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What does Black History Month mean to you?

Members of The Ottawa Hospital’s Black community

Black History Month is a time to celebrate, to listen and to learn. This February, seven members of The Ottawa Hospital’s Black community have shared what this important month means to them. In their reflections, they share memories, family history, stories of inspiration and hope, as well as some hard truths about the realities of being a Black person in Canada.

Akyamaa Boateng, Registered Nurse

Akyamaa Boateng, Registered Nurse 

“As a child living in rural New Brunswick, I didn’t see a lot of representation. My father always told us, ‘You have one chance to make an impression, and try to make it a good one because people will formulate a lasting impression of Black people based on that encounter.’  

“Growing up, there was definitely pressure on me to represent my community.  

“As an adult, I feel a lot of pride as a Black woman. At work when I introduce myself, someone inevitably asks, ‘Where does your name come from?’ Honestly, it’s probably a question that makes a lot of visible minorities cringe, but over the years I’ve learned to make it a teachable moment for myself and the person asking.   

“To me, Black History Month is about giving the Black community space to celebrate and recognize one another, as well as to educate others. I try to take advantage of the brief moments I have to teach people that we are all humans with a story. We all come from somewhere. This month, I look forward to celebrating the community in this beautiful, diverse country we all call home.”  

Carmella Leroux, Senior Human Resources Advisor, the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute

Carmella Leroux, Senior Human Resources Advisor, the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute 

“Black History Month gives me a chance to reflect and honour my ancestors and my heritage but also Black history in general. Every year, I look forward to marking the month in some way—I go to a movie or a play, read a book or cook a meal.  

“Like many Canadians, I didn’t learn a lot about Black history in school, so I had to go out and search for it. I can trace my roots back more than 200 years to Nova Scotia. My ancestors were pioneers. They cleared the land. They were farmers. They made barrels. I love genealogy, and I want to shed a light on the positive contributions that Black ancestors have made to this country.  

“I think we should celebrate Black history all year. I am a member of the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Council for the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, and the work we do there is really important to me.  There are still a lot of challenges, but we are working together to make things better.”  

Henry Clement, Protection Agent

Henry Clement, Protection Agent 

“To me, Black History Month is about celebrating our legacy, our heritage and our way of life. The fashion, the music, it all links us together—it’s all part of our culture.  

“The music is amazing. When I get together with friends and we beat drums and dance and sing together, it fills the room with love and companionship. I love seeing other people that are different colours jamming to Afro music. You don’t have to understand the lyrics at all to get into it. It lifts everybody up. Right now, I’m into Ijo (Laba Laba) by Crayon.  

“I don’t want to say that everything is fine, because it’s not. My colour can obviously work against me at times. As a protection agent, I deal with a lot of people with trashy attitudes. Racism is part of our country. There is a lot more work to do to get rid of it, but I have a great relationship with my team. We bond with each other and will do anything for each other, and I’m thankful for that.”  

Lisa Denis, Porter, Care Environment Transportation

Lisa Denis, Porter, Care Environment Transportation 

“Working in the health-care field as a Black person makes me feel proud because other Black people can look at me and see that there is diversity and representation at the hospital and that there is a role for them here, too. 

“I see Black History Month as a time to look at what we’ve been through in the past and where we are now. It’s a time to acknowledge that there’s a lot more work to be done but also to shed light on the good things that are happening.” 

Melvin Ejiogu, Technical Analyst

Melvin Ejiogu, Technical Analyst 

“As someone who works in health care and uses the health-care system, Black History Month means a lot to me. According to statistics, black women have a higher risk of dying during giving birth. Black women often don’t get the care they require during childbirth since there seems to be a perception that they are all strong. Numerous racial discrepancies in health care have been addressed in published studies, and statistics demonstrate that hiring people of colour is less common. Due to the skin tone of the nurses or doctors, some patients don’t want to receive care from them. 

“Although it’s a very complex and wide-ranging topic, I believe Black History Month offers us all the chance to speak out against prejudice and recognize our shared responsibility in working to improve society.” 

Dr. Peter Munene, Internal Medicine Physician

Dr. Peter Munene, Internal Medicine Physician 

“Black History Month is a time to honour the past, celebrate the present and aspire for a better tomorrow. We honor the trailblazers who overcame barriers and opened doors many of us can now enter.   

“It is a time to recognize the enormous contributions of Black Canadians who work at The Ottawa Hospital, the sung and unsung heroes who come in every day to ensure we care for our patients. But more than that, it is also a time to uphold the promise to build that better tomorrow.  

“I aspire for a tomorrow where there is more opportunity for people who may come from underrepresented or racialized backgrounds.   

“I try to contribute to that tomorrow by being a mentor for the Faculty of Medicine Black Medical Students Association. I am one of several physicians who meet medical students in their first year and mentor them throughout their time in medical school. It’s a unique way to share my perspectives and experience in the hope of helping them be more successful and expand their opportunities. It’s very meaningful to me to have the opportunity to shape the next generation.”  

Severine Banka, Clinical Care Leader

Severine Banka, Clinical Care Leader 

“As a black person, working in health care means opportunity, diversity, inclusion, achievement and excellence. 

“Celebrating black history is a moment to acknowledge all opportunities that I was offered and how, through my work, I helped foster a successful, more efficient and trustworthy work environment. 

“As a bedside nurse for 16 years and now as a Clinical Care Leader, my position as a black person gives youth and other black people a vision and hope to trust The Ottawa Hospital and plan a career path within.” 


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