The Society marked Black History Month with a February 18 panel and discussion organized by the union’s new equity committee, the Coalition of Racialized Professionals.
Hosted on Zoom, the event attracted more than 50 attendees. The panel featured Leon Simeon (Unit Director, OPG Local), Alika Hendriks (Unit Director, LAO Local) and Kofi Tettey (Delegate, NWMO Local) speaking about their personal and familial connections to the past, present and future of Black history.
The panel began with a discussion of the impact of the pandemic on Black communities, as well as recent acts of hate, social unrest, and the Black Lives Matter movement. Simeon, a professional engineer who works in nuclear training at OPG, also talked about the foundational role Black people played in Ontario’s public hydro system and in particular that of William Peyton Hubbard [pictured at right].
Simeon was born into a mixed-race Guyanese family. His Black ancestors arrived in Guyana through the transatlantic slave trade, eventually beginning a family tradition of joining the skilled trades or becoming teachers. While Guyanese slaves were officially emancipated in 1834, Simeon said that his family won their freedom earlier as workers in key occupations were able to withhold their labour and negotiate their freedom. Simeon related this to his own Society activism and the broader role of labour unions in fighting for social justice.
As a first generation Canadian from Ghana with a keen interest in African history, Kofi Tettey gave participants an overview of the western African nation’s history. Tettey’s telling of Ghana’s rich history stretched from the Ashanti Empire to the European and British slave trade, to post-slavery colonization and eventually Ghana’s successful fight for independence.
A project planner at NWMO, Tettey sees Black History Month as an opportunity to reflect and celebrate his heritage, educate others on Black culture and achievements, and a way of preserving Black culture and heritage for the next generation.
The final panelist was Alika Hendricks, a Legal Aid Ontario lawyer who spoke from her perspective as a second-generation Black Canadian woman. Hendricks addressed the ongoing need for mentorship to support Black professionals already in the workplace as well as Black students. Mentorship is an important part of helping Black professionals reach their potential in spite of racism and create workplaces that are representative and inclusive of society at large.
Each of the panelists suggested next steps people can take to educate themselves and support Black communities, including:
- Support charities and community organizations run by and for Black communities
- Be a supporter or mentor to help Black professional and student advancement
- Shop at Black-owned businesses
- Talk about Black accomplishments and history with family and friends
Further your own education through books or films. Some recommendations included:
- Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
- The Lion and the Jewel by Wole Soyinka
- The Beautiful Ones Are Not Yet Born by Ayi Kwei Armah
- Reproduction by Ian Williams
- A Promised Land by Barack Obama
- Brother by David Chariandy
- Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
The Black History Month panel was organized by the Society’s recently created equity committee called the Coalition of Racialized Professionals (CORP). Co-chaired by Leon Simeon and Alika Hendricks, CORP’s mandate is to advocate for and raise awareness about issues related to racial justice. The committee’s early plans include surveying members to better understand issues affecting racialized Society members and creating opportunities for racialized members to meet and support one another. If you are interested in learning more about or getting involved in CORP’s work, click here to sign-up for CORP’s email list.