Black History Month is an annual observance during February every year to celebrate and appreciate African History and the histories of Peoples of African descent here in North America. It began in 1926 as a way of remembering important people and events in the history of African Americans. February was chosen because it coincides with the birthdays of two important figures in African American history that black communities had celebrated since the late 19th century; that of President Abraham Lincoln who issued the Emancipation Proclamation freeing all people held as slaves, whose birthday was on February 12, and of abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass, whose birthday was on February 20.
In honour of Black history month, The Corner in partnership with St. James Town TV, is interviewing inspiring Black leaders from the St. James Town area, who are serving their community and willing to share their experiences and aspirations with others. One such person is Annamie Paul.
Annamie Paul is an activist and lawyer, and having won the 2020 Green Party of Canada leadership election to replace Elizabeth May, is the first Black Canadian and first Jewish woman to be elected leader of a federal party in Canada.
Following her leadership win, to gain a seat in the House of Commons, Annamie ran in the October 26, 2020, Toronto Centre Riding by-election, which was called following the resignation of Bill Morneau. Annamie was defeated by Marci Ien, a former broadcast reporter and talk show host. This means that Annamie Paul is the only leader of a federal party in the House of Commons, who is not a Member of Parliament.
Annamie had an inspiring childhood in St. James Town; coming from immigrant parents who were trying to start a new life in Canada. Although her mother was a teacher in the Caribbean, she couldn't get her certificates accredited easily. As a result, her family had to start from scratch.
“When I see people in Saint James Town, I see myself, I see the same hope and opportunity that my family came with.” - Annamie Paul
Annamie strives to make every effort to make sure that the community could have better opportunities, because they deserve to be leaders.
Annamie started her journey attending high school at Toronto's Runnymede Collegiate Institute and studied law from the University of Ottawa, followed by a Master in Public Affairs from Princeton University. She was called to the bar in Ontario in 1998.
Annamie founded the Canadian Centre for Political Leadership from 2001 to 2005 and has worked in civic engagement and international affairs positions, including in political affairs in Canada's Mission to the European Union and in the Office of the Prosecutor at the International Criminal Court.
Annamie talks generously about people who supported her and still support her. “ No one makes it alone, there are people who will support you emotionally and financially. People will give you time to listen to you or to give you good advice,” said Annamie, who continues to serve as a mentor when someone needs advice in their career or needs support that will push them forward.
Annamie talked about some of the struggles that face people in the community starting from being an immigrant. Immigrants could have been way ahead from where they are now, with more support. The stereotypes that people have about the community is not true, claims Annamie, for instance, that St. James Town doesn’t have enough education when the community has an excessive number of graduates and even people with multiple degrees.
Annamie had a similar experience with her family. Prior to immigrating to Canada, her mom was already a teacher for a number of years despite her young age. No one believed that a black woman could achieve that much at a young age. Her Mother had to go back to school to get her degrees. She had to start again from the beginning, get her degree from York, then her masters. She managed to do this while working with 4 kids and while sending money back to her family in the Caribbean.
“It should not be that challenging to pursue your career and get your credentials accredited”- argues Paul.
These experiences motivated Annamie to be active in encouraging youth and aspiring them to leadership roles in development of their communities.
Annamie believes that St. James Town is a very diverse and strong civically minded community. This brings lots of opportunities. According to Annimae, with the right support more leaders will emerge.
“ Every single person in Canada should be equipped by the support they need to be able to fulfill their potential and their vision of a satisfying life,” says Annamie Paul.
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