I wanted to write a Black History Month piece commemorating a particular individual or organization which I felt deserved special honor…which is really an endless list of people and organizations. So I tried to focus my scope on women who have contributed to the Civil Rights struggle – that’s when I remembered the Canadian Negro Women’s Association (CANEWA). An association which I believe to be underrepresented within African Canadian history. The alliance includes the membership of notable public figures like Kay Livingstone and Phyllis Marshall.
Founded in 1951, CANEWA has been credited with bringing the celebration of Black history to Toronto decades before it was petitioned by the Ontario Black History Society to be formally recognized. Though it was an all-female organization, they fought for the rights of both Black men and women.The peaceful and non radical approach of CANEWA allowed for open dialogue with various community leaders and even local politicians which led to successful advancements in the struggle for equality and racial liberation.
A keystone of the association was the need for Black people to embrace and respect their identity as well as advocating pride of Black culture throughout communities. In order to meet these goals the CANEWA believed this would come through education opportunities for youth. Only through education would Blacks be able to work towards ending racial equality and establishing institutions to promote African Canadian heritage.
CANEWA sponsored many community projects which included organizing funding to provide scholarships to deserving youth who showed both academic promise and active community involvement. Many of these youth went on to fuel the development of preserving African culture and history, heading campaigns to create effective local policies to curtail issues of racial segregation as well as working as public leaders within their communities.
Though Afro-Canadians have roots in Canada dating back to the early 1600s, the importance and due recognition of Black people in our country, and North America, is still a work in progress. As Rosemary Sadlier said in her piece, Why a Black History Month, “When the contributions of people of African descent are acknowledged, when the achievements of Black people are known, when Black people are routinely included or affirmed through our curriculum, our books and the media, and treated with equality, then there will no longer be a need for Black History Month.”
The efforts of the many young Black women of CANEWA in contributing to the creation of Black History Month and the overall struggle for Black civil rights should not be downplayed within African Canadian history. As an all-female, Toronto based organization ourselves, Bad Perm is honored to commemorate the work of the Canadian Negro Women’s association.
*Reference: Hill, Lawrence. — Women of vision : the story of the Canadian Negro Women’s Association, 1951-1976. — Toronto : Umbrella Press, 1996.