Photo Credit: Unseen Histories via Unsplash

As Black History Month draws to a close, a number of local events continue to be held virtually. These events seek to not only highlight the importance of Black history in Canada, but cultivate antiracist practices and mindsets.

 

During Black History Month, people celebrate the many achievements and contributions of Black Canadians and their communities who have done much to make Canada the country it is today.

 

Niagara has played an active role in African-American history; between 1840 and 1860, slaves from the United States followed the Underground Railroad to find freedom in Canada. This was not a real railroad, but a secret network of routes and safe houses that people took to escape slavery and reach Canada. Approximately, 30,000 slaves between 1800 and 1865 escaped into Canada from the United States along this Underground Railroad from Fort Erie to Niagara-on-the-Lake.

 

One of those slaves who escaped was Burr Plato, who went on to establish the British Methodist Church built in 1836. That church is still in the region and is now a national historic site. Plato went on to become the first elected Black man in local government from 1886 to 1905.

 

“In Niagara, we have an especially rich history that intersects with that of the Underground Railroad and key figures in Black history, including Harriet Tubman, Anthony Burns and others,” said Jim Bradley, Niagara’s Regional Chair. “While we have cause to be proud of such moments, the events we have witnessed over the past year have certainly highlighted the fact that anti-Black racism is still an issue that deserves everyone’s attention.”

 

In September 2020, Bradley along with all 12 of Niagara’s mayors, signed the region’s communities onto the Coalition of Inclusive Municipalities. This coalition reflects a shared commitment to work toward enacting policies that eradicate racism and discrimination and promote human rights and diversity.

 

While the month is coming to an end, there are still ways for residents to learn more about Black history and engage in local events that seek to raise awareness for issues faced by the Black community.

 

Final Part of 2020-2021 BIPOC Speaker Series

In this talk, entitled Practicing Equity: Anti-Racist Stage Management, Narda Alcorn of Yale University will share her evolving antiracist stage management practice, placing it in the context of her career, experience and point of view. She will also offer ideas and steps that others can take to cultivate antiracist practices. The event will be hosted virtually on February 23 at 7 p.m.

 

Black History Speaker Series

This year’s Black History Speaker Series is being delivered by Niagara Parks as a live-streamed, digital event. Tickets come at a cost of $15 per event and grant access to live, interactive sessions with community historians and commentators specializing in Black history and culture. Each session begins at 7 p.m. on scheduled dates.

 

There are two upcoming sessions that residents can participate in. On Feb. 24, writer Saladin Allah will present The Power of Cultural Competence while a month later on March 31, historian Rochelle Bush will present Self-Liberated and Famous: Fugitive Freedom Seekers Escape to Niagara.

 

Brock Black History Workshops

Brock’s Human Rights and Equity (HRE) and the Student Justice Centre (SJC) have designed a suite of programming for February that highlights Black history and anti-racism. These events are open to Brock students, staff and faculty; however, some are exclusively for Black individuals. Details and registration for all these events can be found on ExperienceBU.

 

These events offer only a few of the ways that residents can engage in discussions about Black history. In order to foster a mindset of anti-racism and diversity, a continued effort must be made beyond this time that comes once a year.

 

“We owe it to ourselves to become better acquainted with these seminal moments in our history,” said Bradley. “[We can] learn from them and use them to build a brighter future for [everyone].”

 

Registration for the BIPOC Speaker Series can be completed by visiting brocku.ca/miwsfpa. Individuals who desire to find out more about and participate in the Black History Speaker Series can do so by visiting niagaraparks.com/events/black-history. Brock’s Black History Month events can be found by visiting experiencebu.brocku.ca/african-heritage-month/events. To keep up with programming from HRE and Brock’s SJC, students are encouraged to follow @brockhre and @brocksjc on Instagram.