Black History Month: Acknowledging the history, honouring the contributions

·5 min read

Observance of Black History Month began in the United States as an opportunity to acknowledge, on a formal scale, the accomplishments and endurance of the Black people of America. Once known as Negro History Month, then African American History Month, the observance grew from the ideas of historian Carter G. Woodson and since 1976, every U.S. president has officially designated the month of February as Black History Month.

February is chosen for two important birthdays that occur in the same week: Abraham Lincoln, and Fredrick Douglass, an American social reformer, abolitionist, orator, writer, and statesman who escaped enslavement and became a national leader of the abolitionist movement in Massachusetts and New York.

But it was a little different in Canada.

Though many citizens of this country may believe that Canada was a bastion of freedom for those seeking refuge from enslavement in America, Black History Month is not just an opportunity to acknowledge the history that most Canadians want to believe, but also what they don’t.

For instance, Canada is built on the backs of those whose land was stolen, but also on the backs of those who were enslaved and forced to build it.

It was also these Black people that fought enslavement, and founded what Canadians now hope is a diverse and inclusive society.

Black people and their communities have shaped this nation since the arrival of Mathieu Da Costa, a navigator and interpreter, in the 1600s. The Loyalists who came here after the American Revolution and settled in the Maritimes were people of African descent, and soldiers of African descent have fought for this land as far back as the War of 1812.

But in Canada, observance of Black History Month did not begin in earnest until 1995, when the House of Commons officially recognized February as Black History Month in Canada, with a motion officially completed in parliament when 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.

This February, Sudbury.com will be bringing you the amazing stories of Sudbury’s Black history, as well as present and future. Look forward to videos and stories of the people who have made Sudbury the place it is, those who have come here and those who grew up here. Coverage of Black Lives Matter will be featured with a video of the year in review, as well as the Black arts collective in Sudbury, some tasty new recipes to try, and more.

The 2021 observance of Black History Month by the Canadian government is based on the theme ‘The Future is Now.’

Several politicians have issued statements regarding the month, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

“In February 2021, we mark the 25th anniversary since Jean Augustine, the first Black woman elected to the House of Commons, introduced a motion to designate every February as Black History Month. This year also marks the 75th anniversary of Viola Desmond resisting racial segregation and fighting injustice in Nova Scotia,” Trudeau said in a statement.

This year’s theme – The Future is Now – reminds us of the importance of learning about Black experiences in Canada, recognizing and addressing injustices, and building back better together, especially as we recover from the global COVID-19 pandemic. This is also an opportunity to highlight the incredible impact of young Black changemakers who took to the streets last year and continue to fight to make a difference. We felt their anger, heartbreak, and frustration, and heard their calls for accountability, justice, and equality. With the pandemic further highlighting social, health, and economic disparities for racialized Canadians, religious minorities, and Indigenous peoples, we know we must act now to address these complex and long-standing issues.”

Ontario Premier Doug Ford also released a statement to mark the month.

"Black History Month takes on even greater meaning with the events of the past year. It strengthens our resolve and our commitment to fight racial discrimination and intolerance in all its forms. By shining a light on the injustices committed against the Black community, both past and present, we can begin to heal wounds, promote intercultural understanding, and ultimately build bridges between communities,” Ford said.

“By empowering Black youth, we can ensure they play a prominent role in shaping a better future for our province. I encourage all Ontarians to take a moment and participate in the many virtual events available to celebrate Black History Month. They will allow us to learn more about the important role Ontarians and Canadians of African descent have played in the history of our great province."

Sudbury’s Mayor Brian Bigger also highlighted the contributions Black people have made in Canada and in Greater Sudbury.

“February is a month where as a city and community we recognize Black Canadians and their communities and celebrate their many achievements and contributions across our country, including here in Greater Sudbury. Through the amazing work and dedication of Black Canadians and their communities, we have become a welcoming, diverse and inclusive city,” Bigger said.”

“I do hope we are all able to safely celebrate, take part and spend this month to learn more about our shared history and focus on how we can all move forward as a community to ensure that our city thrives as a multi-cultural centre in the region that attracts current and new Canadians to the north where they can live, thrive and enjoy everything we have to offer.”

Jenny Lamothe is a Local Journalism Reporter at Sudbury.com, covering issues in the Black, immigrant and Francophone communities. She is also a freelance writer and voice actor.

Jenny Lamothe, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Sudbury.com