Congress of Black Women of Canada (CBWC) / Congrès des femmes noires du Canada


The Congress of Black Women of Canada is a voluntary, non-profit organization which is dedicated to improving the welfare of Black Women and their families in their local communities and nationally. (We are Black women from the continent of Africa and the diaspora which includes indigenous African Canadians, African Americans, the Caribbean, South America and other locations on this planet. We include financially disadvantaged women, working class women, professional women, students, women of various abilities, ages and sexual identities). The Congress aims to clarify and bring due recognition to the role of Black women in Canadian society. The Congress also seeks through a program of education and service to motivate Black women to participate in the life of the communities in which they live.

The Congress has chosen the cactus as its symbol. The cactus is a plant symbolic of the strengths and resilience of Black women. No matter how arid the soil…the cactus survives, multiplies and bears fruit.

Historical Background

Chaired by Kay Livingstone, The Congress of Black Women of Canada (CBWC) was first convened in Toronto in1973 under the sponsorship of the Canadian Negro Women’s Association (CANEWA) which had been organizing since 1951. (Its original name was the Canadian Negro Women’s Club and it was founded by President, Mrs Kay Livingstone, Executive Recording Secretary, Mrs Aileen Williams; Treasurer, Mrs Audrey Grayson). Due to the common concerns highlighted in the discussions, the idea of a national organization for Black Women was born. A subsequent conference was held in Montreal in 1974 where the Montreal Regional Committee was founded; this committee eventually became the first chapter of the Congress. In 1976, a conference was held in Halifax where delegates passed a resolution to set up a national organization and a meeting was planned for the following year. In 1977, Windsor, Ontario was the venue for the meeting at which a motion was adopted to set up a National Steering Committee. Members of the committee were appointed to; set up a communication network and work out a constitution and organizational structure. Another conference was planned for 1980. This conference was held in Winnipeg where the national organization was launched, the constitution ratified and a national executive council was selected. Subsequent to the Winnipeg conference, conferences were held biennially in Edmonton, Toronto, Vancouver, Halifax, Calgary and Winnipeg.

Over the years, regional chapters were established in Alberta – Calgary and Edmonton, British Columbia – Vancouver, Manitoba – Winnipeg and Thompson, Nova Scotia – Halifax, Ontario – , Durham, Sudbury, North York, Toronto, Mississauga, Hamilton, Scarborough, Brampton, North East Ontario, Windsor, London, Ajax/Pickering, Ottawa and Waterloo, Quebec – Montreal, Saskatchewan Regina and Saskatoon, New Brunswick St John’s, Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island and the North West Territories.
In addition since 1992, the Congress established a foundation which is headquartered in Vancouver. For more information click www.

National Presidents
Past presidents include: Fleurette Osborne, Dr Glenda Simms, Doctor the Honorable Jean Augustine, (the late) Yolene Jumelle, Esmerelda Thornhill, Jestina Blake-Hill.

The following are the objectives of the national organization:

  • To provide a network of solidarity for Black Women in Canada, and to be a united voice in the defence and extension of human rights and liberties for Black Women in Canada.
  • To foster a climate in which it is acceptable for Black Women to openly examine the issues which affect them and their families.
  • To provide a dynamic forum for the Black Woman to discuss those issues that are relevant to them and to develop the solutions to bring about constructive change.
  • To plan and implement a program of service and action geared to the needs of Black Women in Canada.
  • To cooperate with other organizations on those specific issues particularly relevant to Black Women.
  • To develop relations with other local, national and international organizations whose aims and objectives and purposes are in keeping in those of the Congress.
  • To constantly re-examine our objectives and purposes and adjust our efforts accordingly.

Staying within the intention of these objectives, over its thirty-six year presence, congress chapters elaborated or fine tuned these objectives to suit their particular circumstances.

For example, in its strategic plan for 1994-1996 the Toronto Chapter (currently in hiatus) stated:

We provide a forum to ensure that Black women’s needs and concerns nave a strong voice, and to share and develop a critical analysis of race, racism, gender and sexism. We effect
transformation in the society through the development sharing and application of a Black womanist /feminist ideology. This ideology is anti-racist, anti-sexist, and anti-discriminatory, and it affirms and supports all Black women through solidarity, leadership, responsibility, commitment, participation and empowerment.

At the national level the congress is represented by a National Executive Council. This council is made up of, the president, the immediate past president, the vice-president, secretary and treasurer. In addition, one member of each region, known as the regional representative, is elected locally to sit on the executive council.

Membership is open to all Black Women sixteen years of age and over. Black women’s organizations whose aims, objectives and purposes are similar to those of the Congress are welcome to join as associate chapters.

A chapter may be formed when there are six (6) or more Black women in a geographical area. A chapter must abide by the general rules and regulations of the National Executive Council. However, local governance and programs are administered by a locally elected board of directors.Individual memberships are accepted from women who reside in areas where there are less than six Black women.

Issues past and current
Nationally and locally, the Congress has discussed, grappled and acted on common issues which affect black women and their families across Canada. For example at the National Conference held in Halifax Nova Scotia in 1989 workshop topics included: Racism as a Health Hazard, Blacks and the Justice System, Economic Empowerment and the Black Woman, Young Black Women – the Challenge and Black, Aging and Canadian.

