Irene Moore Davis, the interim chair of Black Anglicans of Canada, preached at St. James Cathedral on Feb. 26, the last Sunday of Black History Month.
Ms. Moore Davis is an educator, historian, writer, podcaster and community advocate who speaks and writes frequently about equity, diversity, inclusion and African Canadian history. She is a member of All Saints’ in Windsor, Ont. and serves the wider Church on the Dismantling Racism Task Force and the Strategic Planning Working Group of the Anglican Church of Canada.
Ms. Moore Davis said Black History Month, whose theme was Ours to Tell, was an opportunity to “share the stories of Black individuals and communities in Canada, to talk about our histories, contributions, successes, sacrifices and triumphs – stories of courage, resilience, determination and of over-coming.”
She spoke about the accomplishments of her own ancestors, including Mary Ann Shad Cary, the first Black female newspaper publisher in Canada. She founded the Provincial Freeman in 1853. She was recognized as a Person of National Historic Significance by Canada in 1994 for her work as a newspaper editor and for her community leadership. Ms. Moore Davis also spoke of Robert Dunn, who served nine times on Windsor city council and was the first person of African descent to run for mayor of Windsor, in 1896.
“These are just a few of the shoulders on which I stand,” she said. “On whose shoulders are you standing? What stories are yours to tell? What stories should we all be sharing with one another as a means of enhancing our mutual cultural competency, understanding and empathy?”
She said Black History Month also “presents opportunities to counter the unhelpful stories being told of people of Black, African and Caribbean heritage without our consent, false and detrimental narratives that were expedient at the time of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, when other individuals, organizations and institutions found it useful to deny our intelligence, our creativity, our capacity for independence and self-reliance, our very personhood.”
Those narratives continue to have an impact on the lives of people of African, Black and Caribbean heritage across Canada, she said. “The insidious stories told about us continue to limit our full participation in society. They can be seen in the unjust structures and unconscious bias that create racial inequities in the education system, the law enforcement and criminal justice system, the healthcare system, the child protective services system, higher than average unemployment among people of Black, African and Caribbean descent despite equal educational attainment, and the discrimination, injustice and racial violence experienced by people of African descent on an ongoing basis.”
She said the Anglican Church has work to do as well. “We of the present generation may not have created all of the conditions but we still share responsibility for cleaning them up – the under-representation of people of African heritage in the leadership of our Church, theological education that inadequately prepares clergy for the realities of our diverse Church, and that largely ignores the contributions of people of African descent from biblical times to the early Church history to the present, practices that confuse conformity with unity, pressuring Anglicans of Black, African and Caribbean heritage to blend in and assimilate in order to get along. And the unfinished business of confronting the ways in which our Church – not just the Church of England or the American Episcopal Church – but our Church, benefitted from the proceeds of slavery and the trans-Atlantic slave trade.”
She said occasions like Black History Month “afford us the opportunity not only to reflect on the stories of the people and events that have shaped the landscape of our communities and our nation – positive stories and more challenging stories – but to reflect on and confront the state of anti-Black racism in the present day, to work through the difficult questions, to consider the blind spots we tend to ignore throughout the rest of the year.
“Lent offers us opportunities to reflect on the things that separate us from God and from another, to seek reconciliation with God and with our brothers and sisters and siblings. As we exit Black History Month and embark on our collective Lenten journey, I would invite you to prayerfully consider the stories we are telling. By our deeds we are known. Our actions and behaviours as followers of Christ inspired by the Holy Spirit show the entire world who we are and what we believe. Our daily actions have to tell the story of a people who are committed to seeking and serving Christ in all persons and loving our neighbour as ourselves. Our daily actions need to tell the story of a people who are dedicated to striving for justice and peace among people and respecting the dignity of every human being. Our daily stories must tell the story of a people who agree to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and pursue peace and reconciliation.
“My sisters, brothers and siblings, these are the stories that are ours to tell. These are not topics we should avoid but conversations as Christ followers we should be leading. Who better positioned than the Church, all of us together, to lead the way towards racial justice and reconciliation, to model for others what it looks like for others to proclaim justice and mercy, not just at this time of year but at every time of year?”