Last week marked my second attendance at a Black History Month event in 2024. Amidst the vibrant performances and engaging discussions, a brief yet profound exchange with an elder attendee stirred contemplation. “We’re a multicultural society — shouldn’t we be celebrating everyone … together?” he mused.
This perennial question resurfaces each February: the necessity of Black History Month. It’s often perceived as a token gesture, a mere month dedicated to Black narratives, only to be shelved for the remainder of the year.
Nevertheless, these annual commemorations serve as more than a mere spotlight on Black communities. They offer a platform for learning, celebrating achievements, and recognizing contributions. In Canada, a multicultural mosaic, it’s paramount to acknowledge the diverse threads interwoven into the nation’s fabric.
Reflecting on my own schooling experience in Montreal, the absence of Black history from curricula was stark. An incident during Grade 8 underscored this deficiency when a teacher asserted that “Black people contributed nothing to Canada.” The silence that followed epitomized the void in understanding and representation.
However, a pivotal shift occurred the subsequent academic year with the appointment of a Black vice-principal and the introduction of Black History Week. This initiative ignited a journey of discovery into the rich tapestry of Black Canadian contributions.
Consider figures like Dr. Clement Courtenay Ligoure, Halifax’s pioneering Black doctor and publisher, or Elijah McCoy, whose innovative lubricating oil cup revolutionized railroad maintenance.