Black History Month Luncheon to celebrate Black excellence, community and great food

The University of Toronto’s Black History Month Luncheon is all about Black excellence, great food and celebrating community – themes that are front-and-center this year as the event returns in-person.

After two years of virtual celebrations due to the pandemic, the 2023 edition of the annual luncheon will be held Feb. 24 inside Hart House’s Great Hall and will feature keynote speaker Cameron Bailey, CEO of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF).

Glen Boothwho works for U of T’s division of advancement and is the co-founder of the luncheon, says he is looking forward to bringing the community together again.

“We’ve missed that sense of camaraderie,” says Boothe. “The past couple of years have been really challenging for all of us. This year, we are really highlighting the celebration part.”

This year’s event also includes musical performances and spoken word poetry by Eddie Lartey, winner of the 2022 Canadian Individual Poetry Slam.

Cameron Bailey, CEO of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), speaks at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival (photo by Yu Ruidong/China News Service via Getty Images)

As for Bailey, he first joined TIFF in 1990 as a seasonal programmer and has held several leadership roles in the organization. He founded the festival’s Planet Africa section and has been instrumental in shaping the way audiences experience films.

He has also worked as a critic, contributing to NOW Magazine, CBC Radio One and CTV’s Canada AM. He taught a programming and curation course at U of T, drawing in from his own experience at TIFF.

“His professional accomplishments speak for themselves,” says Boothe. “And his contributions to the community have been outstanding.”

At U of T Mississauga, the Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion is hosting a celebration and group viewing of Bailey’s keynote address.

There will also be a livestream of the luncheon for those who cannot attend in-person.

Boothe says organizers are making a few tweaks to the in-person event this year – including setting aside more time for the lunch itself.

“Let’s all get together and see our commonalities. We all have more in common than in differences,” he says. “We all enjoy food, music and excellence.”

There’s also a separate in-person program – and a separate livestream – for students attending the luncheon from different high schools across the GTA.

“There will be about 150 students seated in the East Common Room at Hart House,” Boothe said. “We tried to cater the programming for students in hopes that it would resonate more with them.

The university established the Black History Month Luncheon Fund last year and committed to matching donations up to a total of $50,000. The needs-based fund will be awarded to a Black student enrolled in a U of T undergraduate program. Air Canada is one of the sponsors of the event and has donated airline tickets for a raffle, with representatives from the airline participating in the event to present the prize. Money will also be raised for the Francisco Bursary, which goes to a Black or Indigenous student.

When Boothe first started the luncheon more than 20 years ago, he hoped that other faculties and departments would be inspired to organize their own events in celebration of Black History Month.

Today, he notes, there is Black History Month programming across the university’s three campuses while the luncheon itself has become both a proud tradition and a marquee event.

“The university has really embraced the celebration of Black history and Black excellence.”