BY: JELANI GRANT
Channon Oyeniran held her 3rd Annual Looking Back Into The Future Conference over the past weekend. The conference, held at the Ajax Community Centre, was an opportunity for the entire family to meet black people who significantly impacted the way black people live in Canada today.
It was an afternoon of inspiring speeches from black people who made history, entertainment, refreshments and a great marketplace that included a 50/50 draw and a variety of products and businesses. Beginning the conference, the Afro-Caribbean dance group Harambe Dance performed. Later in the afternoon, young dancers from AFIWI Groove School also performed.
Speakers for the afternoon included the Honourable Jean Augustine, former Cabinet Minister Zanana Akande and Canadian Boxing Hall of Famer Spider Jones. Each speaker was chosen because of their tremendous story, which inspires youth to achieve their dreams. “Those who have made great contributions to the black community, we should celebrate while they’re still around. Really hear from them and hear their story,” Oyeniran said.
Oyeniran said she feels the excitement towards Black History Month grows stronger each year. “I work with an Historica Canada program that requests speakers to come in and during Black History Month is our busiest time. We have so many teachers and organizers requesting people to come in and share their stories with students,” she said. Her hope is that black history will become a more common topic of discussion year-round, possibly by implementing black history into school curriculums of Canadian history. “Not just an option that can be chosen during [February] but something that they can teach throughout the year because black history is Canadian history,” she said.
Akande made history as the first black woman elected to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario from 1990 to 1994 and became the first black woman to serve as a cabinet minister in Canada. During her run, she presided over an increase in welfare benefits to Ontarians at the lowest income level, raised the social assistance rate from 5% to 7% and increased the shelter allowance from 5% to 10%. She also co-founded Tiger Lily, a newspaper for visible minority women and though she is currently retired, she still serves as a volunteer on local boards and committees of the YWCA and Centennial College.
Another speaker for the afternoon was former three-time Golden Glove Champion Spider Jones. Those championships earned him a spot in the Canadian Boxing Hall of Fame, but he is also well known for being a sports journalist. Over the past twenty years, Spider has interviewed such notables as Muhammad Ali, Mark Wahlberg, Jesse Jackson, LL Cool J, Doug Gilmour, Cito Gaston, Oscar De La Hoya, Roy Jones, James Brown, Guy Lafleur, Carlos Delgado, and Jim Brown.
Jean Augustine’s well-known reputation of supporting black people and celebrating black history is a reason Oyeniran said Augustine inspires her. “I respect all that she accomplished, getting Black History Month recognized by our government”, she said. Augustine is the first black woman to be elected to the House of Commons and was re-elected in 1997, 2000, 2002 and 2004. Though black history in Canada is recorded as being celebrated as early as the 1950s in cities such as Halifax and Toronto, Augustine contributed to making Black History Month a recognized holiday across the country. In 1993, after the Ontario Black History Society successfully petitioned Ontario to declare a province-wide celebration, they asked Augustine to support a nation-wide movement. She put a motion before Parliament and by December 1995, February was proclaimed Black History Month in Canada. Augustine was also appointed Secretary of State in May 2002, making her the first black woman to achieve a post in Cabinet.
The intention of the conference is always to recognize and honor people who made history in the past or who are creating a legacy now. The three speakers, performers, and vendors all serve as examples for youth to fully step into their truths and eventually give back to the community.