In honour of Black History Month, the Arts and Science Student Union (ASSU) hosted a series of three presentations from three “profound Black individuals in Canadian society.”
The three talks were given by Bernice Carnegie, Nadège Compaoré, and Ahmed Hussen between February 24 and 26, and each had a different focus on the spheres of “community,” “academia,” and “politics.”
The first presentation took place on February 24 and was from Bernice Carnegie, who is the co-founder of the Herbert H. Carnegie Future Aces Foundation and formerly its executive director. Carnegie spoke about her family’s historical journey throughout the years.
The presentation had the theme of “I dare you,” where, at the end of each critical point or message, Carnegie would dare the audience to welcome and accept a story that some may be familiar with and others would not be as familiar with. In turn, she hoped that the audience would “embrace life’s challenges so that [they could] all create an environment that inspires compassion, caring, and hope.”
Specifically, Carnegie illustrated and detailed the story of her father, Herb Carnegie, as a “talented” hockey player who got “robbed of his chance of playing with the best” due to his race.
However, Carnegie said that her father “dared himself to be something different” by writing an autobiographical book called A Fly in a Pail of Milk and establishing a hockey school in Canada called Future Aces. The school mentors young men in both hockey and “the skill of being good people.”
Nearing the end of the presentation, Carnegie stressed that there are three types of people: the people who watch things happen, the people who wonder what happened, and the people who make things happen. She worked with her father on initiatives to better the world and also wrote part two of her father’s book, which is about “lessons passed on from father to daughter.”
Overall, Carnegie emphasized that everyone must follow their passion, stand up for themselves, and “find all the reasons why [they] can be proud of [their] family.”
In conversation with ASSU executive Martha Taylor, Nadège Compaoré, an incoming assistant professor of international relations at UTM and provost’s postdoctoral fellow, shared her story as an African woman at the highest levels of Canadian political science and international relations scholarship. Her talk attempted to answer the question: What does a decolonized classroom look like?
Compaoré shared some of her earliest experiences as a racialized student, mentioning her childhood in both Burkina Faso and Canada as the catalyst for her current field of study. She recalled the colonial remnants that affected her as she grew up, including the devaluation of the currency due to the fact that it was pegged to the Franc, which was controlled outside of Africa.
Later on, as a Canadian high school student and immigrant, Compaoré recounted being verbally assaulted on the basis of her race, being told to “go back to [her] country.” These experiences led to her current academic focus in Black women internationalism. She said, “I’ve always been very interested in post-colonial international relations dynamics and, especially, how African actors come into play, and not just state actors, but all sorts of actors.”
Looking to the future of both the U of T and academia as a whole, Compaoré spoke to creating an inclusive curriculum and an environment that is nurturing to Black students.
From Compaoré’s own experiences, she mentioned the pressures of impostor syndrome and the need to not just succeed but to be excellent as a Black person. For future students, she said, “It’s almost like we’re looking for superheroes to come and be in academia. And, I think, why can’t we just be just great scholars who meet all the criteria of being a scholar.”
“We can’t all be superheroes, and we shouldn’t all need to be to prove how much we belong.”
During the third talk on February 26, which was moderated by ASSU President Ikran Jama, the Honourable Ahmed Hussen, Minister of Families, Children and Social Development, described how he has been able to create change as a Black minister.
Hussen, the first cabinet minister originally from the continent of Africa, immigrated to Canada as a refugee, and has worked to help other refugees ever since. He started his political career as a co-founder of the Regent Park Community Council, a community group started in an area with very little social support programs.
The council created social programs in the area and was instrumental in acquiring the $500-million investment for the revitalization project that took place in the area. Hussen emphasized the importance of representation in government. Changes came “directly from the feedback we gave to the government.”
He noted some of the impacts of Black members of parliament, including a change at Statistics Canada, which now collects data on race. Significant criminal justice reforms were also announced this week, which get rid of a number of mandatory minimum sentencing laws, and the reforms also allow non-violent offenders to serve their sentences from home, among other new changes.
For young Black Canadians looking to enter politics, he gave a few suggestions, including mentorship, leadership programs, and paid government internships. Specifically, he suggested the Federal Student Leadership Program, which allows youth to work and learn about the government.