Working to Make Black History Month More Than History

Black History Month has different meanings to members of the Canadian Black community. This is in part due to the Community’s rich diaspora. For Isaiah Gayle, Business Development Specialist at Renascent, the month’s meaning lies not only in reflecting on the struggles of Black individuals throughout Canada’s past, but also in shining a spotlight on the vast accomplishments of this Community.

“We have an opportunity to look more broadly at Black history – beyond slavery – and to look at the many contributions that Black peoples have made to their communities, and the development of North American society,” says Gayle. “Because of the educational focus of Black History Month, Black youth today have exposure to a fuller picture of the Black experience in Canada, and hopefully this leads to a greater understanding of the role Blacks played in building Canadian society.”

Inspired by the passion of other Renascent team members to embed principles of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion across the organization, and help address the issues marginalized and racialized populations face, Isaiah became a member of Renascent’s Diversity Committee. The Committee has focused on promoting discussions around the myriad of issues facing marginalized and racialized communities, especially in accessing treatment and care for mental illness and addiction. As one of the first steps, this included facilitating education sessions for the Board of Directors and staff.

 “Cultural competency is necessary for every organization and the educational sessions we delivered were an important first step aimed at creating a physically, psychologically and culturally safe and inclusive environment for our clients and staff, as well as create an organizational environment where Diversity and Inclusion considerations are a component of all organizational decisions.”

This deeper awareness of how inequity and exclusion impacts the health care system and society at large, has led to some crucial steps at Renascent. Last fall, Renascent’s organizational Values were refreshed to include “Diversity and Inclusion,” and “Diversity and Inclusion” was established as a pillar for Renascent’s 2021-2026 Strategic Plan: Collaboration, Innovation, and Investment.  

Gayle admits the challenges members of the Black Community face are multi-dimensional and a truly integrated approach, across multiple sectors, organizations, and people is required to enact change.

“The stigma associated with addiction and mental health limits the opportunity for early intervention across the board, but I think stigma, both internal and external, plays an outsized role in limiting Black individuals from reaching out for help sooner,” says Gayle. “Many racialized people also do not feel that the health care system is a safe place for them.”

With a strong desire to create change and improve access to equitable health care for all, Gayle’s work and that of Renascent’s Diversity Committee continues.

“I hope we are all able to get to a place where Black history is just history. I’d like to see Black history integrated into our culture so that it is no more or less than any one else’s,” says Gayle.

About the Authors

Renascent Staff
The staff at Renascent is passionate about helping people with substance addictions so they can reach their full recovery – with compassion, respect, empathy and understanding. Our staff includes our counsellors, all of whom have lived experience of addiction and recovery.