- Written by Rada Micic, Brampton Library Volunteer Supervisor
This pandemic has impacted our lives and affected us in many ways. Brampton Library’s youth volunteers are no exception. With all our branches closed, I had to create alternate ways to keep 165 academically-driven students engaged.
As part of our youth volunteer project, Today a Reader, Tomorrow a Leader, participants have been very active writing book reviews, creating many art pieces using Creativebug (an online collection that is free to borrow in our Digital Library on our website), writing diaries of their pandemic experiences, signing up for courses on Lynda.com (also through our Digital Library) to improve their communication skills, and taking part in online discussions about current events, among many other activities.
We read the book Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese, which inspired us to discuss online the injustices done to Indigenous people. We watched the movie Hidden Figures and followed up with a discussion about heroes of Black history, whose ground-breaking achievements have been overlooked over time. We discussed that it is our duty to let their legacies shine amid the darkness of discrimination and racism. We watched Stranger Fruit on Kanopy (a free movie streaming collection in our Digital Library) about the shooting of a Black man named Mike Brown by a white police officer. After seeing this movie, almost 100 youth joined online discussions focused on Diversity, Inclusion, and Black Lives Matter.
The movie Hidden Figures inspired me to call our latest youth volunteer project The Hidden Figures of Black History. I invited participants to write essays to honor the first Black heroes of revolutionary change for the betterment of the world. One of our volunteers, Harnoor Kehal from Chinguacousy Branch Library shares his thoughts: “Thank you so much for giving us this opportunity. I got to learn a lot while reading through everyone's essays. I would like to thank you for spreading awareness about the strong people of the black community whose contributions are often overlooked. It is about time that we shed light on the many accomplishments of the black community. Their actions have impacted the world. I'm so grateful that I had this opportunity to gather and share information about Ruby Bridges.”
In the following paragraphs, I’m pleased to share the research prepared by the following youth volunteers, Fatima Ahmed and Jie (Jenny) Li (Mount Pleasant Village Branch Library), Sofia Mateus (Four Corners Branch Library), Gurleen Rangi (South Fletcher’s Branch Library), Esha Patel (Gore Meadows Branch Library), Abhinayan Sayanthan (Springdale Branch Library), and Harnoor Kehal (Chinguacousy Branch Library).
The Hidden Figures of Black History
Shirley Chisholm (1924 -- 2005): The First Black Woman Elected to US Congress
History was built by those who saw the world for what it could be and not what it was. It was built by those who witnessed injustice and sought to fight for change and a future that was just for all. It was built by dreamers and revolutionaries. Shirley Chisholm was one of those select individuals. Elected in 1968 as the first black woman to ever sit in the United States Congress, Chisholm redefined what it meant to be a Black woman in her time. She endured discrimination, racism, and sexism at the hands of her male counterparts, yet she sought to advocate for all those who couldn’t. Her story is one of endurance, inner strength, and courage and still resonates in the hearts of Black men and women across the globe. Furthermore, she vocalized her criticism of the United States' involvement in the Vietnam War as well as the excessive funding for the military departments. Not only did Shirley Chisholm voice her opinions on the sexism, racism, and segregational values that lied at the heart of American politics and culture, but she also chose to fight against it. Yearning to change the face of American politics forever, Chisholm employed all women, half of whom were Black, in her office, being the first one to achieve such a task. In 1972, Shirley Chisholm once again accomplished what many thought to be impossible. Chisholm became the first Black candidate to run for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination, setting an example that would shape generations to come. In the fall of 2020, fifteen years after Congresswoman Chisholm's death, Kamala Harris became the first black woman to be the Vice-President of The United States of America and paid homage to Chisholm, stating "We stand on the shoulders of Shirley Chisholm and Shirley Chisholm stood proud.”
