Month event, held by CBC’s Information Morning at the Black Cultural Centre, where the students were performing a song about African Nova Scotian history. It was wonderful to meet with them again as they prepare to leave high school.

My presentation highlighted the role of leadership and higher education as tools to lead change. Our Q&A portion was quite unique; we discussed the students’ future goals and networking opportunities. I was excited to learn that they all plan to pursue post-secondary education with clear career goals. It was very inspiring to connect with this group and to see how well they are doing.”

Senator Wanda Thomas Bernard

Senator Wanda Thomas Bernard connects with students at Citadel High School in Halifax, Nova Scotia during a virtual Black History Month event hosted by the Senate.

“I was so touched by the Grade 11 and Grade 12 law students at Prince of Wales Secondary School. When I presented to them as part of Black History Month, I highlighted some amazing contributions of Black Canadians in British Columbia because I believe it’s very meaningful for all students in Canada to hear and learn about our country’s history.

It is so important that we carry forth the legacies of Black Canadian trailblazers, including Rosemary Brown, the first Black female MLA; Jean Augustine, the first Black woman to serve as a member of Parliament and federal cabinet minister; and Emery Barns, a professional football player who later became the second Black MLA elected to B.C.’s legislature.

I felt incredibly welcomed by Mr. Lee and his law class. I was particularly impressed by how willing they were to ask me tough questions. I left the discussion truly having learned so much.”

 Senator Mobina S.B. Jaffer

In celebration of Black History Month, Senator Mobina S.B. Jaffer presents to Grade 11 and 12 students at Prince of Wales Secondary School in Vancouver, B.C.

“The students had sent in short videos to introduce themselves. After I briefly introduced myself, we launched into a rewarding discussion.

I explained to them that change is incremental and encouraged them to never give up. On the topic of the fight against racism, their teacher added: “Now, we can talk about it freely.

I also told the students: “What we’re all going through is extremely complicated. We will find a solution, eventually. It’s going to take time, but we must always work together.”

Talking with young people is a great way to ensure intergenerational dialogue and gain insight into how they approach issues related to racism. This exchange of information informs our thinking and expands people’s awareness of the social issues experienced by Black communities.”

 Senator Marie-Françoise Mégie

Senator Marie-Françoise Mégie marks Black History Month with secondary students at École Lucien-Pagé in Montreal, Quebec.

“I was thrilled to meet with Grade 8 students at Queen Victoria School in Toronto’s Parkdale neighbourhood to discuss the changing meaning of Black History Month and why it’s more important than ever that we celebrate, listen and learn.

The pandemic changed many of our habits and in some cases, altered people’s lives completely. I wanted to focus on the contributions of Black Canadians who are committed to impacting our society in critical ways, whether in policy, finance, art, science or athletics. They are undaunted now as they continue their work and through them, we can see through to the other side; when the pandemic is over, we will have emerged stronger and more aware.

I was heartened and touched by the questions I received from this inspiring and diverse group of kids. Their voices are needed now more than ever if we are to make Canada a global leader in equality and inclusion!”

Senator Rosemary Moodie

Senator Rosemary Moodie engages with Grade 8 students at Queen Victoria School in Toronto’s Parkdale neighbourhood.

“We began the session by reflecting on the many contributions that Black Canadians have made to our country. The importance of Black History Month and the many facets of institutional racism that negatively impact Black Canadians was also highlighted.

The students at J.M. Olds Collegiate asked me diverse questions about my upbringing in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and addressing racial inequality in the present day.

I am the son of labourers who immigrated to Rhodesia from the Indian subcontinent, so I shared what it was like growing up as a boy of Asian heritage in a system that segregated people along racial lines. I recalled the unfairness and consequences of that separation and how, as I got older, I began to feel the true pain of that injustice.

I remain so impressed by the students’ maturity and their awareness of how we can build a more equal society. I feel comfortable that they’re the generation that will inherit the future.”

Senator Mohamed-Iqbal Ravalia

Senator Mohamed-Iqbal Ravalia participates in a virtual Q&A session with high school students in Twillingate, Newfoundland and Labrador, a community where the senator previously worked as a family physician.