This month marks the 28th official Black History Month in Canada. The theme for this year is “Ours to Tell.” An excellent choice with “telling” the operative word. To us the word implies another in the theme. That word is “story”.
There is a tendency to treat or think of storytelling as a practice belonging in the children’s domain, when the truth is that every time we hit the keyboard or “put pen to paper” – considered a quaint expression these days – we are telling a story. Whether it’s fact or fiction, science, mathematics or politics, we are telling a story. Or put another way: it’s “a narrative, either true or fictitious, in prose or verse, designed to interest, amuse, or instruct the hearer or reader.”
To that end, we’ve asked our friends, members of our community, to tell us their stories in a month dedicated to a community that has overcome a great deal of historical abuse; then to emerge triumphant in all aspects of life, with eyes to the sun, and a sense of humour that testify to their humanity and a love of life.
When we speak of community, we mean that large community that traces some element of its being to Africa, now dispersed around the world. There to endure enslavement, free themselves, build countries, and take their place, with pride, in the vast expanse of the human family.
Without going into the deliberate omission of Black people from the histories written by the dominant class, it’s enough to say that from the day the first African was enslaved and shipped to the four corners of the earth, they have hung on to elements of their culture, endured and told their stories. Black History Month or African Heritage Month is the most recent chapter in this cultural reclamation project.
For that we give praise to African American Dr. Carter Woodson, historian, author and journalist, who in 1926 came up with the idea of writing Black America into the country’s history and celebrating Black achievement. Woodson’s idea grew from Black History Week to the Black History Month we’ve come to know.
Nova Scotia, which has the oldest settlement of Africans in Canada, celebrated its first Black History Month in 1988 and renamed it African Heritage Month in 1996.
In 1995, The House of Commons officially recognized February as Black History Month following a motion introduced by the Jean Augustine, the first Black Canadian woman elected to Parliament. And then in 2008, following a motion by Nova Scotia Senator Donald Oliver, the first Black Canadian appointed to the Senate, Black History Month was officially declared.
The passage of time has seen the BHM celebrations spread to every province. Stories have been written about accomplishments by Black people in every human endeavor. Many of the narratives are sad tales tempered by moments of exhilaration and heroism; in short, the life of a living, breathing, normal people.
To us, being normal should be the end result of all the wonderful activities and beautiful stories that are told about Black people and their rightful place in Canada and the world.
The point is that the stories are not to say that Black people are better than anybody else. No, the stories should be told to prove that they are normal and therefore human. Because that’s what we all are.
We look forward to hearing these stories.