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Our journey: Black nurses and RNAO

Black people are not guaranteed protection from systemic racism in our society even though Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms of 1982 and the Canadian Human Rights Act of 1977 protect people of all races.

George Floyd’s murder in June 2020 reignited the global Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement to confront white supremacy and violence against Black people and communities. Under the leadership of Chief Executive Officer Dr. Doris Grinspun, the BLM movement prompted the Registered Nurses' Association of Ontario (RNAO) to reflect and take immediate action to confront systemic racism within the nursing profession. RNAO released a statement on June 3, 2020 addressing the murder of George Floyd and expressing solidarity to condemn anti-Black racism, oppression and discrimination, adding a call to action to “put a spotlight on injustice, and mobilize to enact real change.” 

Black nurses in Ontario have spoken openly with RNAO about their lived experiences with racism in all health-care sectors and academic institutions. Anti-Black racism remains deeply ingrained in the health system and its structures (e.g. work place settings, academic institutions, professional associations etc.). RNAO vows to address the systemic racism that exists within the nursing profession, as well as all health-care sectors and academic settings. The association and its members acknowledge the grief, distress and trauma brought on by centuries of historical injustices and discrimination experienced by Black nurses, their loved ones and their communities. RNAO is taking action in partnership with its Black members, colleagues and their allies to mobilize change. 

"(We) unequivocally condemn racism, oppression and discrimination in all forms."


Black History Month 2024

Each February, as part of Black History Month, RNAO celebrates the achievements and contributions of Black nurses. We look back at accomplishments over the past year, and forward to new developments that will help tackle anti-Black racism and discrimination within the nursing profession. 

A beacon of inspiration, the Black Nurses Leading Change Interest Group (BNLC) was recognized as RNAO's 2023 Interest Group of the Year. This accolade is a testament to their unwavering commitment to nursing and their active engagement in advocating for health equity initiatives. During the past year, the interest group welcomed Lori Zozzolotto as their chair and held its inaugural Annual General Meeting (AGM) featuring guest speaker Shelly Philip LaForest. 

BNLC and RNAO have continued to build on the recommendations outlined in the groundbreaking report released in 2022 by RNAO’s Black Nurses Task Force. Building on one of the task force’s recommendations, work is underway on a trailblazing RNAO best practice guideline (BPG) – Addressing Anti-Black Racism in Nursing, co-chaired by the esteemed Dr. Bukola Salami and Dr. LaRon Nelson. This 19-member expert panel, comprising Black nursing professionals and students, is poised to make substantial contributions to shaping the future of Black nurses in academic and health organizations. 

Taking proactive steps on other recommendations from the BNTF report, BNLC proposed and secured  approval on two member resolutions at RNAO’s 2023 AGM. These resolutions mandate RNAO to advocate for greater representation of Black nurse practitioners in Ontario and to advocate for mandatory anti-Black racism education for all health professionals.

In a powerful collaboration, BNLC joined forces with the Indigenous Nurses and Allies Interest Group and the Rainbow Nursing Interest Group, forming RNAO’s Health Equity Consortium. They aim to strengthen collective action and outcomes in collaboration with RNAO. Weaving together the narratives of nurses who identify as Black, Indigenous and/or 2SLGBTQI+ – including each group’s unique history and distinct roles – the consortium illuminates the profound experiences of discrimination that call for collective responses. While the uniqueness of each of these nursing communities was already well established, their collective power holds tremendous potential to advance equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) within the nursing profession and the health system.

To date, the consortium proposed and received unanimous approval by RNAO’s Board of Directors for the establishment of the Leadership in Health Equity award to celebrate three nurses from equity-seeking groups who have successfully championed social justice and advocated for EDI. Future work will include advising RNAO on establishing EDI-focused mentorship programs, and on supporting the development of future equity-related BPGs.

The consortium’s work is featured in RNAO’s In Focus webpages that outline RNAO’s commitment and work to dismantle systemic racism and all forms of discrimination. 

