The entire month of February celebrates Black history. It’s a time to reflect upon the past and see how far Black people have come. Do you see progress, or is it a tad too slow for your liking? Whatever your case might be, let us look at the bigger picture and celebrate our wins, though there is still much more ground to cover.
Joy Thomas, vice president of The National Black Coalition of Canada Society in Edmonton, explains, “The formal celebration of Black History Month took roots in the need to recognize and celebrate the contributions and accomplishments of Black Americans to the United States of America. It began in 1926, spearheaded by Carter G. Woodson, known as the ‘Father of Black History’, who was the second Black African descendant to receive a PhD from Harvard University. His pioneer work eventually led to the official recognition of Black History Month in the United States in 1976.”
In December 1995, Canada recognized February as Black History Month when Jean Augustine, a former MLA, made the motion in the House of Commons. Augustine, who immigrated from Granada in the 1960s, was the first Black Canadian woman elected to the House of Commons.
“Alberta carved out its own little place in history when MLA David Shepherd mounted a relentless campaign to have Black History Month recognized in 2017. Rachel Notley officially proclaimed February as Black History Month on Jan. 31, 2017,” says Thomas.
Many people may be wondering why Black History Month is important and why there needs to be a month dedicated to such history.
Thomas says, “In line with 2022’s theme ‘February and Forever: Celebrating Black History today and every day’, it is important that we never lose focus on recognizing the daily contributions that Black Canadians have made and continue to make in shaping the cultural pluralism that is Canada.”
She explains that a lot of Canadian Black history hasn’t been recorded.
“This commemorative month remains a necessity, because elements of racism and systemic barriers continue to outline the lived experiences of Black people in Canada. Black History Month takes us beyond just our history of honouring the monumental achievements of our dearly departed pioneers, [and] also emphasizes the need to recognize our living pathbreakers, advocates, entrepreneurs, and educational innovators.”
Representation is an ongoing issue that everyone should be aware of. Thomas explains that representation is important because seeing ourselves represented in spaces creates the feeling that nothing is impossible. Although the Black community is in a better position than before, African, Black, and Caribbean (ABC) peoples still face major representation barriers.
Thomas says, “The existence of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) policies, although good on paper, does not necessarily provide the ‘true action’ needed to drive inclusive spaces for Blacks and other marginalized groups within the Canadian context. Unconscious bias continues to lead the day, as programs meant to destigmatize are creating a reversal effect instead of fostering safe and inclusive environments where we can experience, learn, grow, and truly belong.’’
She adds that celebrating Black culture includes recognizing “Black influence, resilience, and excellence within the broader Albertan landscape and beyond.” It is important to acknowledge the varied stories, experiences, education, professional designations, and gifts of Black people.
“All these often fade in the abyss that is the backdrop month of February. Our intelligence is often judged by our accents, our looks, our English language limitations, our heritage, and the biased stories circulating in history books and the media. Our personal stories have been eclipsed by a singular monochromatic narrative about us, as told by others. Our passion for who we are, and our fire, has been deemed aggressive and dangerous, marking us as unapproachable.”
She says that the best thing people can do to celebrate Black History Month is educate themselves.
“We live in an information age where knowledge is readily accessible at our fingertips,” she says. “NBCC does a great job of collating a list of Black-led community organizations on their website at www.nbccedmonton.ca and Black History Month events for February 2023.”
During February, the NBCC, a Black-led organization, holds an opening ceremony with community members, dignitaries, and government officials.
“As it relates to Black History Month, NBCC strives to promote cultural education, diversity, inclusion, equity, and connecting communities,” says Thomas. “NBCC honours and recognizes the work of Black community individuals and organizations through an annual Award of Excellence program, a Black History Month Cultural Magazine that depicts how local Black Albertans are building Canada, and a musical and art event at the Northern Jubilee Auditorium that is in its 37th year.”
By looking at the positives in terms of the progress being made, you may be more motivated to continue on the journey of success and may eventually take bigger strides to get to the destination faster, whatever that destination may look like for you.