Sunshine floods through a series of skylights hidden in an oddly shaped ceiling.

U of T’s Black History Month Luncheon 2024

U of T President Meric Gertler with Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow and Michaëlle Jean, who served as Canada’s governor general from 2005 to 2010 (photo by Johnny Guatto)

President Meric Gertler with Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow and Michaëlle Jean, who served as Canada’s governor general from 2005 to 2010 (photo by Johnny Guatto)

Glen Boothe says he always wonders how many people will turn out for the Black History Month Luncheon – an annual event that brings together the University of Toronto community to celebrate Black excellence, history and culture. 

“Every year, I go through this, ‘are enough people going to show up?’,” said Boothe, who works in U of T’s division of advancement and co-founded the annual luncheon more than two decades ago. 

He needn’t have worried.

Glen Boothe, a co-founder of the Black History Month Luncheon, thanks Michaëlle Jean for delivering the event’s keynote address (photo by Johnny Guatto)

Booth estimated nearly 600 people gathered in the Great Hall in Hart House for the 22nd edition of the event this week – with many others joining the celebration virtually, including via a watch party hosted by U of T Mississauga. 

“It’s incredible,” he said. “It’s tangible support.”  

Lilly Phillip, a chef with U of T’s Food Services, has been cooking for the luncheon for eight years (photo by Johnny Guatto)

Those who attended in person and virtually heard from keynote speaker Michaëlle Jean, a former journalist who served as governor general of Canada from 2005 to 2010, Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow, and spoken-word poet Randell Adjei, who was named Ontario’s first poet laureate in 2021.

Spoken-word poet Randell Adjei gestures to the audience (photo by Johnny Guatto)

Senior U of T leaders, including President Meric GertlerDavid Palmer, vice-president, advancement, Barbara Dick, assistant vice-president, alumni relations, and Dickson Eyoh, interim principal of U of T’s New College, welcomed attendees and commended the event’s volunteer organizers.

“This is one of the signature events for U of T’s annual Black History Month celebration,” President Gertler said.  

President Gertler also remarked on the recent $5-million investment in the African Studies Centre and the Centre for Caribbean Studies by alumnus Richard Rooney, who was in attendance.

“It will help attract world-leading scholars through the establishment of two new endowed professorships and it will support the next generation of top minds through the creation of a pair of postdoctoral fellowships,” said President Gertler. 

An estimated 600 people attended the Black History Month Luncheon in Hart House’s Great Hall (photo by Johnny Guatto)

Meanwhile, Palmer presented Jean with an achievement award – recognizing her service, leadership and impact nationally and globally.

 Attendees at U of T Mississauga’s watch party listen to Michaëlle Jean via livestream (photo by Nick Iwanyshyn)

Jean credited her mother and grandmother for motivating her to be an advocate from a young age. 

“My mother constantly reminded me that indifference is not an option,” she said. “You have to be aware of what’s happening around you and how it affects you and others. 

“Embrace this discomfort. Feel the pain but stand firm.”

Attendees line up in Hart House’s Great Hall as volunteers serve food (photo by Johnny Guatto)

Jean said her mother told her to use her voice, not just for her own cause, but for others too. 

“Having perspective and knowing you can make a difference – that is the key to rising above adversity.” 

Courtesy of UofT News