(The Evolution of Black History Month Celebrations in Edmonton was written and provided to the Alberta Avenue Business Association by Diversity Magazine)
On December 8, 2016, the Canadian Government announced that a woman of
African descent, clothed in dark bright silky skin, Viola Desmond, will be
the new face on the Canadian $10 bill from 2018. Canada Post developed a
special postage paid postcard featuring poet, author, journalist and
fearlessly determined activist, Carrie Best in 2011. These events all have
racial inclination – the actors are of African descent and invested all
they have on the line to fight for racial equality in Canada and are
celebrated every February during Black History Month.
Welcome to Black History Month 2017!
During Black History Month, Canadians in general and Edmontonians in
particular, take the time to celebrate 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.
Black History Month (BHM) Origin
BHM is an annual observance in the United States, Canada, and the United
Kingdom for remembrance of important people and events in the history of
the African diaspora. It is celebrated annually in the United States and
Canada in February, and the United Kingdom in October. In 1926, United
States historian, Carter G. Woodson, and the Association for the Study of
Negro Life and History, announced the second week of February to be "Negro
History Week." Over time, Negro History Week has evolved into BHM.
Carter G. Woodson was quoted in Negro History Week, "If a race has no
history, it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in
the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated”.
Between 1840 and 1860, before the American Civil War, enslaved Africans
followed the North Star on the Underground Railroad to find freedom in
Canada. It was not an actual railroad but a secret network of routes and
safe houses that helped people escape slavery and reach Canada to be free.
In 1995, after a motion by politician Jean Augustine ofCanada's House of
Commons, officially recognized February as Black History Month and
honoured Black Canadians. In 2008, Senator Donald Oliver moved to have the
Senate officially recognize Black History Month, which was unanimously
Overwhelmed with sub-zero temperatures, slippery icy roads and very busy
schedules, every year, Edmontonians are invited to participate in Black
History Month events that honor the legacy of black people, past and
present. From my time in Belgium and the UK, celebrations of black
achievement were close to non-existent. When I moved to Edmonton, it
became apparent that Black History Month makes sense and should be given
The irresistible passion and the leadership of National Black Coalition
(NBCC) Edmonton Chapter trademarked by their colorful booklet, Gospel
Concerts, Celebration Brunch and Awards of Excellence, led the show. In
2017, BHM launch will take place on Saturday, from noon to 6 PM at West
Edmonton Mall. A host of supporters and volunteers of NBCC attracted me to
my very first Black History Month launch at Londonderry Mall, Edmonton, in
2011. There, I met the tireless and exciting organizer in chief (for 10
years now), Joy Thomas. I visited exhibition's tables, had lots of fun as
I listened to informative and educative presentations on the achievements
of people of African descent across the world as I joined hundreds of
people from all races to enjoy fantastic artistic performances from music
to poetry. 2013 and 2014 have seen NBCC launch BHM in West Edmonton Mall.
Since 2011, my Black History Month involvement in Edmonton has witnessed
the proliferation of activities through various events. "Black History
Month is not only a period of celebration; it is also a period of
remembrance to make sure it does not happen again", Nii Koney, a local
Edmonton Historian and founder of Nile Valley Foundation, an organization
that has worked tirelessly to get black history in schools and now has a
section in Edmonton Achieves Library. Each year, during BHM, Nile Valley
celebrates the triumph of the human spirit¬ themed to remember five
hundred years of trans-Atlantic slave trade and to say never again.
Afro Quiz usher the kids into the past. Organized by Council of Canadians
of African and Caribbean Heritage (CCACH), Afro Quiz is an annual quiz
competition that celebrates the rich history of people of African descent
across the globe. AfroQuiz Silver Fundraising Gala will take place on
Saturday, January 28, from 6 PM to 1 AM at La Cité Francophone in
Where there are young people, there is passion and energy! Africa Centre
Edmonton use to be active on the BHM agenda with A 2014 events that
brought out its YEG youth group into action with a focus on challenging
and redefining what is "black".
Arts bring life! Darren Jordan has been presenting the BHM artistic
dimension through the event, 5 Artists 1 Love, for the last 10 years. The
event showcases black visual artists. The visual arts component gives the
Artists the opportunity to have their work showcased and promoted on a
large scale, as well as highlighting the cultural diversity within the
community. The “Evolution” version of the show will take place on February
18, 2017, at MacLab Theatre in Edmonton.
Where there are women, there is energy! Black History Month would not go
well without bringing in women to spice it up. This is where The Congress
of Black Women of Canada, Edmonton Chapter comes in for several years now
before running out of steam. "The Congress has developed a positive
working relationship with faith based group. To constantly re-examine its
objectives and purpose and adjust its efforts accordingly", Maureen Braun,
member of the Edmonton Chapter.
Within the last couple of years, African fashion has taken its place on
the BHM calendar, led by Giles Wouanko, with the next show scheduled for
February 24, 2017, at the Sutton Place Hotel in Edmonton.
Ahmed Abdulkadir and the Ogaden Somali Community of Alberta has flavoured
the BHM landscape with some intellectual dimension through their Annual
Social Justice Forum. 2017 edition will be held at Concordia University of
Edmonton on February 11-12, in Edmonton.
MLA David Shepherd representing Edmonton Centre has been sharing a
petition calling on the Alberta Government to create and pass legislation
establishing an annual African-Canadian Heritage Day. The petition will be
tabled in the Legislature at the start of 2017 Spring Session. “This is a
fantastic opportunity for all of our communities to come together to
celebrate the heritage, history and ongoing contributions of Albertans of
African descent, and it’s my hope that you’ll stand with me to make
it happen,” MLA David Shepherd shared at the Kenyan Independence Day event
on December 3, 2016.
Let me finish with this story of Viola Desmond to show how far Canada has
come in the racism and equality journey. She went to see a movie in a
segregated theatre; the floor seats were for whites only and people of
African descent were confined to the balcony. Ms. Desmond was shortsighted
and needed a better view, and tried to buy a floor seat, but was refused
because of her skin colour. She then bought a balcony seat (which was one
cent cheaper) but sat in the floor area until the theatre staff called the
police and had her dragged out. She spent 12 hours in jail and was charged
and convicted of tax evasion over a single penny. In 2010, Nova Scotia
gave her a free pardon and the Lieutenant Governor, also of African
descent signed it into law. On December 8, 2016, the federal government
announced that she’ll be the new face on the Canadian $10 bill in 2018.
Article from Diversity Magazine