In celebration of Black History Month, York University’s Office of Alumni Engagement and the Centre for Human Rights, Equity and Inclusion reached out to a few Black Alumni to gather their thoughts on what Black History Month means to them.
Hon. Jean Augustine (Hon. LLD '11)
First African-Canadian woman elect to the House of Commons
“BHM is in its 23rd year of celebration nationally. I rose in the House of Commons December 14th 1995 and urged Parliamentarians to support my motion acknowledging February as Black History Month in Canada. I envisioned that every February Canadians will celebrate the achievements of Black Canadians, recognize their contribution to Canadian Society, learn about the past struggles, and reflect on progress made and how much more needs to be done to strengthen the fabric of Canada. Black History is Canadian History.”
In 1993, Jean Augustine became the first African-Canadian woman to be elected to the House of Commons. She won by more than 13,000 votes, a majority she maintained, more or less, through the next three elections serving as Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister, Minister of State for Multiculturalism and the Status of Women and Deputy Speaker. She resigned her seat and left politics in 2005.
In 2007, Premier Dalton McGuinty appointed Jean Augustine as Ontario’s first Fairness Commissioner. Her duties included working with regulatory bodies to ensure that the credentials of internationally trained professionals are evaluated fairly and transparently. The post of Fairness Commissioner was created under the auspices of the Fair Access to Regulated Professions Act, 2006, which was the cornerstone of the McGuinty government’s comprehensive plan, Breaking Down Barriers, to help newcomers to integrate successfully into Ontario’s economy and society. She retired from the position in 2015.
Augustine was born in Grenada and came to Canada in 1960. She has served on numerous boards including the Board of Governors of York University, the Board of Trustees for The Hospital for Sick Children and as National President of the Congress of Black Women of Canada. An energetic advocate of social justice, Augustine was an elementary school teacher and principal before entering federal politics.
She has donated her archival and parliamentary materials including her parliamentary chair, robes and portrait from the House of Commons, photos, and commemorative items to the Faculty of Education at York University. She has also donated a collection of papers documenting her time as an elected representative, which will be archived in order to allow students’ and scholars’ access for research purposes.
Nadine Spencer (BA ’04)
CEO of BrandEQ Group Inc
"Black History is a time to reflect on the brilliance and accomplishments of our ancestors. It’s only though an understanding of the past that we can take strength from the journey, determination and resilience of our Black leaders.
Whether it be the undisputed global scientific contributions of my relatives in ancient Khemit or the more recent spirit of my freedom fighting lineage found in Jamaica’s Queen Nanny, I feel and carry the privilege of strength, resilience and perseverance.
I am undaunted by the challenges I may face today knowing that my roots run millions of years deep.
As a community, there is nothing under the sun we cannot achieve, because sometime and somewhere in our worldly experience we have conquered the challenge. We stand on the shoulders of generations who have created a path for us.
Black history has always been part of a global history. I am, we are Black History."
Nadine Spencer is the CEO of BrandEQ Group Inc, a global marketing and communications agency that specializes in brand development and market growth strategies. She also serves as President of the Black Businesses and Professional Association (BPPA)—a non-profit, charitable organization that addresses equity and opportunity for the Black community in business, employment, education, and economic development. She has over twenty-five years of experience in marketing and brand management. She has also held senior positions in several organizations, including Director and Producer of The Delicious Food Show by Food Network.
Michael Eubanks (BA ’93)
Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer, LCBO
“If I do not see myself, how do I know if I matter or exist.” - Anonymous
Michael Eubanks is the Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer of the LCBO, and has more than 25 years of entrepreneurial and technology experience. Michael’s extensive experience also includes past positions as the President of Smart Toronto and Vice President of Information Technology E-commerce and Operations at the Retail Council of Canada. He is currently a member of the Board of Governors for North Toronto Soccer Association, The Canadian Club of Toronto, and the Impakt Corporation.
Roderick Brereton (BA ’93)
Conflict Management Expert
"Black History month is a time to reflect on the countless contributions people of African descent have made to the global village."
Roderick Brereton is the founder and owner of the conflict/change management consultancy Urban Rez Solutions. He has worked extensively since 2000 directing capacity building initiatives.
As an African-Canadian raised in Toronto, Ontario, Roderick has a vested interest in diversity and social cohesion. From an early age he had a passion for behavioral science and social change. Attending York University and graduating with a BA in Sociology, he thereafter completed comprehensive training in Anger Management, Conflict Resolution, Change Management, Facilitation and Mental Health Wellness/Recovery.
Shernett Martin (BA ’95)
Executive Director of the Vaughan African Canadian Association
"I learned a long time ago that Black history is world history. I grew up in a home where being black was celebrated. I was told my skin was beautiful and I was taught about the valor of Toussaint L’Ouverture, the vision of Marcus Garvey, the bravery of Nanny of the Maroons and the words of Bob Marley. In high school, I continued that education and read the poetry of Langston Hughes, the essays of Frances Cress Welsing and the biography of Malcolm X. Black History is not some word on paper - it is a moving, fluid history and present all moving together. It must be read, studied, taught, researched and experienced. If you know nothing but what pop culture is telling you about black history, you are missing out on some of the most incredible, brilliant minds and stories of lives lived that you can imagine. Black history stares me in the mirror every day. It’s how I speak, how I carry myself, and how I live my life."
Shernett Martin is the Executive Director of the Vaughan African Canadian Association (VACA), and Teacher with the Toronto District School Board.
She is an award-winning equity & inclusion Consultant, speaker, workshop developer, and facilitator. She also works as a teacher, and has had experience teaching elementary, secondary, and college students.
In her role as Executive Director of the VACA, Shernett provides support for the black community in Vaughan and York Region in the areas of health, education, employment, and access to services. She led an orchestrated and strategic plan with NCCM, ethnic communities and parents in York Region from the black Muslim communities to hold the York Region District School Board (YRDSB) accountable for incidents of anti-black racism and Islamophobia which led to an overall review of the Board and systemic changes to the Board.