By Luis Armando Sanchez Diaz, February 7 2021—
Black History Month officially began on the first day of February and the Faculty of Arts at the University of Calgary is preparing a variety of online events. The events are open to all U of C members and aim to recognize the life and work of Black Canadians.
By holding these events, the university continues to follow their goal of acknowledging that “diversity, equity, inclusion, Indigenization and human rights have to be at the core of [our] mission” as expressed in the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion statement of the Faculty.
The celebrations will begin with several keynote speakers. Cynthia Okafor, a consultant and educator, will be the first of five speakers and will explore how “the Arts Faculty can foster a more anti-racist working and learning culture.”
In a conversation with the Gauntlet, Ebenezer Belayneh, a support student for the Equity and Diversity Committee within the Faculty of Arts, said that this year the faculty is putting a lot of effort and commitment into making Black History Month events possible.
“This year in particular, the Faculty of Arts is taking Black History Month very seriously — more than any other time in the last five years. I have never seen them prioritize Black History Month to this extent. It’s been an honour to be able to work with the faculty to host these events,” said Belayneh.
He continued by stating that the events the faculty will be hosting will serve as “an opportunity […] to listen, learn and understand and celebrate the achievements of members of the Black community, either presently or historical figures in the past.”
In addition to the events organized by the faculty, an art gallery will be on display.
“The faculty really wants to place an emphasis on celebrating Black people and their accomplishments this year and one of the ways that we are doing that, is to ask Black creators to submit their [work],” noted Belayneh.
The creators were able to submit their research, poetry, visual arts, photography and other artistic creations.
Belayneh, who also serves as the president of the Global Development Society at the U of C, is fighting along with other students and faculty members to save the African Studies program through new funding by the Students’ Union. He mentioned that the initiative his team submitted to the SU also considers future Black History Months.
“We are really excited, and we are really hoping that this will go through the SU so that we can secure enough money to make this something that is not just a one-time event or showcase. It can be continuous, it can be a consistent time of the year where we are placing an emphasis on celebrating Black people in our community.”
Should the initiative pass in April, a portion of the funds will be directed to fund new programs in future Black History Months.
When asked about the importance of the events to be held throughout February, Belanyeh noted how important it is to amplify the voices of Black academics. He also expressed happiness about others — particularly Black students — being able to learn about the accomplishments and “to be inspired and empowered by the speakers who are coming.”
Regarding the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Belayneh mentioned that it has definitely changed the way the events were organized but expressed that given the virtual format of the events, they might have greater participation.
“Anybody is allowed to come to this event, listen, learn and take notes,” he said. “We come to embrace our own Black community and all of the Black Canadians that have paved the way for minorities to be successful and that really have been trailblazers.”
Belanyeh noted that the way the faculty has prioritized these events and the investment they have put into them shows a high level of willingness on the part of the faculty to recognize the importance of Black History Month. He thinks the events will add to the learning opportunities for both students and faculty and that by listening to the keynote speakers, there can be a real impact made toward achieving a more equal society.
“With the recent resurgence of the prevalence of anti-Black racism within our society I think there’s never been a more important time to learn and to listen,” he concluded.
You can view and register for events here.