Every year, in February, the HRPA recognizes Black History Month. This is a month dedicated to honouring the legacy of Black Canadians, as well as celebrating the countless contributions they have made and continue to make in our country and around the world.

Black History Month grew out of “Negro History Week”, created in February 1926 by Carter G. Woodson in the United States. Woodson’s idea eventually sprouted into a month-long observation called Black Heritage Month in the U.S. in 1976.

Then the commemoration spread to other countries including Canada. Through the efforts of the Ontario Black History Society, Toronto became the first municipality to recognize February as Black History Month in Canada in 1979. And in 1995, the Canadian government followed by officially designating February as Black History Month too.

Each year there is a different theme for Black History Month. This year’s theme is “February and Forever: Celebrating Black History today and every day.”

For far too long, Black Canadian history has been minimized, forgotten, distorted and/or ignored as part of the national narrative. But Black history is Canadian history.

So, while we know that Black History Month is significant, we also understand that one month out of the year isn’t sufficient to recognize Black history – and it’s not enough to discuss the successes and the challenges of Black HR professionals and workers.

This month-long observance provides one important opportunity to spotlight Black activism and achievements. Beyond that, we must continue to give visibility to Black stories (which not only include stories about racism and slavery, but also stories about Black contributions), and the people and communities creating change in our society and workplaces year-round.

Individual and systemic racism still exists. Yes, Canada has come a long way, but the realities of discrimination, criminalization, and bigotry towards people of African descent continue. Over the years, the tragedies of social injustices and the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on Black and Indigenous communities has made it even more evident that work remains to be done.

At the HRPA, we are committed to fighting anti-Black racism in all forms and empowering our members and HR leaders to do the work that’s needed to create discrimination-free workplaces and environments. For HR professionals, that includes taking a hard look at the current organizational culture, structures, policies and stakeholder relationships (or lack thereof) that inadvertently elevates racial bias; identifying your organizations’ areas of growth, and outlining the solutions that need to be put into action.

It includes acknowledging that the Black experience is diverse, complex and ever-evolving. There are Black people who also identify as LGBTQ2+, Black people who are women, and/or differently-abled. There are some who are immigrants, and/or others with different socio-economic statuses and religious backgrounds. Building safe workplaces that allow everyone to thrive means listening to and collaborating with Black people of different intersections and identities.

Ultimately, Black History Month can be a starting point for organizations but celebrating Black contributions, fostering relationships with Black communities and institutions, and combating racism in the workplace is an ongoing effort that should not just fall on the shoulders of Black individuals alone.

“I think there is a tendency to rely on Black folks to do the work, to fix the problems we didn’t create. The work of dismantling systemic racism needs to be done with the Black community, but we should not have to do all the heavy lifting,” says Tanya Sinclair, CHRE, Human Resources Leader and Founder of Black Human Resources Professionals of Canada.

(We spoke to Tanya and a few other Black HR leaders about their experiences to commemorate Black History Month. Stay tuned for the article set to publish in a few weeks.)

True progress takes planning and intention and effort from leaders, employers, HR professionals and entire workforces.

HRPA educational resources:

Other educational resources (also references for this blog post):