For many years I didn't know what it meant to be a black person in Canada. Only after many years of research, have I come to know what it is to celebrate Black History.
Black History Month commemorates the many leaders who fought and died for the freedom of Black people. It began in the United Sates as "Negro History Week" in February 1926, under the leadership of African American visionary and scholar Dr. Carter G. Woodson. His goal was to raise awareness and understanding in the school curriculum of African Americans and their contributions around the world. The United States formally began to celebrate African History Month in the 1960's.
It also recognizes the historical role which Canada played in the liberation of a people searching for freedom. When freedom fighter, Harriet Tubman set her people on the Underground Railroad, her cry to them was 'if you want a taste of freedom, keep on going' - the country they ran to was Canada.
During the early 1970s, the week became known as Black History Week. It was expanded into Black History Month in 1976.
In December 1995, the House of Commons officially recognized February as Black History Month, following a motion introduced by the first black Canadian woman elected to Parliament, the Honourable Jean Augustine. The motion was carried unanimously by the House of Commons.
In February 2008, Senator Donald Oliver, the first black man appointed to the Senate, introduced a motion to have the Senate officially recognize February as Black History Month. It received unanimous approval and was adopted on March 4, 2008.
So, after all of that, where do I really stand now with Black History Month??
Well, when I think about black history, I generally think about the way things used to be for black people in the past. The historical events like Rosa Parks - allowing black people the right to sit anywhere on a public bus - like Martin Luther King Jr. and the March on Washington ending with his speech about black people being allowed to be free, to work, live, walk, eat and be a part of the country they live in with racial harmony - like Harriet Tubman and her wonderful efforts with the underground railroad and the journey to free so many slaves to a new and better life in Canada.
I am wondering then, why are there still so many injustices happening to the black people in our society? The first nations people? The asian people? When will it all end? As a young child, I witnessed first hand how society treats people who are different, who don’t quite “fit in.” what do I mean you wonder - being a child of colour was difficult because the other children name called, picked on, and teased me about the colour of my skin, the kinkiness of my hair, and how weird or different I was. What did I know and what kid wants to go through school feeling weird and being called different!? It was tough and I realized, after many years of soul searching and heartaches, the way for me to make a difference in the world was to write the books I am writing. To bring out the messages of believing in yourself first before anything anyone else says or wants for you. Yes, I have an adoption theme in my stories but my key message to all who read the stories is that of encouragement for all children to believe in what is inside of them!!
Having been invited to contribute in the Black History Month Celebrations across Kelowna and as an author who has messages of empowerment and inspiration to bring to all children, I am thrilled to be able to partake in a variety of presentations introducing people in the community, the educators, support workers, families, and, of course, the children, to the series of books that will, in the end, build a positive self esteem and positive self confidence in children. What an opportunity this is for me to be a part of enriching a child's life by bringing the idea of believing in oneself starting at a young age rather than waiting until growing up and trying to figure it all out!
As Kelowna celebrates this month, gathered below you will find some of the fabulous Black Canadian Authors who have come to partake in the celebrations including: Austin Clarke, Giller Award winner for his published work, The Polished Hoe; Mairuth Sarsfield, author of No Crystal Stair, a part of the Canada Reads 2005 list; myself, for my contribution of Why Can't You Look Like Me; Kevan "Scruffmouth" Cameron, poet, performer, and writer of upcoming release New Word Order, Charmaine Lurch, artist and educator who brings form and grace in her artwork, one of her most impressive Coloured, and Gail Nyoka, award winning playwright and children's author of Mella and N'anga: an African Tale.