Unforgetting Blackness – Beyond Black History Month

Since 1995, February has been nationally recognized as a month to celebrate the achievements and contributions of Black Canadians who have been historically marginalized within this country. Yet despite the laudable aims of a month that seeks to recover missing narratives, Black History Month easily slips into the regurgitation of the few already known instances of Black success and resistance.


My Grandfather, Wilson Oliver Brooks

A commitment to unforgetting Blackness pushes beyond this regurgitation and requires us to seek out the forgotten.  Unforgetting involves critical examination of existing narratives that were developed by the dominant power elite, and reestablishing the story through the voices of those who were disenfranchised in the original narrative.  The process of ‘unforgetting’ requires both an unearthing of neglected histories of Blackness within Canada and a call to become attentive to the racialization of poverty within Canada’s present.

Blackness as a self-selected racial category has not existed universally nor throughout time. Blackness emerged as a political category, and not a physical descriptor, as part of the Black Power movement taking place in the 1960s. Accordingly, identifying as Black is attached to a history of political activism and resistance to relations of power.


My Grandmother, Phyllis T. Brooks

Within my own family, unforgetting Blackness compels me to draw attention to the legacy of my grandfather Wilson O. Brooks who was one of the first Black commissioned officers in the Royal Canadian Air Force to serve in a bomber squadron during WWII and the first Black school principal in Toronto. My grandfather was also one of the founders of the Ontario Black History Society and petitioned for the proclamation of Black History Month in Toronto. Unforgetting Blackness requires me to work towards sharing the contributions of grandmother, Phyllis T. Brooks who helped found the Canadian Negro Women’s Association and spent her life connecting with and nurturing the Black community within Toronto.

‘Unforgetting’ communicates that the work required to honour Black presence within Canada is beyond ‘remembrance.’ As Black History Month draws to a close let us commit to ‘unforgetting’ beyond this month and continue to push for a revaluation of worth that recognizes Black thought, Black struggle and Black achievement historically and in the present, and insists that Black Lives Matter.

Nicole BernhardtUnforgetting Blackness – Beyond Black History Month

8 Comments on “Unforgetting Blackness – Beyond Black History Month”

  1. Adriana

    I love this, beautifully written. The concept of unforgetting is new to me, but I really like it’s definition and purpose. Well done!

  2. Nicole Bernhardt

    Thanks Adriana, the concept of ‘unforgetting’ is something I have been developing with another York student, Jalani Morgan. It draws on feminist scholarship which demands an ‘anamestic posture’ to women’s contributions and resistance to ongoing marginalization.

  3. Lillian Ridley

    A wonderfully insightful piece — and so well written.

    Thanks for a new perspective — especially for me — on the contributions of Canadian Blacks.

    Thanks as well for a marvelous tribute to a much-loved sister and brother-in-law — YOUR GRANDPARENTS!

  4. Doug

    Thanks for posting. He was my principal when I was in grade 7 and 8. I’m now a teacher and shared his accomplishments with my class as a personal connection for black history month. My mother taught on his staff and also had a tremendous amount of respect for him. Take care. Hope your thesis is progressing smoothly.

  5. Judith

    Mr. Brooks was my extraordinary, very unforgettable Grade 2 teacher at Brock Avenue Public School. In 1997, I had the pleasure of meeting his brother while I worked as publicist of the George Weston Recital Hall in North York. Since then, the idea of working toward a tribute to him has stuck with me. I’d appreciate the opportunity to connect with others who could provide ideas & encouragement for this initiative.

  6. Susan

    Wilson Brooks was my second grade teacher at Brock Avenue Public School in Toronto circa 1955…he was a warm, exuberant, kind, and patient teacher. It’s only been 65 years since I sat in his classroom….and the memories, fondly, burn brightly and give much sweetness to me even now after so many decades…..he was an amazing mentor and guide to my life. I feel so fortunate to have been one of his charges….he led with strength, virtue, kindness and always that warm, beaming smile ! Unforgettable…… S. E. Steffner…. Cortes Island B.C.

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