Young speaker urges making 'a change starting here' on Emancipation Day

·2 min read
Young speaker urges making 'a change starting here' on Emancipation Day

P.E.I. marked its first official Emancipation Day on Monday by celebrating not only freedom but also the diversity of Black culture on the Island.

Emancipation Day commemorates the 1834 abolition of slavery in the British Empire. P.E.I. is the fourth province to officially proclaim it. The proclamation came out of a private member's bill from Gord McNeilly, P.E.I.'s first Black MLA.

The bill passed in March.

Jane Robertson/CBC
Jane Robertson/CBC

"Freedom means that you belong, you are free to speak, you are free to be, and you are free in your own space, and we will cherish that on Prince Edward Island forever," said McNeilly.

A gathering to celebrate the day took place in Charlottetown's Rochford Square, which is adjacent to a neighbourhood previously known as the Bog. The Bog was home to a community of Black Islanders in the 19th century.

Jane Robertson/CBC
Jane Robertson/CBC

Ten-year-old Camaron Walker, born in Kingston, Jamaica, and an Islander since 2019, took to the stage and read a speech on the meaning of freedom to the crowd.

"Not being free feels like what you can do has a limit to it. People can make you feel like you have a limit to what you can truly do," he said.

"I know that freedom isn't all around the world, but we can make a change starting here."

Tamara Steele, executive director of the Black Cultural Society of P.E.I., said her group is working to make the history of the Bog real, noting the descendents of the families that lived in the community still live on Prince Edward Island.

Jane Robertson/CBC
Jane Robertson/CBC

She also drew attention to a display of flags at the event, which represented the diverse origins of Black Prince Edward Islanders.

"We are not one Black culture. We are many Black cultures that build and come together to make up the Black community of Prince Edward Island," said Steele.

"We are beautiful. We hold our own traditions and we bring them here to share with Prince Edward Island."

Jane Robertson/CBC
Jane Robertson/CBC

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

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CBC
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