Ensuring ‘Deep connections’ – Canada’s Black History Month champion speaks to the importance of transit

Jean Augustine, Canada’s first Black female Member of Parliament, recently took part in an internal Metrolinx event celebrating Black History Month, where she addressed a number of major issues – everything from systemic racism to microaggressions, as well as the role of transit in marginalized communities.

The importance of transit cannot be overstated, trailblazer Jean Augustine told an audience of Metrolinx employees.

Augustine was the first Black woman elected to Parliament in 1993 and would later lead the charge to get the month of February designated as Black History Month in 1995. She recently spoke to a virtual audience of more than 500 Metrolinx staff.

After many years of riding the TTC, she made it clear, without good transit, people can’t get to work and more importantly, can’t get to work on time.

A screengrab of the Metrolinx all-staff speaking event featuring Jean Augustine.
A screengrab from the Metrolinx all-staff speaking event featuring Jean Augustine. (Metrolinx photo)

“Transit has deep connections with the economic, social and physical health of communities,” said Augustine.

At a time when Metrolinx is planning and building so many major transit projects, Augustine reminded transit staff about the importance of community consultation.

She said consulting with communities early and throughout the transit building process is the key to success.  

Work left to do

Transit was only a small part of what Augustine addressed with Metrolinx staff. She also zeroed in on the importance of tackling racial inequalities, especially those Black and other people of colour face in the education system, which inspired her to create the ‘Jean Augustine Chair in Education, Community and Diaspora’ at York University.

She also addressed the responsibility of those in management positions, saying leaders must understand the issues affecting employees, make space for different voices at the table, and be committed to actions to address those hurdles. 

Giving back to the community

Augustine’s appearance is just one of the ways Metrolinx and the Black Employee Experience at Metrolinx (BEEAM) employee resource group are celebrating Black History Month.

BEEAM has also organized other guest speaker events for staff that will touch on everything from mental health during COVID-19, to financial literacy, as well as money management.

Black Employee Experience at Metrolinx (BEEAM) employee resource group logo
The 2021 Black Employee Experience at Metrolinx (BEEAM) employee resource group logo. (Metrolinx photo)

Metrolinx staff are also doing their part to give back to the community. BEEAM is selling commemorative Black History Month T-shirts and face coverings to family and friends, with the proceeds going to the CEE Centre for Young Black Professionals.

25 years of Black History Month celebrations

1996 marked the first ever celebration of Black History Month in Canada. Augustine said in the years since, she never imagined the conversations and awareness would go so far.

“I did not anticipate it would have quite taken off the way it has – marked with celebration and participation of large corporations, communities, government, and people all over the world,” she said.

And now a quarter century into formally recognizing Black History Month, Metrolinx staff are taking her words to heart by consulting with communities and building transit projects that are vital connectors.

Story by Tanika Baker, Metrolinx communications coordinator