Black History month is a reminder to me that I am a part of Canadian Black History, not just because I grew up here and built my life here but because my family has made contributions to the fabric of life in this country and specifically in the City of Toronto.
Although I may think of my Grandmother often, February gives me the opportunity to really assess what she accomplished as a young woman, way back in 1929, when she left her native Jamaica, on board the ss Lady Somers, headed toward Halifax and other places she never heard of in her life. I suppose if she had been born to one of the wealthy Jamaican families whose children were highly educated about the world, it might have been different but she was a simple, poorly educated girl whose strength was tested over and over as she struggled to find a way to help her large family back home. At the core of her desire to do better was her only child, born into sadness and heartbreak, who she left behind with an uncaring father. In her dreams, it was clear to her that in the land of opportunity, if she could find a way to give him more opportunity for a better life, then she would do so.
I have been to Halifax a few times. Mostly, I go by plane, complete my business there, sight see a little and then return. On my last visit there I was alone. My wandering footsteps took me to the train station. In a moment of clarity back in 2004, I realized that my grandmother would not have landed in Ontario without first been processed through the maritime port, which boasted so much history of its own. It dawned on me that indeed my own history in Canada began at that point. When Agatha boarded a train from Halifax headed to Kingsville Ontario she opened doors not just for herself but for many of those who came after.
Years after her arrival in Canada, and by then married to a wonderful man who had taken a similar journey, my grandmother settled in Toronto. With very little education, she worked at menial jobs, saving nickels and dimes to find a way to buy a house. In 1940, she purchased a property on Dufferin St. and there she used her kind heart and natural ability to organize her family, her community and her heritage so that what she was not able to achieve with her son, she was able to achieve with her grandchildren.
As a child growing up in Toronto in the fifties, my siblings and I were different. Many times there were no other Black children around to reflect our own experience, although diversity was not uncommon in my neighbourhood. My grandmother was able to generate a sense of confidence and deep aspiration within us to achieve what she did not. Education and independence were her keywords. I believe that no matter what success I have in life, I will not be able to match the success of my greatest role model, my Grandmother and each February as Black history month rolls around, that is where I turn my thoughts and my deep pride.