Black History Month: Shades of Resistance

Black History Month: Shades of Resistance

By: Betelhem Wondimu

The Lakehead University Student Union-Orillia presents Black History Month: Shades of Resistance, a period dedicated to celebrating and highlighting black students and black folks within Lakehead and the community at large. We will be celebrating black culture, art, and achievements of the black community, and the continuous resistance that persists against systemic forms of oppression.

Within the Canadian historical context, people of African descent have made immense contributions to shaping of the Canadian heritage and identity as early as 1600s with the arrival of Mathieu Da Costa, a black navigator and interpreter. The erasure of the key contributions black people have made to the Canadian landscape from their violent enslavement to the sacrifices of black loyalists continues to persist to this day. This is a historic fact of which only a handful of Canadians are aware.

The conception of the commemoration of Black History Month dates back to 1926, when Harvard-educated African American historian Carter G. Woodson proposed setting aside a time devoted to honour the accomplishments of African Americans and to heighten awareness of Black history in the United States. This led to the establishment of Negro History Week in 1926. Celebrations of Black history began in Canada shortly thereafter. During the early 1970s, the week became known as Black History Week. It was expanded into Black History Month in 1976. It was only in 1995 that the House of Commons officially recognized February as Black History Month in Canada following a motion introduced by the first Black Canadian woman elected to Parliament, the Honourable Jean Augustine, which was carried unanimously by the House of Commons. In February 2008, Senator Donald Oliver, the first Black man appointed to the Senate, introduced the Motion to Recognize Contributions of Black Canadians and February as Black History Month. It received unanimous approval and was adopted on March 4, 2008. The adoption of this motion completed Canada’s parliamentary position on Black History Month.

Despite the years of celebration of Black History Month celebrations, the lingering question continues to be, “Why do we celebrate Black History Month? We don’t have white history month?” This is the only month set aside to recognize and honour the past of a people who were brought to this country in political bondage. This month allows each and every Canadian to celebrate the rich traditions of African Canadians while at the same time celebrating those aspects of their own culture around their own positive contributions to society. Black History Month is a time for people of African ancestry to come together and reflect on our rich past – a past that has often been hidden from us. It is a time that provides us, and the various communities around us, with the opportunity to learn of our many contributions and accomplishments, which historically have been taken for granted.

Black History Month is a period when the younger generation shares and learns from the elders of our community about our rich heritage through the art of storytelling. It is a time for us to mourn and heal from the unjust and violent displacement slavery of ancestors and recognize the present day systemic forms of oppression that continue to kill, displace, and hold us in bondage even without the chains.

Thus in our planning the activities for this month, the intersectionality of the lived experiences of black folks is the epicenter of the discussions we hope to create. The week will begin with the tabling by our united for equity panel on the 13th of February and continuing tabling throughout the month, followed by Black Love Matters and Self Love Day on the 14th. There will be workshops titled Resistance is Existence and Black Art Matters on the 16th, followed by a Black History Month movie night. Social media events will be happening throughout reading break. The month will conclude with Melissa Robbyn-Giselle Theodore, a guest speaker who will give workshops on intersectionality. Throughout the month everyone is welcome at these events and if you have any questions or concerns please email ocampaigns@lusu.ca.

Schedule of the upcoming Black History Month events at Lakehead Orillia. PC: copyright LUSU