Black History Month

Mayor's Black History Month Creative Writing Contest

Thank you for your interest in the Mayor's Black History Month Creative Writing Contest. The contest is now closed.

Members of Toronto’s Grant African Methodist Episcopal Church in the 1890s
Members of Toronto’s Grant African Methodist Episcopal Church in the 1890s

To recognize Black History Month, Mayor John Tory introduced the Mayor's Black History Month Creative Writing Contest, which was designed for youth to engage on the topic of Black history and the achievements and contributions made by the community in Toronto.

In 1979, the City of Toronto became the first Canadian municipality to proclaim Black History Month, through efforts of many individuals and organizations such as the Ontario Black History Society.

The City of Toronto was shaped and developed with the help of Toronto's diverse communities, including black immigrants and black Torontonians.

Contest winners - Aged 11 to 13 category

Thanks to everyone who made a submission to the Mayor's Black History Month Creative Writing Contest. The winners are:

ExpandPraneetha Kakarla

Praneetha Kakarla
Age: 13

On October 2, 2012, Toronto lost an inspiring and beloved leader. Charles Conliff Mende Roach, a civil rights activist and lawyer, passed away at age 79 after a battle against brain cancer, his decades-long wish of becoming a Canadian citizen still unfulfilled.

Born in Trinidad and Tobago, Roach immigrated to Canada over 50 years ago and studied law at the University of Toronto. After opening a firm in 1968, Roach addressed and fought for the rights of migrant workers. One of his greatest victories as a lawyer was a case of seven Jamaican mothers who were all granted permanent residency in Canada. As a result, many more workers from places all around the world immigrated to Canada in hopes of becoming permanent residents and starting new lives here as well. These people brought their cultures and traditions with them, making Toronto a more diverse and accepting city.

In 1978, Roach helped set up the Movement of Minority Electors, encouraging non-whites to participate in electoral politics. These people and their ideas for Toronto, inspired by Roach, have helped shape Toronto into what it is today. During the late 1980’s, following several incidents where black people were killed by the police in Toronto, Roach co-founded the Black Action Defence Committee (BADC), which fought to reform the way police treated black Torontonians. In 1990, the BADC prompted the creation of Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit (SIU), a civilian-led unit still running today, which independently investigates civilian deaths and injuries that police officers are allegedly accountable for. This unit replaced the former method where police would investigate police, which the BADC thought was biased and ineffective. Charles Roach continues to make an impact in Toronto with the SIU, which maintains public confidence and voice in the Toronto Police Services.

One of Roach’s major contributions to Toronto is the Caribana festival, now called the Scotiabank Toronto Caribbean Carnival, which he co-founded in 1967. This annual celebration of Caribbean culture and traditions is the largest street festival in North America, attracting over two million visitors and more than $400 million into the economy annually. Through this festival, Roach reminds us that Toronto has become a wonderful place today because of the many cultures and communities in our city, including the black community.

Roach justly supported Toronto’s black community and was an integral member in showing everyone that black Torontonians have indeed become a crucial part of Toronto’s cultural mosaic. He served as a rite of passage that led to citizenship in Canada for immigrant workers, broke the tension between Toronto’s black community and Toronto’s police through the SIU, and taught us to accept and embrace different cultures and communities, especially the black community, through the creation of the annual Scotiabank Toronto Caribbean Carnival. As a representation of how a common man can peacefully bring change to a whole city, he has inspired many people, including myself, reminding us time and time again that black Torontonians have played a key role in Toronto becoming a modern, diverse metropolis.

ExpandHanna Yusuf

Hanna Yusuf
Age: 13

October 18, 2012

There’s a time in life that every choice, every step you take makes a difference in your life. Not baby steps; steps to finding every man or woman. Those moments, those decisions one time in your life you remember every fault and regret or every good and gracious thing you have ever done and make some peace with it. I might have made history as Lincoln Alexander as some say with being the First Black Member of Parliament and the 24th left-handed governor or getting a highway named after me, but the only place history is made is in your heart with the moments amazing beyond imaginable that sticks with you.

Lying here on this cold hospital bed, all I could think about are the moments of my life that made me this kind of man the many battles that I've faced in my many years. Like the moment, I began running in the federal election and won a seat becoming the First Black Member of Parliament it was an extraordinary moment of my life or the speech I said in the House of Commons. I still remember till this day and the determination that coursed through me when I said it.

“I am not the spokesman for the Negro; that honor has not been given to me. Do not let me ever give anyone that impression. However, I want the record to show that I accept the responsibility of speaking for him and all others in this great nation who feel that they are the subjects of discrimination because of race, creed or color."

There was also a time when me and my wife Yvonne had gone as volunteers with Operation Crossroads Africa and visited more than 20 countries on a tour of the organization’s projects and the realization of it hit me hard and memorably, I saw That, unlike the Hollywood’s version, these Africans were men and women of significant talents. I became conscious of my blackness. I had come from a white world. New we were in Africa, and I realized we were people of skill and creativity. I was a black man and I was a somebody. I started standing tall. Those many moments that made me into the man I'm today.

