Viola Desmond, often described as Canada’s Rosa Parks for her 1946 decision to sit in a whites-only section of a Nova Scotia movie theatre, is shown in this undated handout image provided by Communications Nova Scotia. Black Canadian leaders and artists say a lot work needs to be done when it comes to how Black History Month is taught and celebrated in Canada, and how we honour Black trailblazers such as Desmond. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - Communications Nova Scotia MANDATORY CREDIT

Viola Desmond, often described as Canada’s Rosa Parks for her 1946 decision to sit in a whites-only section of a Nova Scotia movie theatre, is shown in this undated handout image provided by Communications Nova Scotia. Black Canadian leaders and artists say a lot work needs to be done when it comes to how Black History Month is taught and celebrated in Canada, and how we honour Black trailblazers such as Desmond. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - Communications Nova Scotia MANDATORY CREDIT

Black leaders and artists reflect on Black History Month in 2021

For many Black Canadians, this year especially can be deeply personal and nuanced

What is the significance of Black History Month in 2021?

Eight months after the groundswell of social activism sparked by the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minn., it’s a question that holds many answers.

For many Black Canadians, each one can be deeply personal and nuanced.

We asked some Black Canadian leaders and artists to offer their perspectives on both celebrating and contending with our country’s own Black history and the path forward in the years to come:

Celina Caesar-Chavannes

Who: Former Liberal MP and author of memoir “Can You Hear Me Now?”

“(Black History Month) should have a new meaning for a lot of people, especially when we consider the context that we’re living in. We’ve been having Black History Month all year. Right? However, I don’t think we’ve been actually having the ‘history’ part. We’ve been having conversations about racism. But I don’t think we’ve been digging deep into the history from a Canadian perspective… If we were to do this correctly, we would leverage Black History Month this year to understand the root causes of present-day trauma. You can’t move forward when most of the people don’t understand what we’re moving forward from.”

Duane (D.O) Gibson

Who: Hip-hop musician, and motivational speaker about Black history at Canadian schools.

“I want Black Canadian history to be something we continuously learn. A lot of times, we gravitate towards headlines and tags. I like to go a little bit deeper. (For example,) we learn Viola Desmond sat down in a movie theatre, but are we asking ourselves why she was out of town? Well, it’s because she was a Black business woman at a time where there was not a lot of Black business people. (She’s) a trailblazer and I think it’s important to recognize her contributions as an entrepreneur.”

Aly Ndiaye

Who: Hip-hop artist known as Webster and author of “Le Grain de Sable,” a children’s book about Olivier Le Jeune, Canada’s first documented Black slave.

“Black History Month is important because it’s the time of the year where we can focus on the history. But it’s too easy for people to step in, in February, and step out in March. We have to bring it to the people through pop culture, whether it be songs, through films or through drama (theatre). Art is more digestible for the people. If you shoot a movie about it you probably will have more people watch the movie than read the book about this history. If you decide to tell this history through song, you have a lot of people who will be able to learn to that song.”

READ MORE:Cineplex curates Black History Month slate of films; partners with The Black Academy

Dominique Fils-Aime

Who: Quebec singer whose doo-wop and soul record “While We Wait,” due Feb. 12, completes a trilogy of albums on Black-American music.

“From the beginning, I realized that I was not satisfied with (what) we could find in books when it came to Black history. All the information I didn’t necessarily learn in school was trapped in another format. It’s as if the emotional history is trapped in music. Every one of these albums came out during February, and it was to underline the connection with the music and the musical genres that we are kind of paying tribute to in a way. I think as long as people are opening their mind, stepping into this month willing to discover, learn or celebrate something, the goal has been achieved.”

Natasha Henry

Who: President of the Ontario Black History Society

“We are at this juncture, given what we’re coming off of this past spring in summer, that needs to go beyond learning. We need to be involved with, and demand, that some substantive action and change take place from governments and institutions. I would like to see a real and intentional and critical centring of Black History Month that helps to move things forward. It’s not just a celebration, it’s not just food. And it’s not just in music. It’s picking it up critically in a way to help effect change.”

– These interviews have been condensed and edited for clarity.

David Friend, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Black History Month

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Discover Camping reservation service opens March 8 for the 2021 camping season. (The News files)
Camping reservations for B.C. parks opens March 8

Busy season expected again this year for Golden Ears Provincial Park in Maple Ridge

FILE – A COVID-19 vaccine being prepared. (Olivia Sullivan/Sound Publishing)
B.C. seniors 80 years and older to get COVID vaccine details over next 2 weeks: Henry

Province is expanding vaccine workforce as officials ramp up age-based rollout

More affordable rental housing is needed in Maple Ridge says a city report. (Black Press Media files)
Report calls for more affordable housing for seniors and families in Maple Ridge

BC Housing conducting virtual dialogue sessions for Maple Ridge residents

Carnival and midway at the Ridge Meadows Home Show. (The News files)
Ridge Meadows Home Show a no-go this year

Executive director Cass Winder disappointed, but hopeful for next year

Construction workers have begun work to repair the Art Infiniti Hotel on the Lougheed Highway in Maple Ridge. (Neil Corbett/The News)
Work underway to repair Maple Ridge hotel damaged by fire

Cause of Art Infiniti hotel fire still under investigation

B.C. health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and health minister Adrian Dix wore pink shirts to showcase this year’s motto: “Lift each other up.” (Twitter/PinkShirtDay)
PHOTOS: B.C. celebs take a stand against bullying on Pink Shirt Day

‘We need to let young people know they are not alone and they can reach out to others for help’

Travis Selje with Rex, the family dog he got to enjoy for the final six months of his life. (Submitted photo)
Defence says evidence ‘compelling, overwhelming’ to acquit Surrey woman in deadly crash

Epileptic seizure caused fatal crash that killed Travis Selje, lawyer argues in final submissions

Two women were arrested in Nanaimo for refusing to wear masks and causing disturbance on a BC Ferries vessel. (File photo)
B.C. ferry passengers arrested and fined for disturbance, refusing to wear masks

Police said woman threatened their pensions in Feb. 21 incident aboard Nanaimo-bound boat

Justin Morissette is still recovering from the injuries sustained in the altercation. He is not yet able to walk without assistance. (Justin Morissette, Twitter)
B.C. man suing city and police over violent altercation with anti-LGBTQ preacher

Justin Morissette argues police knew the threat the preacher posed, and failed to keep the peace

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

A male customer without a face mask is seen inside a Burnaby Canadian Tire amidst an altercation with store security and staff members. (Video/Screen grab)
VIDEO: Man arrested after allegedly punching Burnaby Canadian Tire staff over mask rule

Mounties received reports Monday of a customer having punched more than one employee

Jack Barnes, who was Cowichan Valley Capitals property from May 2020 until last week, scores a goal for the Penticton Vees during the 2019-20 BCHL season. (Brennan Phillips/Black Press)
COVID-crunched BCHL facing trade deadline dilemma with its 20-year-olds

Hard decisions loom when BCHL may or may not resume play

UBC Okanagan students are among the most food insecure in Canada, according to a new study by UBC.
(Phil McLachlan - Capital News)
UBC Okanagan students among most food insecure in Canada

42.3 per cent either can’t properly feed themselves, or are worried they will soon run out of money

Most Read