Black Excellence: A Heritage to Celebrate; a Future to Build

Oyekemi Abioye
Cover art for article

It’s Black History Month!

The team at HIROC values listening, learning and connecting with one another to deepen our understanding of recognizing this important month.

We’re fortunate to have a group of dedicated employees who shine the spotlight on all things diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging. The staff-led DEIB Committee strives to create a culturally competent workforce where open hearts and minds combine to unleash the potential of our amazing people. 

Whether its sharing wise practices, supporting valuable training or making time for critical conversations around unconscious bias, discrimination or harmful effects of prejudice – it’s the community focus of getting together to talk about everything that drives us forward.

One of our amazing DEIB Committee Members, Oyekemi Abioye, Data Scientist at HIROC, penned an insightful post for all our staff, and we thought it would be important to share this piece widely to spread awareness and collectively celebrate Black heritage.

The chosen theme for this year, "Black Excellence: A Heritage to Celebrate; a Future to Build," resonates deeply, not only emphasizing the profound legacy of Black excellence but also underscoring the ongoing journey toward a more equitable and inclusive future. However, before we delve into the future, let us take a moment to celebrate the rich heritage of the Black community.

Why do we commemorate Black History? This month serves as a tribute to the numerous achievements and contributions of Black Canadians and their communities, who have played pivotal roles in shaping Canada into a culturally diverse, compassionate, and prosperous nation throughout history. It also presents an opportunity to learn more about Black Canadian stories and the many other important contributions that Black Canadians and communities have made to the history and continued growth of Canada.

Did you know that the inaugural observance of Black History Month in Nova Scotia took place in 1988?, and the House of Commons officially designated February as Black History Month in Canada in 1995?

In the spirit of honouring Black History, it is worth highlighting some of the heroes of African descent who have left their mark on the Canadian healthcare landscape.

Dr. Anderson Ruffin Abbott

Dr. Anderson Ruffin Abbott - The first Canadian-born Black doctor. He graduated from the Toronto School of Medicine in 1861. Dr. Abbott served in the American Civil War and was also the civilian surgeon in several hospitals in Washington, D.C., that served Union forces and cared for the President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln. After the Civil War, he was appointed coroner for Kent County. He was also a public advocate for integrated schools. He died in 1913 at 76 years and is buried in the Toronto Necropolis.




Bernice Redmon

Bernice Redmon - Born in Toronto, Ontario, but was not allowed to become a nurse in Canada. Black students were not allowed to enroll in Canadian nursing programs until the late 1940s, so Redmon had to leave for the United States to get her education. She became the first Black nurse to practice in public health; she was appointed to the Victorian Order of Nurses in Canada—the first Black woman to do so, and thanks to her barrier-breaking career and advocacy for the rights of Black Canadians, Black women began to be trained and employed in Ontario hospitals in the late 1940s and 1950s.



Lillie Johnson

Lillie Johnson - Johnson emigrated from Jamaica to Canada in 1960 after training as a nurse and midwife in Jamaica and the U.K. She earned her Bachelor of Science in nursing at the University of Toronto and became the first Black director of public health in the province’s Leeds-Grenville and Lanark district. In 1981 Johnson founded the Sickle Cell Association of Ontario and lobbied the government to add the disease on its newborn screening list.





How do we Build the Future? To build the future, we have to acknowledge that Black excellence is not confined to the past; it is a living, evolving legacy that continues to shape the present and future. Today, Black individuals excel in every sphere of society, breaking stereotypes and defying expectations. From business leaders and healthcare professionals to artists and athletes, they are making their mark and inspiring others to do the same. Here are some individuals presently contributing to our Healthcare landscape.


Dr. Chika Stacy Oriuwa

Dr. Chika Stacy Oriuwa - Graduated from the University of Toronto’s Temerty Faculty of Medicine in 2020, where she was the first Black woman to be named the sole valedictorian of her class and is currently a resident in psychiatry. Mattel, a Toy manufacturer recognized Dr. Oriuwa for her advocacy against systemic racism in health care by including her in a special collection of Barbie Dolls honouring health workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis.





Drs. Hadal El-Hadi and Teresa Semalulu

Drs. Hadal El-Hadi and Teresa Semalulu – They co-founded Black Physicians of Canada. The organization was established in 2020 with a mission to build a community of Black physicians and physicians-in-training and educate the Canadian healthcare system about the obstacles that Black physicians frequently encounter. 



Overall, Black History Month serves as a reminder of the work that remains to be done and the importance of collective action in creating a more just and equitable society.

As we reflect on the theme of "Black Excellence: A Heritage to Celebrate; a Future to Build," let us honour the past while aspiring to embrace new opportunities for the future. Let us celebrate the achievements of Black individuals past and present while also committing ourselves to the work of building a future where every person, regardless of race or background, can thrive and succeed. In doing so, we not only pay tribute to the legacy of Black excellence but also ensure that it continues to shine brightly for generations to come.

Happy Black History Month!