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

(Phil McLachlan/Capital News)
Murder charge laid in February 2020 stabbing death of Smithers man

Michael Egenolf is charged with the second-degree murder of Brodie Cumiskey

Island Health chief medical officer Dr. Richard Stanwick receives a first dose of Pfizer vaccine, Dec. 22, 2020. (B.C. government)
COVID-19: B.C. seniors aged 90+ can start to sign up for vaccination on March 8

Long-term care residents protected by shots already given

A health care worker prepares to test a Coastal GasLink field worker for COVID-19. (Coastal GasLink photo)
Coastal GasLink begins COVID screening of pipeline workers

Construction is once again ramping up following Northern Health approval of COVID management plan

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

Langley resident Carrie MacKay shared a video showing how stairs are a challenge after spending weeks in hospital battling COVID-19 (Special to Langley Advance Times)
VIDEO: Stairs a challenge for B.C. woman who chronicled COVID-19 battle

‘I can now walk for six (to) 10 minutes a day’

AstraZeneca’s vaccine ready for use at the vaccination centre in Apolda, Germany, Sunday, Feb. 28, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Michael Reichel/dpa via AP
National panel advises against using Oxford-AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine on seniors

NACI panel said vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna are preferred for seniors ‘due to suggested superior efficacy’

A public health order has extended the types of health care professionals who can give the COVID-19 vaccine. (Photo courtesy of CHI Franciscan)
‘It’s great that midwives are included’ in rollout of B.C.’s COVID vaccine plan, says college

The order will help the province staff the mass vaccination clinics planned for April

Shipping containers are seen at the Fairview Cove Container Terminal in Halifax on Friday, Aug. 25, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
Canadian economy contracted 5.4 per cent in 2020, worst year on record

Drop was largely due to shutdowns in the spring as COVID began to spread

The Nanaimo Clippers in action at Frank Crane Arena in early 2020. (News Bulletin file photo)
Nanaimo Clippers for sale, owner says hockey won’t be back to normal any time soon

Wes Mussio says he’s had numerous inquiries about the junior A club already

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s coronavirus situation, May 8, 2020. (B.C. government photo)
B.C.’s weekend COVID-19 cases: 532 Saturday, 508 Sunday, 438 Monday

Fraser Health still has most, eight more coronavirus deaths

B.C. Attorney General David Eby speaks in the legislature, Dec. 7, 2020. Eby was given responsibility for housing after the October 2020 provincial election. (Hansard TV)
B.C. extends COVID-19 rent freeze again, to the end of 2021

‘Renoviction’ rules tightened, rent capped to inflation in 2022

Face mask hangs from a rear-view mirror. (Black Press image)
B.C. CDC unveils guide on how to carpool during the pandemic

Wearing masks, keeping windows open key to slowing the spread of COVID-19

Churches, including Langley’s Riverside Calvary Church, are challenging the regulations barring them from holding in-person worship services during COVID-19. (Langley Advance Times file)

Most Read