Across this city and across Canada, many activities have commemorated Black History Month. MLA David Shepherd is a distinct black voice, he stands as a tower of inspiration and hope for those who have lost their faith in black excellence.
His office shared a speech he delivered at an event marking Black History Month at the city.
It is a distinct honour and a pleasure to be here with you all tonight…on behalf of all of my colleagues in the Official Opposition and our leader, Rachel Notley… on the traditional territory of the signatories of Treaty 6 – land also of deep significance to the Metis people of Alberta…to recognize and celebrate at the people’s Legislature, Black History Month.
For more than 220 years, people of African descent have been a part of our province, working, contributing and fighting for freedom and opportunity for themselves, their families and their communities.
Black history in Alberta is rich and diverse – containing a myriad of stories that reflect both the best we aspire to and, at times achieve, as well as moments when we have fallen short.
It’s the indomitable pioneer spirit embodied by early black fur traders like John Lewis, Stephen Bonga and Glasgow Crawford.
It’s the tension of recognizing the respect John Ware was given as one of the best cowboys of his time, but still referred to as “Nigger John” and the spirit of tenacity & independence he passed on to his daughter, Dr. Amanda Janet “Nettie” Ware.
It’s the grit and determination of Violet King who, as one of only three women in the UofA’s Faculty of Law, paid her way by teaching piano lessons becoming the first black female lawyer in Canada. But it’s also her brother, Ted, president of the Alberta Association for the Advancement of Coloured People, who sued a Calgary hotel that denied him a room leading to a change in legislation to prevent discrimination.
It’s Ms. Poston – the Edmonton mother who challenged our city council on its policy of discrimination at public pools. It’s Hattie Melton who refused to be limited to a career as a nanny or maid and opened Hattie’s Harlem Chicken Inn – a restaurant that provided a safe space in an age of discrimination, food to anyone who was hungry, regardless of their ability to pay, and jobs that helped young Black women earn degrees and move on to better careers.
It’s Mary Burlie, the Black Angel of Boyle Street, who fought poverty with compassion as a social worker on the front-lines of Edmonton’s inner city, bringing care and dignity to some of the most marginalized in our community.
It’s Doris Mayes – the first black woman to work as a driver for the Edmonton Transit Service.
It’s the thousands of new Canadians who came here from Commonwealth nations after our federal government removed restrictions on black immigration.
And the thousands who have come here from the many nations of Africa to seek freedom from persecution or better economic opportunities for themselves and their families.
Et ce sont ceux des nations francophones d’Afrique et des Car-AYB qui enrichisse la communauté ici dans notre province.
And from all of them, we inherit a legacy.
The legacy of the Black community in Alberta is one of resilience, of standing up against the voices of those who said, “You are not truly Albertan because you are not like us.”
And it is one of friendship and partnership with those who opened their hearts and doors in a spirit of acceptance, equality and community.
It’s a legacy of looking after and refusing to sacrifice each other during difficult times and rejecting the politics of enmity and division.
And of refusing to bow to those who told them, inaction or in word, “Sit down, be quiet and know your place.”
And tonight we celebrate the fruit of that resilience, commitment and dedication.
We celebrate the teachers, social workers, nurses, academics, tradespeople, artists, first responders, caregivers, elected officials and community leaders who have helped to build our communities and make our province a greater, more accepting and richly diverse place to live.
That work isn’t done, but remembering our heritage, Albertans of African descent can continue to move forward together…
And I invite all Albertans throughout this month to join in celebrating all that you’ve contributed and continue to contribute to our province.
Know that your voice is always welcome here.
And that we will always stand with you to celebrate your cultures, your histories and your faiths…
…against any who seek to stoke hatred, division and prejudice…
…and to support you in continuing to be full participants at all levels and in all parts of our communities.
Thank you for joining us to celebrate here tonight and to everyone working to host events and activities throughout the month of February.
Happy Black History Month