Heroes Seen and Unseen: Celebrating the life of Viola Desmond

Local 79 celebrated Black History month this year by honouring the life of Viola Desmond — a black businesswoman from Nova Scotia credited for helping shape the civil rights movement in Canada. Please read about her below and watch some of the moving remarks from some of our guest speakers.

Welcome message from Local 79 President Tim Maguire

On behalf of the CUPE Local 79 Executive Committee, I am honoured to welcome you to Local 79’s 4th Annual Black History Event.

Black History month is an opportunity to recognize the legacy and ongoing contributions of Black Canadians. This year’s theme is particularly timely: “Heroes Seen and Unseen: Celebrating the Life of Viola Desmond.” Viola Desmond refused to be treated as a second-class citizen and made a key contribution to Canada’s Civil rights movement.

I am truly proud of the Local 79 members who participated in the historic Women’s March on Washington and protest actions against President Trump’s racism and sexism (as well as racism and Islamophobia here in Canada). The Equity Committee and Political Action Committee are deeply involved in projects – including our annual Equity Symposium – that promote safer, more inclusive workplaces and communities. This is truly important work. At marches, during election campaigns, and in the workplace, when we ght for equality and justice, we truly celebrate and continue the legacy of heroes like Viola Desmond.

Martin Luther King once spoke about the relationship between the civil rights movement and unions. He said: “The two most dynamic movements that reshaped the nation during the past three decades are the labor and civil rights movements. Our combined strength is potentially enormous. We have not used a fraction of it for our own good or for the needs of society as a whole. If we make the war on poverty a total war; if we seek higher standards for all workers for an enriched life, we have the ability to accomplish it, and our nation has the ability to provide it. lf our two movements unite their social pioneering initiative, thirty years from now people will look back on this day and honor those who had the vision to see the full possibilities of modern society and the courage to ght for their realization. On that day, the brotherhood of man, undergirded by economic security, will be a thrilling and creative reality.”

While Martin Luther King’s words were applied in the context of the civil rights era of the 1960s, his words still apply today.

I look forward to today’s discussions. In Solidarity,

Tim Maguire
President, CUPE Local 79

 

Message from Local 79 Vice President, Equity — Ainsworth Hamilton

At the end of 2016, Federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau and Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz announced that Viola Irene Desmond would be featured on Canada’s $10 bill. This helped give Desmond’s story — of a Black Nova Scotian businesswoman who was jailed for sitting in the whites-only section of a movie theatre— national attention.

It seemed tting then for Local 79’s Black History Month event to join the national conversation and dedicate its attention to Viola Desmond’s contribution to the Canadian civil rights movement.

Desmond’s feature on Canada’s $10 bank note is the latest, if not the most visible e ort on a national scale, to highlight her story.

In 2000, Desmond, along with other civil rights activists, were featured in a National Film Board documentary titled “Journey to Justice.” In 2010, Nova Scotia’s rst black Lieutenant Governor, Mayann Francis, post-humously pardonned Desmond and Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter apologized to her family and the Nova Scotian Black community. In 2011, the government of Nova Scotia produced the documentary “A Long Road to Justice: The Viola Desmond Story.” In 2012, Desmond was featured on a commemorative stamp from Canada Post. Last year, Desmond was also featured in one of Canada’s iconic Heritage Minutes.

We’re also joined today by several speakers: Uzma Shakir, Itah Sadu, Lily Pottinger, Felicia Samuel, and Don Styles— who will share their experiences of being racialized in Canada.

On behalf of Local 79’s Executive Committee and Board, welcome to Local 79’s 2017 Black History Event “Heroes Seen and Unseen: Viola Desmond.”

In Solidarity,

Ainsworth Hamilton
Local 79 Vice President, Equity

Speakers

Tim Maguire & Ainsworth Hamilton

Uzma Shakir

Uzma Shakir is the City of Toronto’s Director of the Office of Equity, Diversity, and Human Rights. She has been a community-based researcher, advocate, and an activist. In the past, she has served as the Executive Director of Council of Agencies Serving South Asians (CASSA), and the South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario (SALCO). From 2008–2010, she was an Atkinson Economic Justice Fellow, and an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Geography and Program in Planning at the University of Toronto.

 

Itah Sadu

Itah Sadu is a dynamic entrepreneur, community builder, and owner of A Di erent Booklist — an iconic cultural hub for Toronto’s Black community. She has created youth programs that serve as models for job placement opportunities, skill development and leaders-in-training programming. Featured on the African Canadian History 2012 Poster, Sadu has contributed to the legacy of African Canadians with the naming of Toronto sites in honour of their contributions. She is founder of the Walk with Excellence for schools in Toronto west and founding member of the annual Underground Freedom Ride in celebration of Emancipation Day. Sad is a bestselling children’s author, whose books are adopted by schools for curriculum and adapted to lm. A contributor to the development of the Canadian publishing sector, Sadu is also founding member of the MY People Literary Awards and founding member of the Black Book A air.

Don Styles

 Don Styles has been a CUPE National representative for over 20 years. He has developed, presented and facilitated diversity workshops for cooperatives and other organizations across the country, including the RCPM. He has developed and written cross-cultural communications in combatting workplace racism; designed and developed workshops for the African Nova Scotia Community Development Association; and facilitated the first CLC Worker of Colour and Aboriginal Conference. He has been the Co-Chair of the City of North York, Union/Management Employment Equity Steering Committee, and been part of a working group on achieving representation on CUPE’s National Executive Board (diversity seats). Don was also a former Recording Secretary for the Coalition of Black Unionists.

Lily Pottinger

Lily Pottinger has been in business for over 30 years. She is the mastermind behind the avourful cuisine of The Real Jerk and author of The Real Jerk Cook Book. Her success has led to a number of TV appearances and garnered local and international recognition. She is also a proud mother of three and excited grandmother of two.

Felicia Samuel

Felicia Samuel is a released Executive Officer of the Elementary Teachers of Toronto (ETT). She is the Executive Liaison to the ETT French as a Second Language and Election committees. Felicia is an active delegate of the Toronto and York Region Labour Council and a proud member of the GTA Political Action Committee and the Campaign for Public Education. In addition, she creates and facilitates leadership workshops for her local and provincial unions as well as for the TYRLC. Felicia currently serves as Trustee on the executive board of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU), and as the Alternate VP Worker of Colour on the Ontario Federation of Labour’s (OFL) Workers of Colour Committee.
Felicia Samuel’s presentation could not be shared.