Celebrating Past, Present, and Future Black Excellence
Today is the start of Black History Month, a global commemoration that brings together people and communities to celebrate and learn about African, Caribbean, and Black history, art, food, and cultures. It is also a time to stand in solidarity with Black people across the globe.
Black History Month provides us with an opportunity to celebrate the joy, resilience, and achievements of Black individuals and communities whose countless contributions have shaped the world and culture around us.
Black Excellence: Creating a Just Society for All
This year, the federal government is commemorating the month with a theme of “Black Excellence: A Heritage to Celebrate; a Future to Build.”
As the City of Toronto’s Ombudsman, I have the tremendous privilege of speaking with and learning from members of the public from a range of diverse backgrounds, including meeting with Black advocates and members of the public who are driving change from within our communities. Through these conversations, I have a unique view into what Black Excellence means for Toronto and its people, and I have seen firsthand how members of Toronto’s Black communities are transforming this city for the better – not only for Black communities themselves, but for our city as a whole.
Whether in our homes, our communities, or our political spheres, Black people across Toronto are serving as catalysts for positive systemic change and are empowering the next generation to achieve what many of us could have never imagined for ourselves. It is these changemakers who, often through underacknowledged efforts and unpaid labour, are helping to create a just society for us all.
Working Together: The Responsibility of Institutions
It is important to note, however, that the idea of Black Excellence, like anything, can be a double-edged sword. While there is no doubt that it raises up and celebrates the power, achievements, and success of Black individuals and communities, it can also place an added burden on individuals who may feel they must be perfect or exceptional in order to find success.
This notion of Black Excellence can also put the expectation of action on Black people themselves, often concealing the systemic barriers and anti-Black racism that can lie within our institutions and create unfair and uneven playing fields.
That is why it is so important for institutions – including the City of Toronto government – to play active, intentional, and collaborative roles in dismantling these barriers, and I commend the countless City leaders and Black staff members who recognize the significance of this work.
Owning our Responsibility: Ombudsman Toronto’s Role
I also recognize that we at Ombudsman Toronto are not exempt from this responsibility. As Toronto’s voice for fairness within the City administration, it is our duty to hold the City accountable. This includes shining a spotlight on any inequitable policies or services that we may find.
To carry out this work, we know that our engagement efforts, investigations, and complaint handling must be responsive to the voices of Black communities, and as a team, we vow to participate in the continual process of dismantling anti-Black racism through collaborative and intentional listening, unlearning, and action.
If, as this year’s Black History Month theme suggests, we are to build a future worth celebrating, then we must collectively roll up our sleeves and build it together – institutions and individuals alike. After all, we are always stronger together.
Ombudsman Kwame Addo