I Am Black History

My name is Donna Paris
And I am Black History

The story, I am told, is that my great, great grandfather came to Nova Scotia from Ireland once slavery was abolished in Great Britain. Despite the many hardships he faced, he managed to send his three sons to university and dream into the future so I can have the life I now live.

I am Black History

The story, I am told, is that my white, great grandmother came to Nova Scotia from France. She met and fell in love with a Black man. Her family said, “You can have him or you can have us.” Their union produced my grandfather, who produced my mother, who produced me.

I am Black History

The story, I am told, is that my paternal grandfather was a member of the No. 2 Construction Battalion–one of over six hundred Black men from Ontario, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia who fought for the right to fight alongside their countrymen despite the prevailing sentiment that Canada didn’t want a “checkerboard” army.

I am Black History

The story, I am told, is that my family was the first Black family to live in the now closed armed forces base Cornwallis in Nova Scotia. When my father was posted there the commanders of the base went around and asked the families how they would feel about having a Black family live next door to them. Then they called my father in and said, “We don’t want any trouble from your children!” The five of us ranged in age from six years to six months.

I am Black History

The story, I am telling, is that when my Grade One teacher gave me a piece to sing and I couldn’t do it very well she said, “What’s wrong with you? Don’t you know your people can sing?”

I am Black History

The story, I am telling, is that my Grade Five teacher accused me of cheating when I got a ninety-seven percent on a history test because “How could a little Black girl really be that smart?”

I am Black History

And the story, I am telling, is that there was a time and place when Black people were not allowed to learn how to read and I now teach children how to read.

My name is Donna Paris
And I am Black History

Donna Paris

About Donna Paris

Donna Paris is, among many things, an educator, a media producer, a counsellor, a mom and a grandmother. She is a multigenerational African Canadian, born and raised in Nova Scotia, but has called Toronto home for the past 30 years. Donna’s friends would say she’s a doer: a woman of action who believes in putting out her vision and expecting the world to organize itself around that vision. Donna is one of three African Canadian women who started the collective “In The Black Canada.” Through the collective, they have produced a series of videos entitled In The Black: Canada–The Web Chronicles (2015) in which African Canadians speak about their experiences of being Black in Canada. Their most recent endeavour, The Windsor Project, (2017) chronicles the history and experiences of African Canadians growing up and living in Windsor, Ontario, and the variety of journeys they and their ancestors took to arrive there. Donna believes it is important to know our history: who came before and what it cost them. She knows that in order for us to move forward in our lives and reclaim those brilliant, powerful, Black beings who came into this world, we need to tell our stories. It is only in going back that we truly get to our present self.

14 thoughts on “I Am Black History

  1. Janice Shewen

    Donna, you have never failed to amaze me! Your piece reads like poetry – weaving your past through a narrative style. I can feel you reflecting and mapping your memories and family truths, I hear the strength and pride in your voice. Well done! You inspire!!!

    Reply
  2. Terry Lawrence

    Thought-provoking, and magnetic. Very poignant and inspiring, really drives the point home that black history is not history, but our present and future. Amazing job, Donna!

    Reply
  3. Mary Cummings

    Your article is very honest and moving. How ironic it is that as an excellent educator now, you had to endure thoughtless and racist comments from your own grade school teachers. Teachers have the responsibility to bring out the best in each child they have in their classrooms. Such a difficult task when left to teachers who only demonstrate the worst in themselves.

    You are such a role model for your children, grandchildren and the students that you influence! What a privilege it was for me to have had the opportunity to work with you.

    Reply
    1. Emily Arturi

      Donna, all that you have accomplished in your life and all that you will continue to accomplish, is a true inspiration to me.

      Reply
  4. Gwen Kim

    Congratulations, Donna!

    Just like you, your story is simple, honest, beautiful and deeply inspiring.
    Great job!

    Reply
  5. Darlene

    What a great read! Now, you teach children how to read and so much more. I look forward to reading more of your work. Congrats, Donna!

    Reply

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