Black History Month means something different to everyone. For Amensie Washington, a Supervisor, Client Transition and Respite at Community Care Durham (CCD), it means many things – freedom, sacrifice, celebration, but most importantly, education.
“Educating people is important because some just don’t understand your struggles as a person of a different colour,” she said.
Amensie joined CCD just over three years ago after an earlier career in nursing and said she’s experienced racism first-hand throughout her career.
She recalled a client refusing her entry to her home a few years ago because she wasn’t white.
“They closed the door in my face. They didn’t want service,” Amensie said.
Another time a patient began screaming at Amensie when she entered her hospital room to introduce herself. The woman refused help because of the colour of her skin. She also denied the doctor’s help because, like Amensie, he was a person of colour.
“That for me was heartbreaking because she needed help. She was bleeding the same colour that I would bleed, so what difference does it make? But she did not want our help. She didn’t want us to touch her. She didn’t want us to be in her room. It’s sad and unfortunate that those sorts of things are still happening,” Amensie said.
Apart from providing opportunities to educate, Amensie said Black History Month also allows her to celebrate the struggles and sacrifices endured by others in the past so she and her children can enjoy a better life today. She also uses February as a time to celebrate the freedom of her people, but she knows there’s still much work to be done.
“There’s still so much going on that we as a people, a nation, a country need to continue to work on so that we’re better,” she said.
Amensie was born in Guyana, South America. When she was 12 years old, she came to Canada, and her family settled in Scarborough. She’s lived in Pickering for 17 years.
She describes her family as really big; both her mother and father have lots of brothers and sisters, and they live throughout the world, in Canada, the United States, Guyana, and even in England.
“We’re kind of spread all over the place,” she said.
Amensie became interested in nursing when she was 7 years old, and her grandmother got sick. Amensie helped nurse her back to health.
Amensie has always admired her grandmother. She described her as a strong woman and said her grandmother is very family-oriented, but “she can put you in your place quickly.”
“I remember when she got better, I said, this is what I want to do. I want to help people,” she said.
Amensie earned her PSW designation through Centennial College when she finished high school. She then enrolled at UOIT (now Ontario Tech University) and earned her Nursing Degree, achieving her Registered Nurse designation.
Later during a health scare, when Amensie was in the hospital for a long period, she decided to enroll in school once again to break up the boredom of her days. She enrolled in the social work program at Durham College, and despite her health struggles, she pushed through it and graduated. It was a proud moment for her.
“It was such a tough time for me, so to be able to even complete it, with all the challenges around me, that in itself was a great accomplishment for me.”
Today Amensie still takes online courses. She’s working on her Master’s in Nursing through Athabasca University and York University. She’s one year away from completion.
“It’s a sacrifice for a greater gain. You’re never too old to learn,” she said.
When Amensie is not working or studying, she loves to dance, and she’s got the perfect dance partner in her husband Morlan. They’ve been together for 25 years and married for 11.
“I look forward to a great date night with my husband because he loves to dance as well,” she said. “We love the kids, but when we can, we enjoy spending time together, just dancing, laughing, and enjoying each other.”
Morlan is an Advocate for Black Students with the Durham Catholic District School Board. He wrote a poem (below) called “The Skin I’m In” to inspire the students to be proud and to embrace themselves and the colour of their skin.
The skin I’m in
I love the skin I’m in. It is black as you can see.
It is soft that I can feel. It is resourceful, it is talented, it is fast, slow, it is attractive, it is the same as your skin.
It may be a little darker, a little lighter, or totally a different color.
But you know what when Jesus Christ was on the cross, he had me on his mind just the way he had all of us on his mind.
He did not think of colour when he created us.
Why do we always use colour to define us or separate us.
The skin I am in is not what I’m trying to be, it is what I am.
I’m not ashamed, or resentful, or in denial of what I am. Remember I did not have a choice. This is Gods doing, and I am proud.
The skin I am in is a reflection of many and I want you to know I am proud of you.
The skin I am in who’s shade differs from mine; I want you to know I love you too.
The skin I’m in is black, and it’s a colour that dominates, it is a colour that stands on its own.
It is a colour that outlines, defines, and is mostly used.
The skin I’m in is unique and vibrant, and how honored I am to be a part of this journey.
As we celebrate this Black History Month, let us pray for those who have paved the way and made the ultimate sacrifices for what we have today.
Let us recognize that some of those doors that were closed was because God knew we were thinking too small, and the difficulties experienced by those in the past, is so God can prepare and structure our minds for what is to come.
Morlan Washington 2022