Who is Rosemary Brown?

Hello everyone! Currently in Humanties we are working on a project that focuses on why it takes the “crazy” people of the world make the biggest impact. For a bit of insight our definiton of crazy means someone who isn’t afraid to take risks and authentically be themselves. As most of the PLP 10 learners went to Seattle a few stayed back including me. Here at Seycove my goal was to write a meaningful essay higlighting a influential local person from Vancouver. I chose to write mine about a women named Rosemary Brown.



When asked to think of a change-maker of British Columbia the people that come to mind are often celebrities like Terry Fox, David Suzuki or Emily Carr. While their contributions are undeniably important there is one other “crazy person” we cannot forget. Rosemary Brown was committed to challenging societal norms and without a question she left a positive mark in Vancouver, British Columbia’s history. She worked hard to advocate for issues such as discrimination and sexism as well as change the political world. To understand the woman behind the legacy, we must dive into the factors that influenced and shaped her journey.

Brown’s upbringing laid the foundation for her commitment to challenging society’s norms.  Born on June 17th, 1930 in Jamaica, she was brought up surrounded by intelligent, supportive and political women who significantly influenced her development of ideologies. Brown immigrated to Canada in 1951 in pursuit of a better life and to study social work at McGill University in Montreal. However, as just a young student, she faced sexism and racism firsthand, whether she was applying for a job or throughout her everyday life. For instance, when she arrived in Vancouver in 1955 she was met with animosity and discrimination just because of her race. People would dismiss her and refuse to even speak to her because she was black. (Lorraine Snyder)

As racism in Canada was the norm, Brown used her voice and joined organizations like the British Columbia Association for the Advancement of Coloured People and Voice of Women which was dedicated to causes she believed in. Brown’s statement, “To be Black and female in a society which is both racist and sexist is to be in the unique position of having nowhere to go but up! (Royal).” exemplifies her resilience in the face of adversity. The associations she joined both advocated for equality and inclusion and provided Brown with a platform to amplify her voice. Brown’s experiences with racism and sexism are what fuelled her forward and her continued efforts paved the way for a more equitable society. 

From her early encounters with discrimination in Canada, Rosemary Brown emerged as a strong advocate for change. Throughout her time in Canada, she dedicated herself to addressing the social inequalities head-on. In her various speeches, she spread her message far and wide. In 1975 Brown ran for the Federal New Democratic Party (NDP) leadership and her slogan was “Brown is beautiful.” Not only did she aim to secure the party leadership but she also touched on the importance of human dignity. “The objective and goal of this party must continue to be to achieve human dignity for all people, not just in this land but in all others (Brown).” In her campaign, she delivered a powerful speech that resonated with Canadians. She had a vision of inclusivity, equality and justice and emphasized the point of recognizing the importance of every individual. Ultimately, she did not win but her campaign marked a moment in political history. She came a close second to Ed Broadbent and was up against 3 other candidates. It highlighted the importance of diversity and representation in leadership roles. Not many women were involved in politics during her time. She was one of the few and after her, the female numbers gradually increased. Currently, 37 women are Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLA). 


Following her impactful campaign for Federal NDP leadership, her dedication influenced Canadian politics leaving an impact on the landscape of leadership. Brown was a woman of many firsts, she shattered barriers becoming the first woman to run for leadership of a federal political party and the first black female Member of the Provincial Legislature.Notably, during her 14 years as a member of the legislative assembly, she created a committee that aimed to remove sexism in the BC educational material promoting inclusivity and equity within the education system. By promoting inclusivity within BC’s educational material she sought to have an environment where all individuals, regardless of gender or race could succeed.

Rosemary Brown did what others believed could not be done, she addressed and stood for multiple topics at once. She did not like the fact that people believed she could not stand up against both racism and sexism simultaneously and that fighting for both weakened her efforts. She stated, “My Black friends who congratulate me for speaking out on racial issues, chastise me for being a feminist. And my sisters who love me for speaking out on the issue of the movement chastise me for being preoccupied with my race (Rosemary Brown).” Brown knew that fighting for both is what would create meaningful change. Her commitment to intersectional activism inspired others to follow in suit. She understood that to progress we must address the complex layers of society’s issues as a whole. Steliana Nedera, who is a representative of the United Nations Development Programme, said: “If we fail to consider intersectionality, our efforts to promote gender equality might be limited in their impact and could even worsen the situation for some of the most disadvantaged women (Steliana Nedera).” Brown recognized that Intersectionality is so important to ensure that we do not leave anyone out of the fight for equality.

In conclusion, Rosemary Brown’s dedication to challenging societal norms made her an inspiring figure in the fight for equality and justice. Through her relentless advocacy against discrimination and sexism, she left an indelible mark on society. Rosemary Brown’s devotion to addressing multiple social issues at once is an example of her dedication to meaningful change. Brown passed away in 2003, leaving her legacy to inspire others for years to come. Her efforts paved the way for progress in areas of racial and gender equality. Today, her legacy inspires future generations to become change-makers. At Simon Fraser University, the school at which she was a professor of women’s studies,  an award was created in 2008 in her honour.  “The Rosemary Brown Award will recognize and honour a BC-based woman or organization that promotes the values and ideals which Rosemary Brown championed during her lifetime. (Rosemary).” The Rosemary Brown Award makes sure her legacy lives on to empower women in the right direction toward a brighter more inclusive future for all. 

I really enjoyed writing this essay and had a lot of fun staying back with Susan and Brooke. Stay tuned for the final blog post!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *