Glen Boothe on the story behind U of T's Black History Month Luncheon
Photo of Glen Boothe by Veronica Zaretski
For 16 years, Glen Boothe has been bringing people together to have important conversations about Black History Month.
“We’re trying to get people to share how they got to where they are and how they see their role impacting the Black community and the broader community,” he says of the Black History Month Luncheon, which he started with then colleagues Brenda Registe, Jackie Vanterpool and Maria Constantino.
This year’s luncheon will take place on Tuesday and will feature the Honourable Mitzie Hunter, Ontario's minister of advanced education and skills development, as the guest of honour.
Though the luncheon evolved over almost two decades, one theme has stayed consistent: Recognizing the impact of Black history and culture. Having that conversation this year is as important as ever, Boothe says.
“I find that more interaction means less ignorance, and more ignorance usually means less interaction,” says Boothe, who has worked at the Division of University Advancement for the past 20 years.
The luncheon is also a great deal of fun – each year Boothe organizes a cohort of volunteers who donate delicious home-cooked meals, and musicians often perform during the two-hour event.
Boothe has brought in a long list of guest speakers whose professional experiences, personal stories, and sometimes even poetry performances have delighted audiences. “All the speakers were inspiring and stand out in their own way – different people stand out because an aspect of the work that they do is amazing,” he says.
When Boothe brought Julian Falconer as a guest speaker, the activist and human rights lawyer spoke about working on anti-discrimination cases.
“It was fascinating to hear him talk about his cases in front of the Supreme Court. That was exciting – to get a feel of how he would approach arguing a human rights case,” he says.
Another year, Boothe brought Jean Augustine to U of T. Augustine, the first African-Canadian woman to be elected to the Canadian House of Commons and the first to serve in the federal cabinet, talked about the enormous amount of work it took to pass the motion that established Black History Month in Canada.
“She talked about the behind-the-scenes work of what she had to do to get all 300 members of Parliament to say yes,” says Boothe. “It had to be worded perfectly and it had to be legally correct and it had to be done in such a way that nobody would find anything to disagree with.”
CBC journalist and news anchor Dwight Drummond was another very engaging guest speaker, says Boothe. “He talked about his mom and how he grew up at Jane and Finch. He was a Jane and Finch guy and it was interesting to hear him talk about just surviving. He dispelled stereotypes about Jane and Finch.”
Boothe remembers that Drummond said his mother would be proud that he was asked to speak at U of T.
For years, Boothe wanted to put a spotlight on George Elliott Clarke, a professor of English at U of T and Canada’s former Parliamentary poet laureate. He finally had the chance to do so in 2016. “The year he became Poet Laureate – we knew we just had to bring him in.”
Professor and former Parliamentary Poet Laureate George Elliot Clarke was the keynote speaker at the 2016 Black History Month Luncheon.
Boothe, who at one point owned a pizza restaurant (and has a recipe for a delicious jerk chicken pizza), is getting ready to share his culinary skills with the U of T community on Tuesday – he typically makes Caribbean-style curries for the event. “There’ll be East African and West African – each year the menu depends on the volunteers that year,” says Boothe.
He says he is most looking forward to hearing Hunter speak this year. “It’ll be really interesting to hear what it’s like inside [provincial] Parliament from an active member, and from a woman – especially in this moment when we hear a lot in the news about women’s empowerment and women’s issues in politics and beyond.”
Boothe hopes the luncheon will serve as an example to what others across the university can do during Black History Month. “I hope that people will have a lightbulb moment and they’ll do something of their own, in their own way, for Black History Month.”
He also sees the luncheon as an opportunity to learn more. “It’s just a couple of hours and it’s not going to solve all of the problems of the world, but just for those couple of hours you’re going to get a taste of what Black culture is like, a taste of the history and food,” he says. “That’s why we have the PowerPoint slide with a bit of history, the short quiz. It’s a matter of interaction, opening up, opening up a window to the culture, so that people can appreciate the culture,” he says.
“At the end of the day I tell people to get out – go watch a Black movie, go buy a delicious curry, go to a Black church. This is your window – now go out there and explore more.”
This year’s Black History Month Luncheon is on Feb. 27, 12 p.m. to 2 p.m., at Kruger Hall, 119 St. George Street.