In her analysis of the organizing efforts of the Congress, Jennifer Mills identified the following as topics discussed at CBWC conferences between 1973 and 1983, “youth and education, triple oppression, women’s movement, pay equity, immigration, racial profiling, institutionalized racism, health, multiculturalism, and sexuality.”

Action taken on these issues identified by local chapters or the national organization include, workshops and conferences to disseminate information, protests which take the form of letter writing, petitions and demonstration on the streets and social action such as complaints to the Human Rights Commission.

Individual chapters have taken specific actions in their local communities. For example, in 1996 the Mississauga Chapter opened the doors to Camille’s Place, a 9 story non profit housing complex. In 1991, the Toronto Chapter produced an antiracism child care strategies film, Children Are Not the Problem, in 1993 together with the Coalition of Visible Minority Women Toronto Chapter officially opened the 14 story Barsa Kelly/Cari-Can Co-op Housing complex after four years of negotiation and in collaboration with unions and other community groups, the Toronto Chapter won a human rights settlement for 7 Black nurses and 1 Filipina nurse against the then north Western General Hospital.

Even though much has been achieved through these efforts by the Congress of Black women, the work is not done. We still have a distance to travel for justice and equity as many of the issues recur from generation to generation.

Written by
Charis Newton-Thompson, President Toronto Chapter 1986 – 1991

For additional information go to:

1. The Canadian Negro Women’s Association (April 6th – 8th 1973) National Congress of Black Women program booklet; CBWC/CFNC booklet produced by the National Executive of the Congress of Black Women circa 1985-86 and May, 1989, Congress of Black Women of Canada, Toronto Chapter, Strategic Planning Manual, 1994-1996.

2. Hill, L. (1996) Women of Vision: The story of the Canadian Negro Women’s Association, Toronto: Umbrella Press and D’Oyley, R.F. and Braithwaite, R. (1973) Women of our times. Toronto, Canadian Negro Women’s Association Inc.

3. Mills, J. (2015). Conferencing as a site for the mobilization of Black feminist identities in the Congress of Black Women of Canada, 1973-1983 in Journal of Black Studies, 46 (4), 415-441.

Congress of Black Women of Canada (CBWC) / Congrès des femmes noires du Canada Documents

Title Date Region
Celebrate the Vision -20th Anniversary of the Kay Livingstone Award Event -- Ontario
Celebrating Our Survival – 10th Anniversary of Montreal Regional Committee (1984) 1984 Quebec
Congress of Black Women of Canada Information Booklet -- National (all of Canada)
Congress of Black Women of Canada Information Booklet (1989) 1989 National (all of Canada)
Congress of Black Women of Canada Ontario Region Presidents Meeting (September 1992) 1992 Ontario
Congress of Black Women of Canada Ontario Regional Report (January 1990) 1990 Ontario
Congress of Black Women of Canada Toronto Chapter Information Brochures -- Ontario
Congress of Black Women of Canada/Congrès des femmes noires du Canada Information Pamphlet -- National (all of Canada)
Correspondence on Anti-Lesbophobia Sub-Committee (1995) 1995 National (all of Canada)
End the silence on racism in healthcare – Deputation (1996) 1996 Ontario
Hamilton Chapter Meet the Challenge Leadership Workshops (1990) 1990 Ontario
Just Like Me – Description of Toronto Anti-Racist Child Care Project (1989) 1989 Ontario
Leadership Manual Congress of Black Women of Canada Ontario Region (1990) 1990 Ontario
Letter from Freedom Ride Against Apartheid (1989) 1989 National (all of Canada)
National Congress of Black Women Brochure (April 1973) 1973 National (all of Canada)
Ontario Region Affirmation (1990) 1990 Ontario
Ontario Region AGM Agenda (1990) 1990 Ontario
Our Possibilities Are Endless – 9th National Conference Program (1989) 1989 National (all of Canada)
Our Possibilities are Endless – 9th National Conference Reports (1989) 1989 National (all of Canada)
Parent Views on Race Relations in Childcare Programs – 1992 Study 1992 Ontario
President’s Report – Toronto Chapter Annual General Meeting (1990) 1990 Ontario
Scarborough Chapter Flyer -2nd Annual Brunch (1989) 1989 Ontario
Study of Children in Childcare and Race-related Issues -- Ontario
Taking Care of Ourselves – 11th National Conference Program (Winnipeg 1992) 1992 National (all of Canada)
Taking Care of Ourselves – Reports to 11th Biennial Conference (1994) 1994 National (all of Canada)
Text of Rosemary Brown’s Speech to Founding Convention 1973 National (all of Canada)
Toronto Chapter Annual General Meeting Agenda (1987) 1987 Ontario
Toronto Chapter Annual General Meeting Agenda (1988) 1988 Ontario
Toronto Chapter Annual General Meeting Agenda and Reports (April 1990) 1990 Ontario
Toronto Chapter Flyers – Examples of Social Events 1989 Ontario
Toronto Chapter Letters – Ontario Human Rights Commission Unfair Hiring Practics (1989) 1989 Ontario
Toronto Chapter Strategic Planning Manual (1994-96) 1994 Ontario
Toronto Proposal to Sponsor Anti-Racist Child Care Project (1988) 1988 Ontario
Update on Proposed Conference for Black Teachers (1995) 1995 Ontario
Update on Toronto Anti-Racist Child Care Project (1989) 1989 Ontario