Jean Augustine (1937-- Present): The first African Canadian Woman to be Elected to the Canadian House of Commons
As a very empowering and motivational Black woman, Jean Augustine has accomplished so much in Canadian history, not only for the Black community but for so many individuals. She has not only helped to set an example for young Black people, she has also helped individuals of many races with their struggles as well. She contributed to multiple social causes while working at York University, Toronto’s Sick Kids hospital, the Stephen Lewis Foundation, the Harbourfront Corporation, and in 1983 she made Canadian history, becoming the first African Canadian woman to be elected to the House of Commons in Ottawa, as an MP for Etobicoke-Lakeshore. During the years she spent in Parliament, she filled the positions of Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister, Minister of Multiculturalism and the Status of Women, Chair of the Foreign Affairs and International Trade committee, Chair of the Human Rights Committee, and Chair of the National Women’s Caucus. In 2005, she was elected to be the Deputy Speaker by her fellow peers. She contributed to legislation to protect disadvantaged and low-income individuals, and secured the Motion to build the first and only statue featuring women on Parliament Hill, known as the Famous Five Monument, along with other important improvements to our country. Another huge win for the diversity of Canada that Jean Augustine assisted with was dedicating February as Black History Month in Canada. In 2021, she is still contributing to helping anyone who needs it while spending time with her two daughters and two grandsons. She continues to contribute and assist the Jean Augustine Centre for Young Women’s Empowerment, but also extending her philanthropy outside of Canada. Dr. Augustine has been awarded Honorary Doctorate degrees from the Universities of Toronto, York, McGill, Guelph, Windsor, Trent and Ryerson and she is a Senior Fellow at Massey College and a Fellow of Centennial College. She has won awards such as the YWCA Woman of Distinction Award, the Kaye Livingstone Award, the Ontario Volunteer Award, the Rubena Willis Special Recognition Award, the UNIFOR Nelson Mandela Lifetime Achievement Award, the Toronto Lion’s Club Award, The University of the West Indies’ Luminary Award and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal. She has also been awarded by the Women’s Executive Network who named her one of Canada’s Most Powerful Women. There is
a public school in Brampton named in her honor, another school in Scarborough, a young women empowerment center in Etobicoke, a park on Lakeshore Boulevard, and even a district park. In 2014, Jean Augustine was picked to be the Commander of the Order of the British Empire because of all the contributions she has made for our education and politics and just last year, she was appointed to the Order of Ontario. Ms. Augustine currently co-chairs the 100 Accomplished Black Canadian Women recognition and database and funds three annual scholarships, one at George Brown College for single mothers, one at Centennial College for young entrepreneurs, and one at Humber College for students in the community studies program. She is this year’s Lifetime Achievement Award winner. Jean Augustine is such a strong woman, and she has played and continues to play a huge role in the development of our country. From teacher to MP and other governmental positions, to charity and scholarships, Ms. Augustine is living proof that there is always room for growth and involvement. She is the definition of a role model.
Bessie Coleman (1892 -- 1926): The First Black Woman in the United States to Earn a Pilot’s License
Bessie Coleman dreamed of flying but was born into a world that would not give Black women wings. On January 26, 1892, she was born in a one-room, dirt-floored flat in Texas, USA. Her parents were both illiterate, being children of slaves, but her mother insisted that all her children get an education, an ambitious spirit in the most unlikely of places, one that carried Coleman to carry out her dreams later in life. Coleman was enrolled in a school where children of 8 different grades were taught in a single room. School closed whenever children had to help their parents with harvesting cotton, which for most, was their only means of living. Situations were not ideal, but Coleman would bloom like a flower through cement cracks. Bessie Coleman was drawn to flight and dreamed of being a pilot, but she was declined by American flying schools because of her race. On suggestion from her friend, publisher of the Chicago Defender, she left for France instead. She completed flight training at the best school in France and was awarded her Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (F.A.I) license in 1921. She then gained further flying experience by traveling Europe, so that she could perform in air shows. In 1926, Coleman rode on a trial flight with her pilot William D. Wills. She was surveying the area that she would parachute and jump out of for her next show and was therefore leaning out of the plane without a seatbelt. The plane nosedived, and Coleman was launched out of the plane. Both she and the pilot passed away.
Although Coleman never did achieve her school for African American fliers, she achieved possibly much more than she planned initially. Coleman set off into the world of aviation on her path of self-discovery. In 1977, decades after her death, African American women pilots formed the Bessie Coleman Aviators Club, proving just how much the world had changed.
Annie Turbo Malone (1869 -- 1957): The First Black Businesswoman to Achieve Millionaire Status
One of the first black women to achieve millionaire status happens to be Annie Turbo Malone. Malone was a successful businesswoman who was born in Metropolis, Illinois on August 9, 1869, to Robert and Isabella Turnbo. She had a strong interest in chemistry and hair from a young age but unfortunately had to drop out of school due to illness. Malone continued to experiment with chemistry, and with the help of her herbalist aunt, she started to create hair care products for black women. She was unsatisfied with the products that women were using to straighten their hair at the time, such as bacon grease, butter, or heavy oils. Not only did Malone start a successful hair care business, but in 1917, she opened the first cosmetology school to specialize in black hair named Poro College. Women who studied in Poro went on to start their own businesses and salons. Poro College also became a hub for social mobility, as Black women in St. Louis at the time were unable to have jobs aside from doing domestic work. Poro College was more than just a beauty school, it was a “center of community activity” as it provided social activities and classes along with welfare. In fact, in 1927 after a tornado struck St. Louis, Poro College acted as a rescue shelter for all those who needed help. By 1920, Malone’s company was said to be worth over $14 million, making her one of the first female black millionaires.
Jane Bolin (1908-2007): The First African American Female Judge in the United States
Bolin was someone with many firsts for a Black woman, the first to graduate Yale Law School, the first to join the New York City Bar Association, and the first to work in NYC corporate counsel. Her being the first African-American female judge had a huge impact on the Black community. Jane Bolin was born in Poughkeepsie, New York, on April 11, 1908, to an interracial couple, Matilda Ingram Emery and Gaius C. Bolin. Her father was an advocate who led the Dutchess County Bar Association and was left to take care of his young daughter Jane after his wife had died due to an illness. Jane Bolin grew up to be a stellar student, and graduated from high school, and went into Wellesley College, where she graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree despite the racism and segregation she had to tackle. Jane Bolin left an undeniable mark in Black history.
