In America, it is easy to see the discourse around Black culture and movements such as Black Lives Matter. However, in Canada, where there isn’t an equally prominent history of slavery or an equally large Black community as the U.S., celebrations of Black excellence can be eclipsed. So witnessing the Black community attend the launch of Black History Month Celebrations of 2016 at the Vancouver City Hall was great. The evening was full of music, food and light-hearted laughter as the Black community of Vancouver and the African diaspora were put in the spotlight.
The events were hosted by Vanessa Richards, who is a musician, an artist, a writer and heavily involved in community engagement. The events focused on resolving, or perhaps further complicating, topics such as race, culture and their relevancy in our current society. Mayor Gregor Robertson spoke of Vancouver’s history with the Black community and his hopes to reinvigorate historically Black neighbourhoods of Vancouver. Canada Post unveiled a stamp which celebrates the No. 2 Construction Battalion of all Black soldiers who volunteered to fight for Canada in World War II (pictured above) to commemorating Black History Month 2016. The list of speakers featured Dr. Kwadwo Ohene Asante who is known as an expert in Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. He gave his views on what being a part of the African diaspora means to him. The evening also included music by Kurai Mubaiwa, a musician from Zimbabwe who kicked off the evening with some infectious tunes. The City Soul Choir and the Marcus Mosely Chorale also performed, leaving everyone in high spirits. The event was followed by Ethiopian food for the guests.
Given that the mainstream media controls much of the discourse around Blackness and what it means to be Black specifically in America, it was refreshing to see the Black history of Canada also being acknowledged and honoured. While Canada cannot wash its hands clean of the discriminatory practices against Black Canadians in the past and even now, it can take steps to emphasize and acknowledge Black culture and the Black experience. Canadians are famous for coming together in a culturally rich mosaic and celebrating our differences, however the Black Canadian experience is rarely talked about. In what ways can we, as Canadians, engage with the history and culture of Black Canadians? As Richards described it, Black History Month celebrations are like birthday parties to acknowledge, support and celebrate the Black members of the Vancouver community.
Black History Month was designated a civic special event in February of 2011. There are many great events happening all over the city to celebrate. More information and details of events can be found here and here.