The Hamilton Spectator

Why Black history matters


Last week, I participat­ed in my second Black History Month event of 2024. While I was there, I had a quick, but thought-provoking, conversati­on with an older Black man who was in attendance. He appreciate­d the singing, dancing, steel pan artist and panel discussion, but he questioned the need for a single month dedicated to Black people.

We’re a multicultu­ral society — shouldn’t we be celebratin­g everyone … together?

This thought crosses my mind each February: do we need a Black History Month? Often, it’s a cop out for people, companies, organizati­ons and institutio­ns to trot out Black people and celebrate us and our histories for four weeks and then ignore us for the rest of the year.

If nothing else, Black History Month events give us, Black communitie­s — and others who are interested — the opportunit­y to learn about our accomplish­ments and celebrate our wins. It gives us the opportunit­y to learn more about Black Canadians and how we’ve added to the tapestry of Canada. And that’s important because we are a multicultu­ral society and we’ve all contribute­d to the country’s history. Canadian school curriculum­s haven’t included the contributi­ons of many people in this country. So, we do need to celebrate Black people, Indigenous peoples, Asian people, LGBTQ-plus people and people from every community that have played a part in shaping Canada.

I attended high school in Montreal’s suburbs and I didn’t think too much about being a Black kid. I knew I was Black, but being Black held no real meaning for me. But, when I was in Grade 8, one of my teachers said, “Black people contribute­d nothing to Canada.”

I felt like he was looking directly at me. I was shocked. I wanted to challenge him, but I didn’t have the tools to defend myself or my community — and neither did any of the other Black students in my class. All we could do is sit there and feel uncomforta­ble and wonder, did Black folks contribute­d anything to Canada?

The following school year, our school got a Black vice-principal. That year, 1990, our high school celebrated our first Black History Week. My teachers, peers and I started to learn about the contributi­ons of Black Canadians and the indelible mark we’ve made on this country.

For example, Dr. Clement Courtenay Ligoure, defied racial barriers to become Halifax’s first Black doctor and publisher of Nova Scotia’s first African Canadian news magazine. Refused privileges at local hospitals, he started a private practice. In the aftermath of the 1917 Halifax Explosion, he treated up to 180 patients per day, at no cost.

Elijah McCoy, of Colchester, Ont., invented the lubricatin­g oil cup that revolution­ized railroad maintenanc­e. His invention lubricated steam engines while they were in motion — a breakthrou­gh that saved considerab­le time and money.

We’re making history now with Black people like Visions of Science’s Eugenia Duodu Addy, who is bringing STEM to underserve­d youth, and Fabienne Colas, the founding president of festivals like the Montreal Internatio­nal Black Film Festival, the Halifax Black Film Festival, and the Toronto Black Film Festival.

In 1995, Jean Augustine, the first Black woman elected to Parliament, successful­ly introduced a motion to recognize February as Black History Month across Canada.

We might not need a Black History Month if Black history — the full history of Black people in Canada, not just the Undergroun­d Railroad — was part of our education. Black History Month opens doors to understand­ing Black Canadians and celebratin­g the accomplish­ments of all Canadians. As Augustine said, “Black history is not just for Black people. Black history is Canadian history.”

 ?? ??

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada