At the time, the group roughly represented how many of us were working in “the business.” The six or seven of us sat around a corner table in the Underground Railroad restaurant to contemplate doing something that had never been done before. Of course, being journalists, the irony of having such a meeting in such an aptly named place, wasn’t lost on any of us. The Underground Railroad was a secret network of abolitionists that helped enslaved African Americans escape to freedom in Canada. At the time, I believed our meeting represented another form of freedom. Oddly, I don’t recall anyone at that meeting pointing that out. I suppose we saw this as yet another meeting in a local Black community establishment to talk about empowering the Black community – in Toronto and across Canada.
It wasn’t until 1996, however, that our dream of forming the Canadian Association of Black Journalists (CABJ) came true. The Ryerson Review of Journalism chronicled the early days – and the issues the CABJ confronted – more than 20 years ago. Since then, there have been two other iterations of the CABJ. This current version of the Association is the third. Each version of the CABJ has had its own successes; bringing different individuals together with a shared goal of excellence in journalism, representation of Black journalists in the media and a desire to uplift Canada’s Black community through powerful and accurate storytelling.
This latest version of the CABJ represents a tremendous opportunity. It is a new age with the rise of social media and new (younger, more energetic and determined) leadership. I am particularly encouraged by the mission of the new CABJ: Unity. Experience. Diligence. Its goals are similar to those we had more than two decades ago; advocating for diversity in Canadian media, inspiring a new generation of Black journalists and providing professional development opportunities to members.
I am also encouraged by its Calls to Action for the media industry to be more reflective of Canada’s changing demographics, by hiring more Black journalists. I sincerely hope leaders in the media industry will heed the call for change. It is long overdue. I cannot speak for every Black journalist who has ever worked in a mainstream newsroom in this country, but I can attest to the challenges I faced. Among those challenges; feeling isolated because I was usually the only Black journalist on staff, my work facing greater scrutiny by some editors or always being assigned to stories related to the Black community. Oh, I have stories to tell!
The sad fact is that though our skin colour makes us highly visible among journalists, we are all but invisible in Canadian newsrooms. Numerous studies have been done to demonstrate this sad reality. And just because there are a few more Black faces reading the news on TV – and I applaud the successes of these outstanding men and women – doesn’t mean we have achieved our shared goal of representation and inclusion. The real power in news organizations is behind the headlines and behind the camera. More of us need to be editors, producers and executive producers. I trust the CABJ’s Calls to Action will help to achieve this. I believe the time is right. The urgency is great. The passion still burns.
Hamlin Grange is a former President and Vice-President of the CABJ. He has been a reporter, producer, interview and news anchor at CBC TV, Global TV, TVOntario and the Toronto Star. Today he is president and principal consultant with DiversiPro, a diversity and inclusion management consulting firm based in Toronto.