Black history is our history

Suncor's Black History Month Panel Discussion
Each year, Black History Month is a dedicated opportunity to learn about the role of the Black community in shaping our heritage and identity, to honour that legacy, and to celebrate the community’s many achievements and contributions. 

 Suncor team members took the opportunity to look back on the story of Black History Month – which began in 1915 in the U.S., half a century after the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery. Since 1976, the U.S. has designated February as Black History Month; and in Canada, the House of Commons began officially recognizing February as Black History Month in December 1995 following a motion introduced by the Honorable Jean Augustine, the first Black Canadian woman elected to Parliament.

We also reflected upon and learned more about Black Canadians Matthieu Da Costa, Richard Pierpoint and Viola Desmond, and Black Americans Martin Luther King Jr., Harriet Tubman and Malcolm X – to name but a few – and how their important contributions pushed for greater equality by fighting against racism and discrimination.

While 2020 was an important year for global awareness and action to address racism against Black people, there is still so much to be done. And the effort must continue beyond Black History Month.

“The deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others in the U.S. ignited a global discussion around institutionalized racism and bias against people of Black descent, and Suncor stepped into that conversation with the commitment to listen, learn and understand,” says Dennis Banks, VP of the Edmonton refinery and a member of Suncor’s Inclusion & Diversity Council. “For that commitment to drive real change, we need to embrace Black History Month as the starting point for exploring, understanding and celebrating Black history. This history may be uncomfortable, but it’s one that needs to be told honestly if true equity in society is to be achieved for Black people.” 

One of the outcomes of Suncor’s journey to create an inclusive and respectful workplace  is that we bring our best, authentic selves to work everyday. Sharing and learning about Black history is a catalyst to help us be accessible and representative and ensure the community’s history is not just a footnote.  

“The sharing of Black history is an opportunity to increase the awareness of current and historical contributions of Black and African-Canadians and Americans to the success of our communities and our workplace. A key piece of work we can all do to increase our awareness is look at our unconscious biases,” says Dennis. 

Our unconscious biases shape our worldviews. They are harder to detect and eliminate and they can be displayed despite our best intentions. Until these biases are actively acknowledged and challenged, they will not go away. “Once people know their biases, acknowledge their impact, and we put in the effort to bring the unconscious to the conscious, it becomes easier to address, grow and change,” explains Dennis.

Celebrating Black history honours the Black community and reminds us to continue to use our own voices to advance racial equality. Black history is human history – we have a lot of work ahead of us, but we are committed to showing up and being better.