My wish was to guide the Black Canadians through Discrimination because I undoubtedly walk against it. I hope with all the battles I fought I hoped I inspired the black community and showed them they could be Leaders, Generals, Mayors and that skin color isn't the limit to what one could be. So if I die here I could only hope I change many lives, helped many people. So now I can lay down my leadership and wait for my time. I will see my First wife Yvonne again sometime soon, but till then I say goodbye to my friends, my family, my country, my City.


Your 24th Lieutenant-Governor, Your Member of Parliament, Your friend

Lincoln Alexander

Contest winners - Aged 14 to 17 category

ExpandJonelle Whittingham

Jonelle Whittingham
Age: 16

Lincoln’s Legacy

Dear Mr. Alexander,
If you were alive in 2016, would you be proud of Toronto’s society today? Could you stand in the middle of the city and see if your contributions changed it in a positive way? Many people don’t know what you’ve done to have schools named after you, to have been inducted into Hamilton’s Gallery of Distinction, multiple honors and awards rewarded to you, or even being appointed a Companion of the Order of Canada by the Governor General of Canada. I’ll be honest; I didn’t know much about you until I decided to type your name in to the search bar one day. From what I’ve read, I saw a man who aspired to be something great.

In 1922, a son of West Indian immigrants you didn’t have much of an easy life. When you became a bit older you had to work as a railway porter which was only a few jobs that were available to a man of colour. From 1949 to 1954 you earned a degree in History and Political Economics at the University of Hamilton and graduated with a law degree from Osgood Hall Law School in Toronto. Despite those achievements many law firms turned you away. Even though you were turned down, you made it clear that your journey didn’t end there in 1954 when you joined the first interracial law firm in Canada. Then finally in 1962, becoming a partner in the firm and appointed Queen’s Counsel three years later.

You went on to become a political leader, the first black Member of Parliament to be exact. Focused on Immigration reform, belief in Biafra and the Nigerian Civil War, and urban renewal.

In 1979 you were appointed Minister of Labour and became the first black Cabinet Minister in Canada’s History. Not only did you fight politically but you also fought personally with medical issues. You’ve beaten lung cancer, experienced heart failure, and had circulatory and back issues. Despite having to go through such devastating experiences over time nothing stopped you from moving forward and here we are today, debating if Euthanasia should still commence.
Did you know that you were nationally admired especially by Canadian blacks? Or that you have inspired many to be who they want to be? I believe that if people took the time to read your story, many of them would be inspired to showcase their abilities to make a difference in the city, or even in the world. Our world is dying, and time waits for no man. You must have realized that before I did because in 90 years of your life, you were able to break the racial stereotypes that block the pathway to your destination. You showed us that there’s no such thing as too much when you strive to reach your goals. The word “impossible” doesn’t exist in life’s dictionary. You made Toronto proud, and those who’ve heard your story.

Mr. Alexander, are you proud of Toronto today?

ExpandTimothy Vince

Timothy Vince
Age: 17

A Ride on the 37

A ride down Islington just like a normal day With my headphones on I try to drift away During a long ride of contemplating life A man appeared who seemed to have a strife

He muttered and muttered but I couldn't catch a word He seemed distraught over events that occurred This ride was a day after the Paris event This put everyone in a state of discontent

He approached a man beside me and started to interrogate He made comments to him, he begun to discriminate Where you from "Syria, ISIS who cares just get lost. Shocked we all were, I was at an emotional criss-cross.

Do I defend this man and risk getting hurt? 5 seconds lasted forever and I became inert As I sat there with such confusion and disbelief A new man approached with much grief

This tall black gentlemen who I hadn't seen Came towards the conflict and tried to intervene. He was much smaller and clearly frightened But his words had us all enlightened

He informed the other man how his words were disrespectful The man got angry, he began to be more untruthful. With every word he became more upset, I watched him shake and drip of sweat

He began to make racial remarks to the black man This angered everyone, nobody was a fan. People were telling him to get off, He started to loudly yell and cough

He finally got off the bus, we were all relieved All his ideas were preconceived, Speaking like that digs one's own grave. I talked to the tall man after and he said he had already forgave.

He waited and sat with the Middle Eastern Man He made sure he got off safely, I begun to understand This man did a brave action which inspired all of us, I was too afraid to even partake in this.

I do not know him, and haven't seen him since He was a brave man, an honorable prince. He's not famous or on the news but I will always remember that ride down Islington avenue.

(I apologize for not knowing the name of the man, I just thought people should hear this story)

Contest Rules

Submission Topic

In 500 words or less, please tell us about a black Torontonian, whether past or present, who has contributed to Toronto’s diverse heritage and identity through his or her achievements and contributions to the city.

Submission Guidelines

The submission must be no more than 500 words in length and can be in the form of an essay, poem, song lyric, letter or any other form of creative writing.


The contest is open to youth who reside in the City of Toronto and are in one of two age categories: ages 11 to 13, or ages 14 to 17.

Submissions must be the original work of, and be written solely by, the entrant and submitted exclusively to this contest.

Limit of one entry per person.

Children of the contest's organizing committee members and contest judges are not eligible to enter.

Judging Criteria

Three judges will be selected from the community to review the entries received and select two from each age category as winners. Following are the criteria on which each submission will be judged:

  • How well the submission addresses the selected topic
  • How well the submission is organized
  • The use of examples to illustrate  the author's point
  • Writing accuracy (spelling, grammar and punctuation)