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Remembering An Icon: Dr. Glenda Simms

Image of Dr. Simms used with family’s permission

GLENDA SIMMS, Ph.D., LL.D. (HONS.) OD – (1939 – 2021)

A Woman of our Time - "She was ahead of her time”

In 2021 we lost Dr. Glenda Simms, a pioneering feminist and academic whose advocacy and activism led to real change for women in Canada, in Jamaica and around the world.

In 1990, Simms became the first Black president of the Canadian Advisory Council on the Status of Women. As an author of numerous publications, an advisor to governments, a gender specialist, researcher and projects leader, Dr. Simms has contributed immensely to the implementation of important social and political initiatives in Canada. She has been an inspiration and a positive example for women, men, and minorities by the standards of her excellence, leadership, and achievements. Dr. Simms was a fierce and outspoken advocate for gender equality and led and participated in numerous provincial, national, and international conferences, commissions, and committees, and was lauded with numerous awards and honorary degrees.


From her Opening Address at the Fourth Biennial Conference held in Vancouver, British Columbia (1987).
Outgoing President – Dr. Glenda Simms – The Congress of Black Women of Canada

Today, in this room, in this beautiful City of Vancouver, in this unpredictable Province of British Columbia, the most representative group of Black Women have come together in the name of the most significant Women’s organization in Canada to celebrate, to plan and to move forward in strength and unity.

The theme of our 1987 Conference is On the Move: Forward Together. At our last Executive Meeting in Toronto, it was suggested that this theme should become our motto and the guiding philosophy of our organization.

Within this framework of this vision of Black Women as a growing force moving forward in unity, the participants in this conference will examine the issues of Employment, Health, Racism, Sexism and Feminism from the unique vantage point of the Black Woman, her family and community.

Feminism is when you can differentiate between yourself and a doormat

Dr. Glenda Simms

In this process of addressing these most important issues we need to keep in mind a sense of the history of concerns in this organization. In order to do this, I will share with you a small sampling of the issues that our sisters raised   in 1973, 1974 and 1976.

These sisters identified amongst many other issues:

  • the need to develop more conscious black pride in youth
  • the need to petition Government authorises to pay attention to the needs of the Black Community and to funding the activities of the Black organizations.
  • the need for the Black community to recognize the plight of the Black child in the educational system

On this 16th. day of May 1987, we are carrying on the work that was started by many of these sisters who are still working in the Congress and many of whom are in this audience today. We continue to struggle and to build because we recognize the nature of the world in which we live and we realize that we need to be organized, to be vigilant and to be always ready to confront the issues that threaten our survival as a people.

Today, all over the world, our Black sisters are fighting against great obstacles, and everywhere women feel the need to organize and to internationalize their struggles.

The Congress of Black Women of Canada is our organizational response to the continuing the struggle for dignity within the Canadian society. In building this organization we have effectively confronted the contradictions and negative forces that bombard us from without and those that reside within our community and within us as individuals. We have questioned, challenged, and defied the systemic barriers of racism, sexism, and classism – all of which have resulted in making Black women an international underclass.

Daily, we see the implications of negative social forces, and generations of our women have had to deal with the inter-relationship of these with poverty, poor health, unemployment, family violence and the overall breakdown of our traditional support system – our families and our community.

It is this universal experience of oppression, marginalization, and injustice that informs us that we must take nothing for granted. We will, in the name of Black Women of Canada, challenge many issues including Racism within the Women’s Movement and the inability of all political parties to institute measures that are effective in ensuring that skilled Black men and women gain access to the Public Services and to other institutions that impact on their lives.

In the name of this organization, we will continue to confront an educational system that under-educates and mis-educates our sons and daughters, and we will vigilantly monitor all the other agencies that perpetuate and reinforce institutional racism and sexism. These are some of the external contradictions that we tackle through the work of the Congress.  And what of our internal contradictions?  How have we tackled these as an organization?

We have challenged regionalism, elitism and shadism. We have built an organization that in 1987 includes – descendants of the earliest Black Settlers of Nova Scotia – the brave mothers who helped to build the villages and townships of Ontario and Quebec,  the farm women who helped to establish settlements such as the Amber Valley in Alberta and Maidstone in Saskatchewan – and the Black Women who have more recently migrated to Canada from all regions of the world to work in a variety of professions, to pursue training, to scrub floors and to give unconditional love to another generation of white babies.

Our organization reflects this diversity. It is this diversity that has brought us to this stage where we can say it with pride and a sense of dignity that Congress of Black of Canada is the most significant national Black organization in this country today. As such, our mandate is broad and almost unlimited. As such, we cannot confine ourselves to the issues that are defined by others. We must chart our own path while we support and network with all those who are committed to fighting the injustices of our society.

It is my hope that this Conference will have some impact on each of us who is here today. We should try to meet someone new and make a meaningful and long-lasting link with a Black Sister and continue to exchange information, share resources, network, and provide social and emotional support to each other.

I also hope that after you have shared your ideas within your workshop that you will make an even more determined commitment to return to your communities to involve and link Black Women of all economic classes around the concerns that are raised in this conference.

This organization will not fulfill its mandate if it does not reach out to all our Black sisters, mothers, and daughters. We must find those not able to be here today, those who do not know why we are here today and those who in this very city, know where we are, but cannot afford the registration fee so that they can also be here.

We must reach out to those women because they are a major part of the reason for the existence of the Congress.  This organization cannot afford the false status of exclusivity, and those of us who lead must never believe that we are part of a trendy vanguard. My sisters, let us never forget that all Black Women of Canada are affected by the racism that oppresses us, the sexism that discriminates against us and the poverty which entraps us as a people.

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