Profiles of Courage
By Kate Paisely

Weston Collegiate Institute, Toronto, Ont.


“And whereas the Constitution of Canada recognizes the importance of preserving and enhancing the multicultural heritage of Canadians.” So reads the Canadian Multiculturalism Act. This act is a testament to the immense pride Canadians take in having a rich and diverse heritage.

Over the years, black Canadians have helped to shape Canada’s unique cultural mosaic through their major contributions and achievements. We will look at two outstanding Canadians who have made their mark on the Canadian landscape: Carrie Best, activist and journalist and Rubin Carter, professional boxer and social activist.

“You are just a small voice crying in the wilderness, but keep crying”, said Manuel Zive, one of the first businessmen to purchase a copy of Carrie Best’s newspaper The Clarion. Carrie Best was an activist and journalist who established Nova Scotia’s first ever newspaper for blacks.

Born on March 4, 1903 in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, Best was a force to be reckoned with. Her ability to seek out justice and fight for not only her rights, but the rights of all black people, led her to become one of Canada’s most influential black females. As a woman who grew up during a time where racism was alive and prevalent, she made it her goal to put an end to unjust acts of discrimination. After being arrested for sitting in an “all-white” section at the Roseland Theatre, she took matters into her own hands and founded a newspaper called The Clarion. This newspaper strove to speak on behalf of all coloured Nova Scotians and served as a medium that empowered and strengthened the black community. The Clarion published cases such as the arrest of Viola Desmond, another important black Canadian.

Carrie Best is described as a headstrong woman, who continued to fight for black rights until the tender age of ninety-one. Her contributions such as The Clarion, her radio program called the “The Quiet Corner”, and her writings of poetry all helped to bring to the fore black issues that would have otherwise gone unnoticed. Best’s courage and fearlessness has helped to shape Canada into the diverse and free country that we live in today, and her accomplishments deserve to be forever celebrated.

In grade nine drama class, I vividly remember watching The Hurricane, a movie based on the life of Rubin Carter. His story was so compelling that I was not mesmerized by Denzel Washington, one of the best actors of all time, but more importantly was engrossed and inspired by the story of Rubin Carter. Commonly referred to as Hurricane, Rubin Carter was a well- known Canadian professional boxer. During the height of his career he was regarded as one of the top contenders for the world middleweight crown. Today he has an honorary championship title belt awarded to him by the World Boxing Council. In the midst of his rise to glory in the boxing world, Carter was wrongfully convicted of a triple homicide and imprisoned for twenty-two years. During his incarceration, Carter dedicated his time to reading and studying, and while in prison he published his first autobiography. Rubin Carter’s imprisonment gained attention from activist and well established people such as Bob Dylan and Muhammad Ali. It was not until 1985 that Carter was released on account that his conviction was based upon acts of prejudice. Today, Carter resides in Toronto and continues to fight against discrimination. He was the director of the Association in the Defence of the Wrongfully Convicted and a member of the Southern Center for Human Rights. His story is one of empowerment and resilience in the face of injustice. Rubin Carter is the epitome of perseverance. If it were not for people like Rubin Carter who overcame adversity and continue to contribute to society, Canada would not have the strong and diverse heritage that it has today.

Carrie Best and Rubin Carter’s contributions to Canadian society have greatly inspired me. Their ability to take risks during a time when hatred and prejudice was so deeply rooted in society, has inspired me as a black woman to stand up for what is right. As a member of the African Canadian Leadership Committee, I am following in their footsteps.

In conclusion, the legacies of Carrie Best and Rubin Carter have not only made an indelible mark on Canadian society, but they have also inspired me to be the best that I can be.