Jean Augustine - Changing the Game of Politics
Canada to me represents opportunity, inclusivity, and most importantly diversity. The diverse heritage and identity of Canada continues to be shaped by remarkable Black Canadians. During Black History Month in February, Canadians of all colours take the time to further reflect and acknowledge the contributions of Black Canadians make to our community and our society as a whole. At school, we hear the remarkable stories of individuals like Harriet Tubman, Elijah McCoy and Rosa Parks. This was made possible by the efforts of one individual whose contributions have brought us to where we are today. An individual who has helped to define Canada’s diverse identity is Jean Augustine. She has reshaped what it means to be a successful politician in Canada. As I learned more about her journey and her achievements, I could feel the inspiration and motivation in me to pursue my biggest dreams such as becoming a politician myself or even running to be the Prime Minister of Canada.
Born in 1937 in Happy Hill, Grenada, Augustine was always encouraged to excel in school. With an empowering family and constant support from her school system, she was able to build her foundation for success in Canada. In Grenada, she became a successful teacher and she knew she wanted to continue to empower her students with education. When she came to Canada, she came with the dream of continuing her career as a teacher. In Canada, she worked as a domestic and shoe clerk until she was able to attend Toronto’s Teachers College. While teaching at an elementary school, she quickly rose through the ranks and became one of the first black principals in the country, impacting countless students throughout her journey with the power of education. After spending years in the educational sector growing opportunities for Black youth, and advocating on behalf of Women’s and Immigrant rights, she shifted her focus to impacting her community through politics.
In 1993, Jean Augustine made history when she became the first black woman to serve in the House of Commons. She served as the Member of Parliament for the riding of Etobicoke-Lakeshore until her retirement in 2006. She saw this achievement not as a personal victory, but as a victory for all Canadians. Through this position, Augustine worked towards inclusion, diversity and shining light on the strength of a collective. During this time, held many positions such as the Secretary of State for Multiculturalism and the Status of Women and Chair of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs to name a few. Augustine sat on international boards and associations making an impact in regards to women’s rights, HIV/AIDS, immigrant rights, economic development and industry, as well as racism and discrimination. She is living proof that you are able to achieve great heights, regardless of the hardships, if you put in the work and make an effort.
Among her many accomplishments, Jean Augustine played a significant role in establishing Black History Month in Canada. The purpose of Black History Month is to commemorate and reflect on the legacy of Canada's Black communities and the prejudice Black people have faced. Augustine is not only remembered for her individual contributions to Canadian politics, but also because of her dedication to ensuring that the achievements of other Black-Canadians are brought to light.
Today, Augustine remains involved with community activities including the Jean Augustine Centre for Young Women’s Empowerment which helps women lead a healthier lifestyle. The Centre focuses on education, nutrition, mindfulness and real-world job training which helps women reach their potential and Contribute to society. She also supports scholarships such as the Jean Augustine Scholarship Fund at George Brown College which assists single mothers wishing to pursue post-secondary education. Her dedication and commitment to cultural diversity and female empowerment really has help to shape Canadian history as a whole.
Augustine has been the voice to many Canadians throughout her lifetime and has played a significant role towards changing Canada’s political landscape. As a woman of colour looking to go into politics, she has been an inspiration to me to keep persisting and believing in my dreams. Her story is very encouraging because she was able to reach great heights, even though the odds were stacked against her. As a huge advocate of women's rights and multiculturalism, she continues to not only change the game of politics for women but embodies that fact, as Justin Trudeau once said, “Diversity is Canada’s Strength”.
“Biography.” Jean Augustine, www.jeanaugustine.ca/jean-augustine-bio/. Historica Canada. “Mary Ann Shadd.” Accessed November 28, 2017. http://blackhistorycanada.ca/profiles.php?themeid=20&id=5. McLeod, Susanna. “Jean Augustine.” The Canadian Encyclopedia, www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/jean-augustine/. Medford, Marcus. “Jean Augustine: The First Black Woman To Be Elected to Parliament.” ByBlacks.com, 1 Dec. 2017, byblacks.com/profiles/personalities/item/1102-jean-augustine-the-first-black-woman-to-be-elected-to-parliament.