If you’re interested in becoming a member of BNLC, please visit MyRNAO.ca. Follow BNLC on X (formerly Twitter) to stay updated on its activities and upcoming events.

Join us in honouring Black History Month by sharing tweets with “#BlackHistoryMonth” and tagging @RNAO.

RNAO’s June 2020 statement

RNAO issued a statement and media release in June 2020:

RNAO mourns the death of George Floyd and all those who have succumbed to anti-Black racism and violence.


RNAO stands together with those who continue to suffer the scourge of anti-Black racism and discrimination. RNAO unequivocally condemns racism, oppression and discrimination in all forms. In light of recent atrocities in the United States, Canada and around the world, we stand in solidarity with the loved ones of those who have suffered at the hands of law enforcement and those who experience gross inequities because of the colour of their skin. 


Members leading change

RNAO has had three Black presidents in its history: Dr. Jocelyn Hezekiah from 1979-1981, the late Dr. Joan Lesmond who led RNAO from 2004-2006 and Dr. Angela Cooper Brathwaite from 2018-2020. Dr. Claudette Holloway became RNAO’s president-elect in June 2021.

Jocelyn Hezekiah RNAO President

Dr. Jocelyn Hezekiah

RNAO marked a milestone when Dr. Jocelyn Hezekiah, a leader in nursing education, became RNAO’s first Black president. In 2003, she authored Breaking the Glass Ceiling: The Stories of Three Caribbean Nurses, a book showcasing how these nursing leaders paved the way for Black nurses to be recognized in their own right in the Caribbean and internationally.

Joan_Lesmond RNAO president

Dr. Joan Lesmond

The late Dr. Joan Lesmond launched the Embracing Diversity Project during the first year of her RNAO presidency, which built on policies that give nurses of all cultural background the opportunity to participate fully in the nursing profession.

Angela Cooper Brathwaite RNAO president

Dr. Angela Cooper Brathwaite

Past President Dr. Angela Cooper Brathwaite has published numerous research studies on cultural competence in nursing, and now co-chairs RNAO's Black Nurses Task Force to tackle anti-Black racism and discrimination in the nursing profession.

Claudette Holloway RNAO President

Dr. Claudette Holloway

RNAO President Dr. Claudette Holloway is passionate about promoting the nursing profession, decreasing, and eliminating anti-Black racism and all forms of racism and discrimination in nursing and the health-care system, advancing health programs for the most vulnerable, and facilitating an equity lens approach to advance nursing and health care.

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RNAO announces a Black Nurses Task Force

In response to the widespread systemic racism that exists within the nursing profession, RNAO announced in June 2020 the formation of its Black Nurses Task Force (BNTF). It was formed to move beyond solidarity and interrupt complicity to promote transformational change. 

The task force’s mandate is to reduce anti-Black racism and discrimination within the nursing profession – its organizations, regulatory body, associations and broader health system – targeted towards and experienced by Black nurses. 

Task force co-chairs

Angela Brathwaite

Dr. Angela Cooper Brathwaite

Corsita Garraway

Corsita Garraway

"...we must put a spotlight on injustice, and mobilize to enact real change.

Dr. Doris Grinspun.


Our COVID-19 webinar series focused on the topic of Let’s Talk about Racism on June 15, 2020, as a group of passionate nurses engaged in meaningful conversations about experiences of and solutions to tackle systemic racism in Ontario and within our health system.

RNAO announced in June 2020 the search for panelist members striving to reach the mandate of actively tackle anti-Black racism within the nursing profession. The initial draft terms of reference were specified here.

In January 2022, the Black Nurses Task Force published two peer-reviewed articles in Nursing Inquiry’s special issue on anti-racism: Black nurses in action: A social movement to end racism and discrimination and Tackling discrimination and systemic racism in academic and workplace settings. RNAO shared the news on Twitter

Black Nurses Task Force Report

Marking Black History Month, on Feb. 8 2022, RNAO's BNTF released a report to address the systemic anti-Black racism and discrimination that exists in the profession. 

