Susan HooKong-Taylor, Religion and Family Life Resource teacher with the Toronto Catholic District School Board.

African Heritage Month launched at TCDSB

  • February 5, 2021

The Toronto Catholic District School Board has kicked off February with celebrations recognizing the contributions of Black people to Canada and to the world.

Officially called African Heritage Month (as opposed to Black History Month), sessions this year will include a series of workshops, webinars and links to digital resources for students and teachers to access while virtual learning due to pandemic restrictions. The celebrations began live Feb. 1 with an online prayer service connecting the Catholic faith with the contribution of Black saints from the past and present.

Along with highlighting the contributions of contemporary saints, the service highlighted those of African heritage named for TCDSB schools such as St. Martin de Porres, St. Maurice, St. Monica and St. Augustine. Susan HooKong-Taylor, Religion and Family Life Resource teacher with the board, says detailing the story of someone like de Porres, who faced ridicule for being of African ancestry, helps foster a sense of representation and belonging for students from traditionally marginalized communities.

“I think it’s important to highlight saints of African heritage because a lot of people don’t know,” said HooKong-Taylor. “We have a really diverse population within the TCDSB and it’s really important that the kids see themselves represented within our Church. It’s such an amazing and solidifying feeling of belonging to see people who have gone before you who are like you.”

De Porres, the patron saint of social justice, racial harmony and mixed-race people, was known for his deep compassion toward the human and animal sick and the suffering. His example is particularly relevant at this time, HooKong-Taylor says, due to the various medical and financial challenges faced by many throughout the pandemic, and reports that COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted Black communities in Canada and around the globe.

“We are thinking about the saints and many of them have dealt with issues of health or diseases as human beings,” said HooKong-Taylor. “It’s the idea of living with hope when there’s all of this very challenging stuff around us. It’s also about lifting one another up and helping. The thing that COVID-19 has taught us is we are responsible in many ways for one another. We are our brother’s keeper.”

The prayer service also included selections from students and a reception from Fr. Stan Chu Ilo, a research professor at the Center for World Catholicism and Intercultural Theology at DePaul University in Chicago where he co-ordinates the African Catholicism Project. He centred his talk around the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke’s Gospel.

“He provides us a model for how to transcend boundaries of race, sex, religion and nationality, particularly in this period of COVID-19,” said Chu Ilo. “We are being invited to global solidarity that mirrors the example of the good Samaritan.

“There’s also an opportunity for us to think of the other pandemic of racism that has left a lot of people of African descent like this man who was beaten down.”

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