More than 100 OPSEU/SEFPO staff celebrated Black History Month, which had the theme of “The Black Family: Representation, Identity, and Diversity” virtually on February 23.
The event featured performances of Lift Every Voice (Black National Anthem) and O Canada by the Hamilton pop and R&B singer Jamila B. It also featured a screening of the CBC documentary Deeply Rooted made by filmmaker Cazhhmere, the daughter of former Region 5 Regional Vice-President and former OFL Executive Vice-President Terry Downey.
The documentary is an affectionate look back at Cazhhmere’s seven generations of roots in Halifax, N.S. In the lively question-and-answer that followed the screening, she said that although her family and many other Black families’ contribution to Canada make up the core of her film, numerous forms of anti-Black racism are also part of the story.
“I can tell people stories where things happen that are blatantly systemically racist, people will ask ‘What year is this? Is this a historical story you’re telling me – did this happen in the 60s?,’” said Cazhhmere. “And I say, ‘No, this happened last week.’ And they’re like, ‘But this is 2021.’ And I’m like: ‘Exactly.’”
OPSEU/SEFPO President Warren (Smokey) Thomas echoed Cazhhmere’s statement.
“The simple fact of the matter is that white people still come first in our laws, institutions, and most of our organizations,” said Thomas. “I will do everything I can in my position as the President of this union to make sure that Black Lives Matter. To make sure that we do our part to address and eliminate anti-Black racism in our workplaces and society.”
OPSEU/SEFPO First Vice-President/Treasurer Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida outlined some of the concrete steps the union is taking to confront anti-Black racism.
“It matters that we understand and represent our members’ interests. And it matters that our members see themselves reflected in the ranks of the staff, to know that there are no boundaries to what they can achieve within their union,” said Almeida. “We rolled out ‘Dismantling Anti-Black Racism’ training to our administrators and our supervisors last year. All OPSEU/SEFPO staff will be taking part in this training in the coming months.”
Representatives of both of OPSEU/SEFPO’s staff unions spoke during the event, as did Andrea McCormack, an OPSEU/SEFPO Employment Equity Lead, who told the group that the event was an important celebration of Black peoples’ historical contributions to the country.
“During Black History Month, Canadians celebrate the many achievements and contributions of Black Canadians who, throughout history, have done so much to make Canada the culturally diverse and prosperous nation it is today,” said McCormack.