By Grace Kabengele, February 21 2021—
For Black students at the University of Calgary, February marks Black History Month. Thus, in observance of the contributions, achievements and lived experiences of Black Canadians, the Faculty of Arts will be celebrating Black History Month with a series of virtual events. For the purpose of this article I want to highlight a specific event: Black History Month – Let’s Talk: Black Excellence Panel Discussion.
For Faculty of Arts representative Fayo Abi and Equity and Diversity Committee Support student Ebenezer Belayneh, this Black Excellence Panel was an opportunity for the student population at the University of Calgary to “see themselves represented in positions of power, whether that may be in the healthcare sector, non-profit sector, the business or corporate sector,” Belayneh states. The Black Excellence panel gives a platform to Black trailblazers across the country to inspire Black excellence.
The featured panelists were chosen with an understanding of the diverse careers of Black trailblazers within Canada, and in recognition of the diverse programs and environment of the Faculty of Arts. The featured panelists include Maryam Tsegaye, Wunmi Idowu, Yvana Nganou, Dr.Kannin Osei-Tutu and a bonus panelist, Jae Sterling. Tsegaye is a high-school student enrolled in Fort McMurray and Winner of the 2020 Breakthrough Junior Challenge. Idowu is the Founder and Director of Woezo Africa Music & Dance Theatre Inc. and Nganou is a Market Specialist at Facebook and a former Trade Commissioner at Global Affairs Canada who specialized in West African trading markets. Osei-Tutu is the Alberta chapter president of the Black Physicians of Canada, and a practitioner of acute in-patient medicine and medical aesthetics with a focus on facial contour and rejuvenation. And finally, the bonus panelist, Jae Sterling is an all-around Black creative, an artist, rapper, musician and painter that will further diversify the panel.
When speaking about the importance and limitations of Black Excellence, Abdi and Belayneh highlight the importance of the diversification of the term Black Excellence.
“We didn’t want the panel to just be, ‘I am a teacher,’ ‘I am a doctor’, ‘I am a lawyer,’ and for that to be the only definition of excellence,” says Abdi. She continues, “We are including people in careers that may not be traditionally accepted, embraced or celebrated within the Black community.”
The Black Excellence Panel is meant to facilitate movement away from the linear mindset of the Black community, which has often limited the promotion and experience of Black excellence to particular fields of study.
At first glance, the appearance of a Black Excellence panel directs the viewership to Black community members, however, the panel may reach the student community at large. For students, the panel is meant to encourage them to de-stigmatize traditional positions and to recognize that Black and racialized individuals are given a position with qualifications that are meant for the position they’ve received. It is meant to invoke an understanding of how overqualified Black people have to be to get these positions.
“This is not a Black thing,” Abdi remarks. The Black History Month events were meant for all — not simply Black people — to become aware of the history and importance of Black history, whether it may be Black history in America, Canada or Alberta. Through this event, they call attention to finding one’s own initiative and drive to seek education, even if this may be outside of the traditional education system.
“Our hope is that all of these events incentivize people to start acting, to start making changes to their clubs, faculties, departments. We want these events to lead to action,” Belayneh continues. The Black Excellence Panel Discussion will be held over Zoom on Feb. 23 from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. You can register for the event here.