Black Lives Matter YYC celebrates Emancipation Day, but says fight for freedom is not over

Calgarian poet Adetola Adedipe performs at Black Lives Matter YYC's second annual Emancipation Day picnic on Aug.1, 2022. (James Young/CBC - image credit)
Calgarian poet Adetola Adedipe performs at Black Lives Matter YYC's second annual Emancipation Day picnic on Aug.1, 2022. (James Young/CBC - image credit)

Black Lives Matter YYC hosted its second annual Emancipation Day Picnic Saturday at Calgary's Lougheed House, but one organizer says the fight for freedom is not over yet.

Adora Nwofor, president of BLM YYC, says while many Albertans may celebrate Aug. 1 as Heritage Day, Emancipation Day should be more widely recognized.

"We're celebrating the end of slavery, the end of harm. But quite frankly, we are not fully emancipated anymore because we are still living our lives in oppression with racism, with ableism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia," Nwofor said.

"We're trying to reimagine what emancipation wholly for each and every one of us can be."

Aug. 1 marks the anniversary of the British Empire ending slavery.

On that day in 1834, the Slavery Abolition Act came into effect, freeing hundreds of thousands of enslaved people across the world, including in Canada. Last year, the federal government voted to recognize Aug. 1 as Emancipation Day.

The Emancipation Day picnic at Lougheed House featured local vendors, live music, comedy and other performances.

Sharing poetry and life experiences

Calgarian poet Adetola Adedipe performed some of her work at Saturday's picnic. Adedipe said it's important for everyone — not just the Black community — to celebrate Emancipation Day and recognize Canada's history of slavery.

"A lot of Canadians actually don't know that there was slavery in Canada," she said.

"Events like this are for everyone to come to learn, to engage in culture, to support Black business."

James Young/CBC
James Young/CBC

As an immigrant to Canada, Adedipe said celebrating this day is important to her as she recognizes how much has changed for African diaspora over the centuries.

"Even though I'm now here in this country of opportunity, if I were to have come here at a certain time in the past … I would have been a slave, which is insane to think about," she said.

"So just my presence here, our presence here, is so magical."

Adedipe read several poems at the event, including one about her experience as a new immigrant in Canada, and another inspired by Nigerian women artists in Calgary.

'Fighting for every Black person'

While times have changed, Nwofor said the Black community in Calgary still faces great oppression.

Violence against Black people does not just happen in the United States, she said, noting how Sudanese immigrant Latjor Tuel was shot and killed by Calgary police in February while in mental distress. The incident is under investigation by the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team.

"Emancipation has not been experienced en masse by people within the Black community," she said.

"I'm still fighting for every Black person, and I won't stop."

James Young/CBC
James Young/CBC

Nwofor said events like Saturday's picnic are important to provide spaces for Black Calgarians to come together and share their experiences.

"People don't feel safe to talk about their issues. They don't feel safe to be joyful and loud and take up space in their own homes in our city," she said.

"We should be having places where Black people feel like they can collect and do whatever they want on their own terms more often."