On Feb. 10-12, Edmontonians have the opportunity to celebrate Black History Month and participate in important discussions regarding institutional racism.

Ogaden Somali Community of Alberta Residents (OSCAR) and Concordia University of Edmonton are organizing the Black History Month Celebration and the Social Justice Forum.

The partnership makes sense. Ahmed Abdulkadir, executive director of OSCAR, is a graduate of the university, a community advocate, and has forged many partnerships with other organizations to help change attitudes.

David Burry, manager of Concordia University’s Centre for Innovation and Research, said the centre helps with research and initiatives like Black History Month. Dr. Sandra Song, Concordia’s Director of Public Health Department, researches issues impacting vulnerable populations.

“We’re a good example of how community groups and academic institutions can work together,” said Song. “As a university, it’s important to be a conduit, to be a bridge.”

Burry added, “This initiative with OSCAR is one of many we’ve discussed. We look at this as being very beneficial to both sides.”

“This month, we can examine and take an issue and say we did achieve something,” said Abdulkadir.

The Black History Month Celebration on Feb. 10 recognizes important contributions, with traditional dance performances and East African food. Song said black communities played a significant part in building Canada.

Organizers hope participants will contribute to the conversation and create solutions. | Rebecca Lippiatt

“In terms of movement, of groups, they helped shape the country,” Song said, explaining it’s important for Canadians to “acknowledge, recognize, and commemorate their contribution to Canada’s social fabric.”

Abdulkadir said African immigrants should learn about the history.

“It’s important to appreciate the struggle of the African community that was here before us and teach our kids about it. We need to own that history and contribute,” said Abdulkadir.

The Social Justice Forum on Feb. 11 and 12 focuses on conversations about institutional racism in environments such as jobs, school, or public transit. Abdulkadir explained the forum is a way to examine what communities know and discover what they need to do. “It’s important for people to talk about issues and experiences, examine what’s working and not working in our communities.”

Government ministers, city council members, and numerous organizations will be attending and participating in the event. But the organizers said they want anyone who is interested in contributing to the conversation to attend.

“Be present and be open-minded,” said Song.

“We want to get through this forum to look at action items, be able to move to solutions,” said Burry.

Abdulkadir explained racism was a huge topic during last year’s forum, which shaped the topic for this year. He said there is a troubling amount of racism happening in schools. A huge problem, he said, is the lack of cultural understanding.

“Somehow we in this society accept this status quo.” Abdulkadir added that the solution is changing attitudes through public policy.

“At the end of the conference, we hope to publish recommendations and solutions, which we will be sharing with policymakers, community leaders, and the general public,” Abdulkadir said. “By bringing together legislators, grassroots leaders, academics, and the general public at the same venue, we believe that as public attitude changes, it will lead to produce better legislations and policies that can help and improve the day-to-day lives of all Canadians.”

Influencing policy would hopefully create faster change toward issues like institutional racism.

“Change usually happens from the top down,” said Abdulkadir. “This has to be a joint effort.”

Although publishing the paper is a huge part of the forum, the main point is to get people talking throughout the year and developing concrete solutions.

Song said, “We want to continue this dialogue and not have this as a one-off activity.”

Song said they also hope to launch workshops targeting segments of the population, like recent immigrants, youth, and seniors.

But the forum isn’t only focused on issues concerning the black community. “It’s open to all groups. It’s important we create that space for all groups to be invited,” said Song.

RSVP to register a spot: research.concordia.ab.ca/ciar-events/

Image Header: Left to right: Ahmed Abdulkadir, Dr. Sandra Song, and David Burry are organizing the Black History Month Celebration and the Social Justice Forum. | Rebecca Lippiatt

Black History Month Celebration

Edmonton City Hall

Feb. 10, beginning 11 a.m.

The 2nd Annual Social Justice Forum

Concordia University of Edmonton (7128 Ada Blvd.)

Feb. 11, 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m.

Feb. 12, 9 a.m.-12 p.m.