Black History Month celebrates Canadian diversity and history

This February marked the 20th anniversary of Black History Month, first introduced through a motion in the House of Commons in 1995 by Jean Augustine, the first black woman elected to Parliament.

According to the Government of Canada’s website, Black History Month, “celebrates the many achievements and contributions of black Canadians who, throughout history, have done so much to make Canada the culturally diverse, compassionate, and prosperous nation it is today.”

Several clubs at Brock organized a variety of events to celebrate Black History Month and brought awareness about issues surrounding perceptions of black people and racism.

The Brock East African Student Association (BEASA), hosted an open mic night on Feb. 3 which showcased the student talent at Brock and featured some African dancing and spoken word performances dealing with black issues. The club also screened the documentary The Black Power Mixtape on Feb. 25 that highlighted the Black Power movement in the 60s and prominent black rights activists. There was also a discussion after the movie about the power of voices and speaking up.

“There are things that happened in the 60s that are still relevant today and it’s important to shed light on these issues,” said Sarah Ibrahim, President of BEASA. “We have the power to build and destroy a community with our voices.”

The Brock University Ghana Association (BUGA) collaborated with Young, Black, and Educated (YBE) to run a Black Beauty Campaign which talked about beauty, racism, and black empowerment.

The Niagara Region is an important part of African-American history, specifically in connection with the Underground Railroad. The suspension bridge over the Niagara Gorge was one of the routes for escaped slaves to reach Canada / Niagara Falls Underground Railroad

The Niagara Region is an important part of African-American history, specifically in connection with the Underground Railroad. The suspension bridge over the Niagara Gorge was one of the routes for escaped slaves to reach Canada / Niagara Falls Underground Railroad

“In western society, European standards of beauty are the epitome of beauty but this is a falsified notion,” said Kattawe Henry, founder of YBE. “We wanted to promote black beauty and black features on campus and remind students that black is beautiful. It is so important to encourage that discourse to everyone so they can expand their ideas of beauty. We wanted to ask how and why blackness is removed from the beauty ideals of society.”

Despite the fact that this year saw the 20th anniversary of Black History Month, a significant landmark, there was very little response or effort from the university itself to acknowledge this celebration. Black History Month is important because it attempts to create a more inclusive Canadian culture by emphasizing its diversity as well as raising awareness for a group of people that have suffered, and are still suffering, from racism and devaluation.

“If you look at the history of black people, we have not had the opportunity to be in the mainstream culture. We’re always a sect, an other,” said Sheiba Manso. “Until [black culture] gets celebrated as a part of Canadian culture as a whole, it needs to be emphasized even more.”

The fact that Brock has such a variety of clubs and students passionate about these issues is a testament to its diversity. Unfortunately, racism, especially in the form of insensitive comments and actions, still persists on campus. Just last year, the Blackface incident caused a social media scandal and, to many, suggested that the university is not doing its part to raise awareness and properly educate students. Clubs such as BEASA, BUGA, YBE, and the Roots African Caribbean Society are making a great effort in holding events not just in February, but throughout the year that celebrate the history and culture of black people, so there are plenty of opportunities for Brock students to truly educate themselves.

“It would be nice if people felt comfortable enough to come to Black History events, even if they’re not black,” said Manso.

Last year, the United Nations declared the decade of 2015 to 2024 the International Decade for People of African Descent. It’s purpose is to, “underline the important contribution made by people of African descent to our societies and to propose concrete measures to promote their full inclusion and to combat racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related intolerances.”

As the generation which is about to enter the workforce and make its way into positions of power and influence, it is our responsibility as university students, whatever our race, to recognize and participate in these efforts. Perhaps we can one day say to our children that we were the enlightened generation that put an end to racism.

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