By Fernando Moreno, March 2 2020—
Black History Month continues to leave a lasting mark on Alberta in just three short years since becoming officially recognized by the province in 2017. From being recognized thematically by multiple businesses such as Michaels, to events being held around the city by academics and other organizations, there is no sign of slowing down in the years to come. The campus abounded with various tributes and events relating to this month of recognition and work towards better integration and reconciliation. This month has been one of the most eventful Black History Months on campus yet.
The Faculty of Social Work held the Centering of Black Women’s Voices and Experiences event on Feb 14. This show has proven to be very popular as it was sold out. The panelists included Dr. Régine Uwibereyeho King, Patrina Duhaney, Lemlem Haile and Monique Minvielle. The Faculty of Social Work also held another event on Feb. 25, “Garnering Respect For the People and Communities of African Descent in Canada” with speaker Dr. David Este. Dr. Este enlightened his audience with stories of his disappointments and disillusionments of how things have not really changed much since the 1960s while also paying tribute to numerous other figures that advocate for better recognition of black history especially in the field of social work. According to Dr. Este “when we talk about the civil rights [movement] we automatically think the United States,” but he named Toronto, Halifax and Montreal as focal points in the movement and revolution.
The African-Caribbean Student Association (ACSA) in partnership with the Ethiopian-Eritrean Students’ Association (EESA) has been particularly active in keeping Black History Month to the attention of the campus community. They held a date auction in late January which raised almost $2000. They held their “Melanight” on Feb. 15 which is a celebration of culture through food, fashion and entertainment. Co-president Ife Adedipe hopes this becomes their annual gala. The night included a reception of relevant cultural cuisines, dance performances, poetry readings and ended with an open dance floor towards the end of the night. It was a chance to enjoy the food and dances from the local African and Caribbean communities. The proceeds will go to the Build Africa charity which seeks to oppose poverty through education.
“What Melanight aims to do is actually promote and celebrate the different cultures, heritages, food of the different regions we represent,” says Adedipe. “What we aim to do is bring people from campus of all kinds of backgrounds… as long as you have an interest in experiencing this different part of the world then you are more than welcome to come to Melanight.”
The work and accomplishments of these African-related clubs are far from limited to Black History Month. Throughout the semesters a lot of work is being done through separate and joint means. EESA has taken a role in helping with the academic portion.
“They create a space for our members… to actually branch out and form connections with different professionals, different students in undergraduate and graduate degrees and just basically giving more educational portion to our already vibrant and cultural goals,” Adedipe says.
ACSA has taken a significant role despite being a rather young club, dating only to 2018. The club seeks to create a space where students can excel and also feel at home.
“I think that education is important because if you don’t really know the logistics of the situation you’re in it’s definitely harder to find ways to escape that situation,” said Adedipe. Thus Build Africa seeks ways to access to the tools one has and to use those to tools to escape poverty.
Black History Month has not been without controversy. Some people see it as unnecessary, dated, misused as a platform for extremism and even claim it has only served to further segregate peoples of African and Caribbean descent in our communities. Adedipe argues for the contrary.
“Even though we would like to think that this world is more integrated,” Adedipe says, “in reality black people are still a minority and they still are a group that goes unrecognized, stereotyped and discriminated against.” This is not to say that other minority groups don’t have a reason to be celebrated as well however this month strives to recognize the importance of an often overlooked group in North American history. Groups like ASCA seek to find ways for black people to have a voice.
Although the goal of organizations like ASCA is to “address issues pertaining to our communities that includes specific niches within the large range of people we represent including black women,” and to build a “repertoire of events where we are addressing the most pertinent issues pertaining to our members and [the] communities we represent,” they are also very inclusive and not militant.
Ife goes on to say that, “There are a whole myriad of issues pertaining to a specific group of individuals and it would be a disservice to not have events catered toward addressing those problems. Our goal is to make sure that we create a voice for African-Caribbean students on campus and have events that address these communities… and from there [ACSA] could be a point of reference for the university to actually include the perspective of our students creating better services that represent every single culture. Black history Month is garnered towards creating a [voice and movement] for the black community to move up and stand against historical oppression.”
Adedipe added, “Even though we would like to believe that racism is going away… in reality it’s just as strong as it was it’s just that we are more aware of it.” This has allowed people to be more prepared to address the serious issues that weren’t as spoken of in the past.
Black History Month serves as a platform to bring attention to an important conversation surrounding mitigating the problems that still go on today. Through events such as Speak Your Truth, many controversial topics have been brought to light. The month has served as a means of improving communication and dialogue to better understand and bring reconciliation of different perspectives without judgement. By holding events that get many people from campus involved, it “forms part of integrating the black community within the campus community so that segregation starts to starts to lessen,” said Adedipe.
A divide is not desired but rather an environment where everyone feels comfortable with each other “without diluting their own cultural identity […] We’re trying to create a space where people see the strengths of each other’s cultures and the overall picture of each other’s cultures” in order “to celebrate them for what they are instead of what we think they should be,” Adedipe explained.
One issue mentioned frequently is how being black fits into the standards of beauty. “Our beauty in the international sense doesn’t fit in with the standard beauty that has been accepted and adopted in western societies and cultures” explains Ife.
Speak Your Truth allowed attendants to hear various perspectives and work towards making people feel comfortable with what they are. The conversations are intended to break down barriers. “Our natural beauty as black women is being seen more as something that is beautiful rather than something that needs to be changed,” Dr. Este says. Historically and even in the present “conceptions of beauty were not related to blackness.”
A lot has happened in recent months that show have demonstrated a global progression despite how many of the speakers feel there is still so far to go. Adedipe is South African born and Nigerian by descent, and was proud to see the winner of the Miss Universe pageant win with her natural hair. “I could not help but feel pride and especially the fact that she did the pageant in her natural kinky hair which has never been seen before,” she said. “A lot of components of the world are moving towards breaking down these barriers between which ethnicity or which race is more beautiful or more superior but really acknowledging an individual for the qualities that they display from the inside out,” said Adedipe.
As Black History Month draws to a close, there seems to be no signs of slowing momentum for how the communities are reaching out locally and beyond. The spirit of what the month is about continues on throughout the rest of the year.