MABBP seminar, the first of its kind in Canada, 35 years ago

By Alwin Spence

Thirty-five years ago, Montreal Association of Black Business and Professionals (MABBP) sponsored a Youth Seminar, “Pathway to Success”, at which just about 150 youth from high schools, CEGEPs and universities were in attendance. About 20 to 25 Black professionals were invited to be consultants.
The purpose of this seminar, the first of its kind in Canada, was to allow our Black youth to meet and consult with these professionals about vocational choices. There were medical doctors, dentists, lawyers, engineers, insurance and sales specialists, entrepreneurs, computer scientists, teachers, professors, nurses, and representatives from Police Technology and the Armed Forces.
The emphasis was on meeting these professionals with the hope that the students would elect a profession as a vocational choice, rather than just settling for a job. It was the responsibility of the consultant to promote his or her respective profession.
There was no slight with other respectable vocations that were not represented, but it was already known that the school system was good at directing Black students into low-end vocations and jobs.
The impetus for this conference was the growing awareness that Black youth continuously opted to pursue low-end jobs to which they were guided by peer choices, while being encouraged by schools in that same direction. The message was clear: Our Black youth needed to widen their occupational choices, but they needed role models to do so.
This assumption was confirmed as some students admitted that they never knew that there were Black doctors in Montreal. This could mean that these youth would never aspire to become medical doctors because to them, it was above the ceiling. Mark you, that was 35 years ago.
It was at this seminar that the Honourable Rosemary Brown, the first Black woman to sit as a member of the B.C. Legislature, spoke to the youth during the day, and again in the evening to the parents and wider community.
It was a very successful endeavour which gave a fledgling MABBP a needed shot in the arm. Rosemary was dynamic as she explained Black self-worth. For the next ten years a youth seminar was held annually.
Consistent with the vision to raise the occupational sights of Black youth, MABBP launched its Graduate Scholarship program, also the first of its kind. This was a great leap as the emphasis at the time was to encourage students to finish high school and go on to undergraduate work. This scholarship encouraged students to go even further and pursue Graduate studies.
Pathway to Success and the Graduate Scholarship Program were two initiatives for Black students worthy of their place in Black History.
History is knowledge and knowledge is power. So, in order to be empowered by our own history, it should be positive, truthful and written by our own people. No one can tell the story of Black people better than Black people.
Chinua Achebe shared the African proverb that states “Until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.”
Black people must know that their ancestors were defiant until death; they fought and defeated their enemies even when the odds were against them. They even refused to shed a tear when mercilessly whipped, not wanting to give the white man the pleasure of believing that our physical bodies and minds were conquered.
Our minds were not.
Our people must know about the great cities, the great Kings and Queens, the wealth and pride of pre-slavery Africa. They must know of the significant contribution Blacks made and are making to the Western World. These accomplishments are enough to make Black people proud.
As the professionals at the Youth Seminar explained their choice of profession and steps to get there, one message was loud and clear to the students: “If you can do it, I also can and will.”
Over the last 35 years, many more Blacks are pursuing graduate studies and higher education.  However, while our Black women are stepping up to the plate of graduate studies, the men seem to be lagging behind; qualified Black women are seriously outnumbering Black men. We need to help these men to also excel.
History has shown us that anything is possible. As we overcome and fight against many injustices our hearts are filled with pride as we see Black people break through barriers and fight for their rightful place in the highest levels of government.
Barack Obama became president of the United States for two terms, now there are several other Blacks, including women, realistically trying to follow in his footsteps.
Other breakthroughs in universities and colleges, businesses such as engineering, the medical field and more, send the same message that Pathway to Success shouted out: Yes, we can and yes, we will! This is the point of our history, and knowledge about this history will enhance our self-worth. As it improves, we are empowered. So, learn your history, empower yourself and move forward.
Black History Month is not worth anything if our history does not drive us to new heights for oneself and for Blacks in general.

Dr. Alwin Spence is a former president of the MABBP