BY KATHY MCDONALD
February is a busy month filled with many holidays and celebrations. There is Valentine’s Day, Family Day, Chinese New Year and Black History Month to name a few. This year, Black History holds special meaning to me as at the Peel District School Board (PDSB) we are getting ready to bestow a distinctive honor on a well deserving member of the Caribbean and Black community. Jean Augustine has accepted the PDSB’S request to name a secondary school after her. So if all goes according to plan the Jean Augustine Secondary School will open its doors this September at 500 Elbern Markell Drive in Brampton. In my opinion this is what is so spectacular about celebrating Black History. We get to celebrate the contributions of not only the historical figures of the civil rights movement, freedom fighters, famous community advocates but extraordinary immigrants that are forever changing the Canadian landscape.
I would like to mention a few of Ms. Augustine’s accomplishments to date. In 1963 she obtained her teaching certificate and by 1982 she was appointed as the principal of St. Felix School. She was the first Black woman to be elected to the House of Commons where she served from 1993 until 2005. Augustine was later appointed to the Federal Cabinet making her the first Black female to hold such a position. In 2007 she was appointed as the Fairness Commissioner of Canada. In 2009 Ms. Augustine received the Order of Canada, in 2012 the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal and in 2014 the Commander of the Order of the British Empire. Ms. Augustine has an honorary degree from the University of Toronto, her alma mater. This remarkable champion of education and human rights has served on numerous organizations in various capacities including the National Black Coalition of Canada, the Board of Governors of York University, the Board of Trustees for The Hospital for Sick Children, the Board of Harbourfront, and Chair of the Metro Toronto Housing Authority.
It is very important to our children to celebrate and to educate them about their culture, history and the successes of members of the community. When I was talking to my seventeen year old son about Black History month and its relevance he commented that “Black Canadians, naturalized and natural-born, have helped define Canada’s diverse heritage and identity through a myriad of achievements and contributions to the broader society. These predate 1870 when the Black Moses became a conductor in the underground railway. A legacy of contribution was set into motion by the first Black credited to putting foot on this land, Mathieu Da Costa, who came to Canada in 1605 via an expedition that founded Port Royal in Nova Scotia. Ever since, Blacks have stamped into Canada’s diverse, fabulous and rich heritage a unique identity, despite social, political and climatic hurdles through a world of achievements and contribution over the last four centuries. A wall of contributions have been made in cultural, arts, sports, medicine, education, public service and human rights and politics.” He feels that possessing this knowledge and awareness is very important for him as this has helped to nurture his healthy self-concept.
I am especially excited as a member of the Congress of Black Women (Brampton Chapter) to witness my fellow Congress sister’s success on the world stage. Ms. Augustine served as the National President of this dynamic organization devoted to empowering Black women. A little immigrant woman from the small Caribbean island of Grenada has demonstrated that with determination, hard work and an education anything is possible. Jean’s life story epitomizes the immigrant struggles and triumphs. Did you know that Ms. Augustine came to Canada under the West Indian Domestic Scheme and worked as a nanny? Augustine had goals and a vision. By educating herself and never losing sight of her goals she became the phenomenal woman that she is today. I would like to encourage everyone to take a page from Jean Augustine’s book and never give up on your dream. Dream big and remember if you can conceive it you can achieve it. Walk Good. Belle Marche!!