Prominent Black members of the Etobicoke Lakeshore community shared their stories of excellence and success as part of the Black Heritage 365 Panel: From Resistance to Resilience panel discussion.
The panel discussion occurred on February 15 at the Lakeshore Campus and was presented by the office of Etobicoke–Lakeshore MPP Christine Hogarth in partnership with the Office of the Principal, June MacDonald-Jenkins.
The panelists included Ian Stewart, a pharmacist and philanthropist, Jacqueline Edwards, a 2022 Premier’s Awards nominee and first female president of the Association of Black Law Enforcers; Keddone Dias, executive director with LAMP Community Health Centre; and Carla Neto, executive director at Women’s Habitat in Etobicoke.
Dr. Jean Augustine, who made history as the first Black woman to be elected to the House of Commons as MP for the Etobicoke-Lakeshore riding, also took part. Augustine famously introduced the motion to designate February as Black History Month in Canada, among several other notable achievements.
Augustine noted that when she arrived in Canada in 1960 from Grenada the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms didn’t exist and neither did the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario. As a result, there were few protections against discrimination for the Black community.
“I always say Canada is a work in progress and we’re not there yet and I think we have a long way to go,” said Augustine. “But we do have people buying into the fact we are in a global village, and we have to all work together.”
When asked about how she continued to resist and be resilient as a Black woman in a leadership role in a time when anti-Black racism is pervasive, Dias said it can be challenging.
“The challenges I faced of being a Black woman in an organization where people have been used to seeing white, middle-aged male leadership for over 40 years, that's real,” said Dias. “But it’s not my job to make them used to it.”
Asked the same question, Neto said she brings both her lived experience and outlook.
“This means that folks who seek our services, many of whom are non-white, may see themselves reflected in me,” said Neto. “It also means that staff who are non-white can feel that it’s possible for them to lead an organization like ours.”
Stewart, who owns a Shoppers Drug Mart, was asked what advice he would give to Black students based on his own experience.
“As a student I got involved. I found it was a great opportunity for me to learn and to build rapport and relationships with others,” said Stewart. “The other piece of advice I have is something I learned from my mom – make a positive difference in someone else’s life.”
Neto said she always encouraged her children to “aim for the sky because, even if they miss, they will land among the stars.”
Edwards, a 2021 recipient of the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police President’s Award of Merit, shared how she was often ridiculed and laughed at in school for her Jamaican accent. It left her almost non-verbal to the point she wouldn’t speak when called upon in class. She said that experience motivated her to become the person she is today.
“There’s absolutely nothing one cannot achieve once one sets their mind to it,” said Edwards. “I am a product of that, and my children are products of that belief. I also want to recognize the history and unique contributions of Black people in Canada – we stand on the shoulders of greatness.”