As Canada’s Parliamentary Black Caucus has grown, it was only natural that the group would reach out to seek advice and collaborate with its U.S. counterpart, says Ontario Independent Sen. Rosemary Moodie.
That’s why some members of the Parliamentary Black Caucus were in D.C. this week for an historic first-time meeting with the U.S. Congressional Black Caucus. The purpose: an opportunity to learn from one another as lawmakers and advocates for issues impacting their respective Black communities.
“[The U.S.] was one of those places, those countries that we look to, [that has] a much larger, much more well-established Black caucus,” said Moodie, co-chair of the organization, at a reception held earlier this week at the Canadian embassy.
“We were intrigued by the fact that there were so many similar themes we’re working on, many of the really troubling, persistent, dogged issues,” she said. “And we we were curious to … start to reach out and partner and see how we can learn from them.”
‘Not ours to face alone’
She said she discovered many of the members of the U.S. Congressional Black Caucus have family in Canada, while members of their own group have family in the U.S.
“So why aren’t we talking, why aren’t we partnering?”
Canada’s Parliamentary Black Caucus started in 2015 with five members, Moodie said, but has since grown to 14. It’s billed as non-partisan, combining both members of parliament and senators who are either Black Canadians or allies of Black Canadians, who advocate on issues that are of importance to Black communities across Canada.
The U.S. organization has been around since 1971, with a current membership of over 50 lawmakers from both the House and the Senate.
“They’ve done a lot of positive things for African Americans,” said Liberal MP Greg Fergus, former co-chair of the caucus, who also made the trip to D.C. “I think we’ve had a successful run in terms of some initiatives that we’ve done, we can certainly learn from our American cousins in terms of how to make sure we do the right kind of coalition building.”
Every week, according to Nevada congressman and Congressional Black Caucus chair Steven Horsford, their group meets for lunch to discuss issues, during “the most important hour, the most important meeting in that Capitol.”
Speaking to the assembled guests at the Canadian embassy reception, Horsford said both groups had an “incredibly productive working session” where they discussed the roles that Black legislators played in advocating for the communities they serve “each and every day.”
“And I’m really excited about the opportunity to continue to do that work,” he said. “We left [the] meeting with a clear understanding that our issues are not ours to face alone. We are all here working to keep our communities safe and to provide economic opportunities for the marginalized and the underserved.”
Meeting with Black civil rights leaders
The Canadian parliamentarians also travelled to Howard University, a historically black research institution, where they met with leaders of American civil rights organizations including The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the National Urban League (NUL)
“We’ve learned a lot about Canada, about Back Canadians, about their challenges, their struggles and their hopes,” said Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League.
“I think we were struck by the similarities. The issues with policing, the justice system, poverty, lack of representation and voice. The similarities in conditions and struggles I think are much clearer to us than they were before this meeting,” he said.
Derrick Johnson, president and CEO of the NAACP, noted that their organization was founded in the Niagara region of Canada because African Americas could not convene safely on U.S. soil.
“To have this conversation is both historic but it is also an opportunity to continue to build upon the mutual interest that we have to ensure that all human beings are treated with dignity, regardless of their national origins or the ethnic background.“
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.