Ruby Bridges (1954 -- Present):The first and the Only Black Child at Age 6 to Attend an All-White School in 1960 in New Orleans
Ruby Nell Bridges, born in 1954 on September 8, in Mississippi in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement, would send waves with her contributions to fight racial inequality. Her fighting spirit and insuppressible dream to go to school made her a pillar in the Civil Rights Movement by the mere age of six years old. Rudy attended a segregated school until 1960 when a test was administered to the African American children attending school to determine if they possessed the academic abilities to attend an all-white school. Ruby Bridges met the academic threshold and she was given an opportunity to enroll in William Frantz Elementary School. Her father was reluctant to allow his daughter to attend this school due to concerns regarding her safety.
After some convincing, her father agreed to send Ruby to the school.Ruby began her first day at William Frantz Elementary School in the same year, on November 14. She had to enter the school building surrounded by federal marshals every day to ensure her safety. She did not do any learning on the first day at her new school as she was situated in the principal's office, while many parents withdrew their children from the school in protest of the desegregation movement. On the following day, Barbra Henry, the only teacher to agree to teach Ruby, began to teach her as the only student in the class. The experience was lonely as Ruby often had to eat lunch by herself and sometimes her teacher would play with her during recess. In addition, her family experienced an increased lack of empathy from people living in the city. For example, Bridges’ father was fired from his job and her mother was unable to buy groceries from many stores because they denied her service. The pain and trauma experienced by her family continued as the Civil Rights Movement made large strides.
Gwendolyn Brooks (1917 -- 2000): The First African-American Woman to Win a Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1960
Gwendolyn Brooks is one of the most highly regarded, influential, and widely read poets of 20th-century American poetry. She was known around the world for being the first African American to win a Pulitzer Prize for her 1949 book Annie Allen. As part of the Black Arts movement, Brooks made epic strides for people of color by creating works that portrayed the authentic life experience of black people in her neighborhood. Gwendolyn Brooks was born in Topeka, Kansas in nineteen seventeen. She moved to Chicago shortly after her birth. She started writing and publishing in the local magazine at a very young age, eventually achieving national fame for her 1945 collection A Street in Bronzeville. In 1968, Brooks became the Poet Laureate of Illinois. She used her own money to create an award for young writers in the state. In 1976 she became the first African American woman elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters. She also served as a Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress. During her later life, she spent time encouraging others to write by sponsoring writers' workshops in Chicago and poetry contests at prisons. She also focused on inspiring young children to write by speaking and giving poetry readings at schools around the country.
Wilma Rudolph (1940 -- 1994): The First American Woman to Win Three Gold Medals in Track and Field at the Olympic Games Becoming The Fastest Woman in the World
Wilma Glodean Rudolph was born on June 23, 1940 in Saint Bethlehem, Tennessee.
She was the 20th child of 22 children, with poor health. Rudolph survived suffering from polio and scarlet fever. She was forced to wear a brace on her leg. Rudolph’s diagnosis was very bleak. Later in life, she would often say: “my doctor told me I would never walk again. My mother told me I would. I believed my mother.” Together, Rudolph’s parents and siblings took turns taking care of her. They would often remove her leg brace and massage her injured leg. At the age of six, Rudolph began to hop on one leg.
By eight she could move around with a leg brace. Despite being told as a child she would never walk again, Wilma Rudolph relentlessly pursued her dreams of becoming an international track and field star. At the age of 11, Rudolph tried to play basketball on the court that belonged to the church.A track and field coach noticed her running across to court and he advised her to try track and field.In the 1956 Olympic games, at age 16, Rudolph had her debut competing for the medal. Wilma won her first Olympic medal in the 4x100 relay. Four years later, Rudolph headed to the 1960 summer Olympics in Rome determined to get gold. Her performance in Rome cemented her as one of the greatest athletes of the 20th century.Wilma won three gold medals and broke at least three world records. Rudolph became the first American woman to win three gold medals in track and field at the same Olympic games. Wilma Rudolph earned her the title of “the fastest woman in the world.” Returning home an Olympic champion Rudolph refused to attend her homecoming parade if it was not integrated. She won the Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year award in 1961. The following year, Rudolph retired from track and field. She went on to finish her degree at Tennessee State University and began working in education. She continued her involvement in sports, working at several community centers throughout the United States. She was inducted into the US Olympic Hall of Fame and started an organization to help amateur track and field stars. In 1990, Rudolph became the first woman to receive the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s Silver Anniversary Award. The indoor track and dormitory at Tennessee State University are named in honor of Rudolph. In 1977, her life was the subject of a prime-time television movie.Rudolph died of a brain tumor on November 12, 1994.