By Mary M. Alward
Kay Livingstone was an actress, mother, volunteer worker and an enforcer of minority rights. She was born in London , Ontario in 1918. Her parents, James and Christina Jenkins were leaders in the Black community and founders of the newspaper, “Dawn of Tomorrow.”
At an early age Kay took an interest in the performing arts. She studied at Ottawa College of Music and the Ontario Conservatory of Music in Toronto.
In 1942, Kay met and married George Livingstone. She worked for the Dominion Bureau of Statistics in Ottawa during WWII. Kay later hosted the “Kathleen Livingstone Show,” on radio. When she moved to Toronto , she hosted several shows for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.(CBC) She also displayed her talents as both an amateur and professional actress.
In 1950, Kay became involved in the Canadian Negro Women’s Association. (CANEWA) She started a new organization, became its first president and encouraged members to commit to service projects. They raised funds to provide scholarships to young Black students who showed promise. The group also formed the Calypso Carnival, which was a forerunner to today’s Caribana Festival that is held each year in Toronto .
From 1951 to 1953, Kay served as President for CANEWA. She initiated CANEWA’s greatest success: The First National Congress of Black Women. The group first met in Toronto in 1973. Two hundred women from across the country attended the gathering. Workshops on single parenting, education and seniors were offered. The focus of the Congress was to encourage Black women to form close personal relationships. The first meeting of this group lead to other conventions. These were held in Montreal , Halifax , Windsor and Winnipeg . The Winnipeg convention saw the Congress of Black Women become and official group.
During her life, Kay also held positions with the United Nations Association, Heritage Ontario , the YWCA, the National Black Coalition of Canada, the Legal Aid Society and the Canadian Council of United Churches. Kay worked as a consultant for the Privy Council of Canada during the last years of her life. She traveled from coast to coast preparing a conference on visible minorities in Canada . She coined the phrase, “black minority rights.”
On one of these trips Kay met Carrie Best, who formed the Kay Livingstone Visible Minority Women’s Society after Kay’s death in 1975. The Society continues to offer educational funding for promising young women of Canada ’s minorities.
Today, the Kay Livingstone Award is presented to black women in Canada . The mandate of the award is to encourage black women in this country to improve the lives of other women of color and their families.
Gwen Jenkins, the chairperson of the London , Ontario chapter of the Congress of Black Women of Canada stated: “Our congress feels it’s very important to meet and help black women. We share a feeling of togetherness and sisterhood. We rejoice in our blackness.”
Kay left behind a legacy when she died. Many young minority women have realized their dreams because of her influence and the funding of the organization that carries her name. Kay has taught these women that there is no mountain so high that it cannot be conquered.
Some Black Women: Profiles of Black Women in Canada – Rella Braithwaite
Leading the Way: Black Women in Canada – Rosemary Sadlier
Women of Vision: The story of the Canadian Negro Women’s Association.
Mary M. Alward is a freelance writer from Ontario, Canada.