Happy Black History Month! It’s a time for celebration and I know everyone at OPSEU/SEFPO is proud of the many contributions that Black people have made in our communities and our union. Our union is absolutely stronger because of them.
But during Black History Month, we must also acknowledge the many systemic barriers that still exist today, and we must commit ourselves to continuing the fight to break them down. I’m proud of our union’s long history doing just that.
I think of Fred Upshaw, the first Black person to lead a major Canadian union when he led our family from 1990 to 1995. He was a mentor to many. During his time in office, he championed human rights and equity. He worked tirelessly to remove barriers that prevented Black members from achieving their full potential.
His contributions will forever live on with an annual OPSEU/SEFPO scholarship. It was awarded for the first time last year to a dependant of a racialized member. We also have the annual Fred Upshaw Award of Distinction which will be presented for the first time at our upcoming Convention. This award will recognize the contributions of a racialized OPSEU/SEFPO member in their union and community.
OPSEU/SEFPO has a history of standing with Black communities – but that’s not just part of our past, it’s also the present.
Actions speak louder than words, and I’m pleased to say that OPSEU/SEFPO’s Executive Board is taking action in so many ways. In the past couple of months alone, the Board has:
- Made a donation of $10,000 to support Jamaican organizations that are working to provide education supplies and materials to children in their home country
- Increased OPSEU/SEFPO’s support to the Black Creek Community Farm to $10,000
- Increased the donation to the Black support group ANKOBEA to $10,000; and
- Approved a total of $80,000 for the Coalition of Racialized Workers’ (CoRW) train the trainer program, aimed at dismantling anti-Black racism.
We are also moving to make our union better represent all of its members. We are acting on the findings of the second Social Mapping project. We have rolled out training sessions for union staff on dismantling anti-Black racism last year as well as a staff Indigenous training session earlier this month. I joined staff for both sessions and I learned a lot.
OPSEU/SEFPO will continue to support projects and initiatives designed to make sure that everyone has a say and no one is left behind. That is not lip service, it is a commitment.
The union has walked alongside the CoRW as its members established important and long-lasting community partnerships throughout the province, including organizations that address the plight of predominantly Black and racialized migrant workers who are underpaid.
I’m humbled by my role as the union’s First Vice-President/Treasurer. I recognize the profound impact of the resources that we provide as an organization because I know that it goes beyond what is written on the cheque.
This month I had the privilege of joining a spirited conversation with three Black members in our regular podcast OPSEU/SEFPO Talk where we discussed the importance of Black History Month and this year’s theme “February and Forever: Celebrating Black History today and every day.” I encourage everyone to check out this inspiring conversation with these three amazing people who go the extra mile to make a difference every day.
To all Black OPSEU/SEFPO leaders and members, please know that I hear you and I see you – not just this month, but every month. I have always been ready to fight systemic racism during my three and a half decades in the trade union movement. I am, along with the Executive Board, always ready to stand with you to break down barriers.
We must make sure that everyone gets a fair chance to contribute, thrive and succeed in the society in which we live.
I join you in your efforts to ensure our union truly represents the communities that we serve. I will continue to use my voice and my position to make sure everyone has an equal shot at success. Together we will win.