Being Black in Canada is a constant struggle.
I don’t say this from experience. I say this because of the unspeakably brutal images and news reports we’re seeing every day. And I say this because I’ve always tried my best to be an active listener – and I believe first-person stories and accounts from members, friends, and colleagues.
I now know that many of my own life experiences and successes – no matter how common and achievable I may have thought them to be for everyone – were born out of privilege. A privilege that Black people have never known.
OPSEU has always fought for social justice. It’s a big part of why I am so proud to be President of this great union. Our Black members and staff experience racism every day. We are committed to learning from their experiences and stories, and being an active part of the change that is so needed now.
This we know: anti-Black racism is systemic, deadly serious, and all around us. Black people are being killed in the street, but systemic racism is also killing them in health care and the criminal justice system. It is failing them in education, social services, and in the hiring practices and policies of governments and employers.
OPSEU will act. But for that action to be meaningful, we must be thoughtful. We must actively listen to all Black voices in order to learn the truth, and most importantly, to understand.
We are very aware that silence is not an option. We will be loud. We see the marches and hear the voices calling for change – many of those voices belong to OPSEU members and staff. As a union, we are taking time for pause and deliberation. We must ensure our next moves benefit Black people and amplify their voices, while educating and mobilizing the masses. We haven’t always gotten it right. But we want to get this right.
We are committed to being allies with the Black community and creating real change. We also acknowledge that systemic change requires ongoing work and long-term commitment. OPSEU is taking the lead. We will continue to push to ensure that all Black lives matter. And when I say all Black lives matter, I mean ALL Black lives: female, male, trans, and LGBTQ2+.
We will create a space for conversations and make room to hear from the people who know best what is needed: our Black members and staff.
In the coming days we promise to provide details for our first initiative and continue the conversation.
We stand in solidarity,
Warren (Smokey) Thomas