Honouring the Contributions of our Black Neighbours

This reflection was written by The Rev. Dr. Marc Potvin for this week’s Wingèd Ox, a weekly news digest distributed to the college community. You will find reflections from previous weeks here.

This is my first opportunity to write in the Winged Ox. Given that we are in the middle of Black History Month in Canada, I’d like to highlight the contribution of a Black man I had the privilege of having in the church I served. But first a bit of history to understand why it is important for us to remember and honour the contribution that Black people have made to Canada, despite the hardships they have faced and continue to face because of their skin colour.

Canadians often feel smug, believing that we have managed well our relationship with the Black population. We shouldn’t. While Canada may have been a terminal for the underground railroad (for slaves seeking freedom from the United States) in the 19th century, a closer look at the communities founded by the former slaves reveals how unwanted they were by most of the population. I sometimes wonder how much has changed.

Lest we think Québec was better, during the American civil war, Montréal was a welcoming place for confederate (secessionist) agents. Money flowed freely through its financial institutions and prominent politicians, businessmen, newspaper publishers, and clergymen openly and unabashedly supported the confederate cause, supporting the slave economy.

Through it all, the strength shown by Black men and women has amazed me. With serenity and determination, they persevered, and continue to do so when the majority white population treated them with disdain. Through faith, Black people have lived with the hope that someday, there would be justice and equality.

Elroy Hill, became the first Black professional firefighter in Nova Scotia in 1954. I had the privilege of being the pastor of this quiet, gentle, and loving man, dedicated to his family and community. He ensured that his children and grandchildren grew up receiving the privileges that the white population received. A man of great faith, he believed that God indeed created everyone equal. It is thought that when he retired in 1981, he was the only Black firefighter in Nova Scotia making his living in the profession. I lament that discrimination and policies continue to make it difficult for Black people to live as equal members of the Canadian society.

As followers of Jesus Christ, I believe it is important to bring about a just and fair society, where everyone will feel safe, valued, and loved. It may seem insurmountable, but we are not alone. The Holy Spirit is with us. In addition, doesn’t the Good News speak of redemption and hope? It is my prayer that we be bold and act upon God’s summon to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly (Micah 6:8).