By Jenn Gorrie, July 1 2020—
Editor’s Note: Interviews were conducted via email. Content has been edited to reflect Canadian Press Style but the word choices and spelling of words that reflect the voice of the interviewee has been left largely unchanged.
“My name is Semhar but my friends call me Sem and I’m a proud Black woman,” said Semhar Mebrahtu at the beginning of her interview with the Gauntlet.
Mebrahtu is a 24-year-old African Canadian, born and raised in the northeast area of Calgary and having lived there almost her whole life, with the exception of a move to Vancouver in 2016 for a bit and then to Toronto. Mebrahtu has been participating in the Black Lives Matter protests taking place in Calgary. She gave a speech during the Candlelight Vigil on June 6 and has been attending all of the events alongside the Black community.
“Thank you for the spirits watching over me, I moved back home just in time before this coronavirus shut the world down,” she said. “In my spare time I meditate, read, curate playlists every Friday and volunteer within my community. Before quarantine came along, I was just starting a new job as a server but looking forward to a career that I am passionate for and to leave my impact on this earth.”
The Gauntlet: Why does the Black Lives Matter movement matter to you?
Semhar Mebrahtu: The Black Lives Matter movement matters to me because I am Black. Period. When I was a child, I never noticed a difference — just played and made friends. That changed as I started to enter my later teen years. Entering the club with my friends was difficult in our city, being the only black person in the room and having those weird stares. Then when I moved to Vancouver the same deal, plus women holding their purses when I come near them, and security always following me around wherever I go. Toronto was more judgemental than anything else really. [I needed] name changes to get call backs and [job] interviews.
I’ve had encounters with police in my life but nothing like what my brothers and sisters have gone through for decades.
G: How has the pandemic interfered with hosting/attending the events around the city?
SM: Every protest and vigil ensured to take all the right measures with Covid safety guidelines — water bottles, hand sanitizer, snacks, masks, ‘x’ spots for social distancing. I think everyone knew what they were gathering for was a great cause and took that leap of faith. I believe in Good Karma. We are gonna be alright.
G: What events did you attend and why?
SM: Every single one of them. I needed my community to lean back on at times like this. We are hurting and we are tired of grieving — crying every time there’s a new story and having my timeline flooded with all these headlines, some real, some fake. We want change and that starts within our own city.
G: What have you done differently during this time to help educate people?
SM: I have been making posts since Trayvon Martin. But something I wasn’t doing was having conversations with my diverse group of friends. I allowed the oppression within to continue. Not anymore — I’ve been having these talks and they are healthy to have, watching documentaries to educate myself and share with people. Educating yourself is key.
G: What did your speech focus on at the Olympic Plaza?
SM: It was a little lengthy, but I needed my, our, voices to be heard. Touching on some of my experiences throughout Canada, the injustices that have been happening in Amerikkka and the hidden racism within our own country. Educating yourself and having healthy talks with friends, no more taboo about racism let’s talk about it. I want a better future for my future and that starts with me, my city, Calgary. We want equality and fairness. We shouldn’t be treated the way we have been the last 400 years in the year 2020. I embrace my Blackness loud and proud. If I could pick the colour of my skin, I’d choose Black again and again and again!
G: With events taking place globally, what do you hope people will take away from it all?
SM: I hope people see the frustration, the tiredness, sadness and warrior in the victims of this race hate war. I want people to see we aren’t just making noise for no reason — we are standing up for what is right and that is for use to have rights that work with us and not against us. [I hope] that after the protests and social media coverage, the movement still pushes forward until the killings and oppression doesn’t.