Caribbean Heritage Month undecided in Ontario; support for Bill 134/Bill 139

The Caribbean Women’s Society proclaimed October as Caribbean Heritage Month in 2018 and almost two years to that day the bill has passed its first hurdle on its way to being cleared officially.

According to the Founder and President of The Caribbean Women’s Society Camille Kerr, the group was founded in 2015, and it is managed and comprised by committed volunteer members of the community. Representatives of the organization are Caribbean and Canadian women of all ages, ethnicities and a variety of countries in the Caribbean including, but not limited to: Grenada, Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, and Barbados. The reason behind this diversity she explains is simple; the more diverse the organization is, the more impact it will have on this diverse community that is the Caribbean community in Canada.

While in conversation with Toronto Caribbean Newspaper, Kerr gave one of her reasons for putting this group together, “I realize that Caribbean women in Toronto are not given the opportunity to unleash their innate leadership skills; nobody calls on Caribbean women to become leaders, and you don’t often see them in directorial positions in corporate offices, or fully represented on boards; they don’t have an impactful voice in the overall Canadian society.”

Kerr said the group meets on a monthly basis where there are workshops for the members, and seminars to attend, that helps to get information out to the community. “What we are trying to do is mobilize the community, give them a voice, give them the opportunity to lead, get them involved with the community and making sure that they understand that they are valuable. We need the help of youth and seniors too; just because seniors are retired from their jobs does not mean that we do not need to hear from them. We want to involve as many people as possible.”

Toronto Caribbean Newspaper also spoke with two MPPs who are very instrumental in doing their part for the Caribbean Heritage Month. MPP Sara Singh and MPP Michael Coteau. We had an opportunity to speak with both of them about their work on this project. Singh told Toronto Caribbean Newspaper, “One of the reasons why I am involved is that as a person of Guyanese heritage, I feel that there is something missing in terms of an official recognition of our community. We have so many other months of recognition that are celebrated I feel that there is a missing piece here for our Caribbean community.”

MPP Singh followed up by telling us, “I think for me this is an opportunity for us provincially to recognize the contributions of our vibrant diaspora community here in the province of Ontario on everything Caribbean including: arts and culture and more. It’s a chance to bring together existing programs that might be taking place in this province and just celebrate, and not just with the Caribbean community, but the broader community as a whole.

Kerr, MPP Singh, and MPP Coteau seem to be on the same page when it comes to wanting this bill to succeed. MPP Coteau who has Caribbean roots as well said, “I think it would be an acknowledgment from the Ontario legislator of the contributions of the Caribbean culture in Toronto, in Ontario and in our country.”

When asked why not choose a warm month like August instead of October for the Caribbean Heritage Month? Coteau replied, “One could argue that it is exactly when it is cold that the Caribbean culture warms this city and country up, so bringing this warmth to a month when it is cooler is a very nice reminder of the contribution from the people of the Caribbean.”

When asked what he would like the public to know about Caribbean Heritage Month Coteau responded, “The history of the Caribbean has been one that has been built on some horrific deeds, but in spite of all those challenges we have emerged as a beautiful vibrant community that has a footprint all around the world. It is the: Caribbean culture, heritage, unity of togetherness, decency, looking after each other and generosity; these are the elements that Caribbean Heritage Month will capture and share, therefore, anyone who has any connection to their Caribbean culture should be very proud; it is a history that we should be very proud to share and own.”

More information on Caribbean Heritage Month can be found at https://www.ola.org/en/legislative-business/bills/parliament-42/session-1/bill-134 or https://www.ola.org/en/legislative-business/bills/parliament-42/session-1/bill-139.

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