The groundbreaking report includes 19 recommendations to tackle structural racism within nursing organizations, regulatory bodies, associations and the broader health-care systems that are targeted towards and experienced by Black nurses. The report focuses on education and awareness building, research, advocacy, and partnership with allies and stakeholders. 

View the media coverage of the #BNTFreport here, here, here,  here and here.


BNTF report

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BNLC logo 2023

Black Nurses Leading Change (BNLC) interest group

BNLC supports the work of RNAO’s Black Nurses Task Force, and continues to inform RNAO and its members on issues affecting Black nurses and nursing students. BNLC will advocate for anti-racism, offer mentorship, provide continuing education and a safe space for Black nurses and nursing students – and their allies – to network and interact with each other. 



Interest group executive

Lori Zozzolotto

Interest group chair
Lori Zozzolotto


 Interest group past-president
Dania Versailles,

Become an RNAO member to join this interest group


RNAO's partnerships and engagement

RNAO policy

RNAO's position on racism 

RNAO values diversity and recognizes that discrimination of any kind threatens the health of individuals, communities and nations as well as the provision of quality health care. It is only by working to eliminate this injustice that we, as registered nurses, are achieving our goal of speaking out for health and for nursing.

Read more

Letter to the College of Nurses of Ontario re: race-based and Indigenous identity data – advancing racial equity in nursing

Racism is a determinant of health that plays a key role in generating and reinforcing health and social inequities among Canadians. Racism is also entrenched in the history of nursing in our country and continues to have a devastating impact on the lived experiences of racialized nurses. 

Read more

Capacity building

Advanced Clinical Practice Fellowships

RNAO has developed a new fellowship stream aligned with RNAO’s commitment to address systemic racism, injustice and discrimination. Fellowships in the “Equity in nursing and health” stream – intended to improve health care for all by strengthening individuals' knowledge of equity – focus on improving diversity and inclusion for staff, persons and families receiving care, and the communities they live in. To learn more and apply for this or other fellowship opportunities, visit our Advanced Clinical Practice Fellowships webpage.


RNAO and Black nurses in the media

Hospital News
Black nurses have a message: We are tired of waiting on the sidelines for change.
The Globe and Mail
Racism is having a devastating impact on the lives of Black nurses
CBC News
Anti-Black racism 'deeply entrenched' in nursing, says new report calling for immediate action
HR Reporter
More than half of Black workers say job prospects improving
Toronto Star
Told they didn’t ‘fit the look,’ called the n-word: Now, the Black Nurses Task Force at RNAO helps deconstruct racism in nursing
University Affairs
Canada’s nursing programs address racial prejudice in the profession
CBC News
Windsor nurses voice concerns at provincial nursing association meeting

Social media

Get involved. Use the following hashtags on X (formerly Twitter), Facebook and Instagram to participate in the ongoing dialogue: 

#BlackLivesMatter #BlackNursing #AntiBlackRacism #AntiBlackDiscrimination

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RNAO staff leading change

RNAO Black Colleagues Task Force 

In June of 2020, Dr. Doris Grinspun, RNAO's CEO launched the Black Colleagues Task Force (separate from the Black Nurses Task Force) to ensure strong support for RNAO employees who identify as Black. Its mandate is to draw from the experiences of Black colleagues and address anti-Black racism and discrimination within the workplace. The task force is comprised of staff who identify as Black.

The purpose is to ensure an environment that is free from racism, prejudice, discrimination and harassment. They meet monthly to examine past incidents of racism and discuss how they were addressed. They identify areas for intervention and seek permanent results by providing recommendations for RNAO’s internal human resources and operational policies and practices. The task force also hopes to educate staff about racism and micro-aggressions and strengthen best practices for safe spaces to work without fear of discrimination.

Black Colleagues Task Force

Some members of RNAO's Black Colleagues Task Force (from left clockwise) Julia Mason, Chevonne Cordle, Stephanie Buchanan, Valerie Sergnese and Susan McRae meet up ahead of the Black History Month 2023.

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