Unifor celebrates Black excellence at national Black History Month event

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A group of people standing between a rainbow ballon arch

Unifor hosted an event to celebrate the Black excellence, unity, and victories that have shaped today’s labour movement and society.  

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“The accomplishments of black activists at Unifor make our union what it is today. Strong proud, diverse, and a powerful force within this world for a better world. And I'm immensely proud of our members for their unwavering dedication to social justice and equality,” said Unifor National President Lana Payne.

a parade of people marching holing a banner "Rent Strike"

Unifor members were recognized for their incredible contributions to their communities and union, including Sharlene Henry who is leading a bold rent strike in Toronto in protest of out-of-control rent hikes. Samia Hashi was recognized for her work in organizing, human rights, and new role as Ontario Regional Director.

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“I'm proud to say we're seeing generations of workers and allies coming together like never before to solve the very real issues that we and future generations face,” said Samia Hashi, Unifor Ontario Regional Director. 

“And I'm also proud to say it's black and racialized workers who are taking bold stands against corporate greed.”

Shinade Allder, Ontario Regional Chairperson and David Bosveld, member of Local 6008, were also recognized for their efforts in creating the Black Education Fund, which makes post-secondary education more accessible to black students. 

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The event, hosted by Unifor National and emceed by Dereck Berry, National Executive Board Black, Indigenous, Workers of Colour Representative, brought together members, staff, and their families, along with Black artists and creators for an evening of celebration. Guests enjoyed Nigerian and West African food, music and spoken word performances, special presentations from Unifor leaders and BIWOC representatives from across the country, and a special guest keynote from the Honourable Dr. Jean Augustine, the first African-Canadian woman elected to the House of Commons and a trailblazer for fair representation.

“A distinguished advocate for social justice and equality, Dr. Augustine has left an incredible mark on Canadian politics and education and is still fighting and organizing for a better world,” said Payne. 

In 1993, Dr. Augustine became the first Black woman elected to the Parliament of Canada, then Cabinet Minister and Deputy Speaker – leading historic motions including designating February as Black History Month.

A women speaks at a podium

"We were told that it wouldn't happen at the federal level. I was newly elected and the first black woman walking the halls of the House of Commons. Nobody threw bread crumbs. Nobody gave me a pass," said Dr. Augustine, reflecting on the obstacles she overcame to encourage Members of Parliament to vote in favor of proclaiming February as Black History Month in Canada.

“And 29 years later, Unifor is celebrating black history in Canada. It's celebrated in all churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, corporate boardrooms, institutions, academic circles, and everywhere in Canada.” 

Three women hold up a giant cheque

Unifor is proud to make a $2,500 donation to the Jean Augustine Centre for Young Women’s Empowerment that provides young women and girls access to mentorship and programming.

Guests heard special presentations from five regional Unifor representatives, including Shinade Allder, Ontario Regional Council Chairperson, Morgan Palmer, Interim Atlantic Regional Chairperson, Marie-France Fleurantin, Unifor Quebec BIWOC Standing Committee member and member of Local 62, Dudley Green, member and BIWOC Chair of Local 111 in B.C, and Dean Carvery, member of Local 773 and member of the Prairie Regional Council BIWOC Standing Committee who submitted remarks. In keeping with the theme of celebration, members shared stories of their successes in their regions and highlighted Black activists who’ve helped shape Canadian labour including Dr. Lynn Jones, Rosemary Brown, and Mary Ann Shadd, an American-Canadian anti-slavery activist, lawyer, and first women publisher in Canada.

To the surprise of guests, Yolanda Cornwall, a member of Local 2002 and descendant of Mary Ann Shadd, was in attendance. 

Guests departed feeling inspired and more connected with their union family after hearing the remarkable contributions of Unifor members in their communities and workplaces.

“It's events like this one where we all get together that remind me how amazing you all are and our members are, and how much we have to look forward to because of the accomplishments of the individuals gathered here,” said Payne.

You can find more photos of the event in the Unifor Facebook album: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?vanity=UniforCanada&set=a.724616879756034