In the past year, modern technology has documented the blatant and systemic racism Black individuals have experienced for centuries. Particularly, the Black community has faced the loss of Black lives to police brutality and the Covid-19 pandemic’s disproportionate impact in 2020.
The deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Tony McDade, alongside numerous other Black Americans, at the hands of the police, led to a powerful civil rights movement advocating for police reform. Black Lives Matter protests were met with even more police violence, prepositioned military defense, and tear gas. However, only a few months later, predominantly white insurrectionists were greeted with an outnumbered police presence and managed to break into and vandalize the U.S. capitol building. In 2021, the rights and sanctity of Black lives is still a debate.
Black History Month is a time to reflect on the struggle, loss, and double standards that Black communities face each day. However, these challenges are not the only purpose of this important time of year. When it comes to Black history, there is a beckoning bright second half that often goes unnoticed. In 1926, Harvard graduate Carter G. Woodson took action to address the single narrative of struggle by proposing a new kind of Black remembrance centered on Black accomplishments, contributions, and triumphs. That February in 1926, Woodson called for a week dedicated to positive Black history. By the 1940s, there were efforts to transform that week into a month-long celebration. These efforts gained momentum in the 1960s at the height of the civil rights movement. Beginning with President Gerald Ford in 1976, every U.S. president has since issued a proclamation honouring February as Black History Month. Canada followed suit in 1995, designating February as Black History Month in the House of Commons.
Black History Month creates a time and space for learning and unlearning. For many Black students in the classroom, there is a lack of true representation in history books and discourse. Their entire ancestry is often summarized as being victims of slavery and the Jim Crow laws of racial segregation. Black people are often generalized as “Black,” without a distinction between African, Caribbean, Afro-LatinX, and African American culture. Even history from the continent itself is generalized as “African,” without a distinction between various regions or any of Africa’s 54 diverse countries. The Black Lives Matter movement has enabled the Black community to communicate their exhaustion in being generalized, labeled, and pigeonholed to one narrative. Whether it’s struggle, ethnicity, or triumph, the community is nuanced, and that must be acknowledged.
Black History Month is a time for celebration. Celebrating the Black music, fashion, art, research, and innovation that is inextricably intertwined into Canadian culture. Black History Month urges credit to be given where it’s due—not only in February but every day.
What does this entail? For example, when “Toronto slang” is used by non-Black folk and appropriated by pop culture, it is eminent to understand the history behind those words instead of allowing Black communities to be labeled as “ghetto” and denied job opportunities for speaking in that dialect. In fact, the origins of many slang terms are rooted in the rich culture of Jamaican and Somali communities. Similarly, it is important to credit and acknowledge the legacy of Black artists, scientists, athletes, and figures, without centralizing around their hardships as Black individuals in society.
Now more than ever, we need to celebrate Black excellence. One way is to attend UTM’s organized campus events, which are being held virtually this year. The UTM Black History Month Committee is a coalition between the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU), the Black Students Association (BSA), Caribbean Connections (CC), the African Students’ Association (ASA), and Black Literature Club (BLC). This year, the committee will be hosting their highly anticipated Black History Month celebration via Zoom with collaborations with the Canadian Federation of Students (CFSFCEE) and the UTM Food Centre. The events are as follows.
Wednesday, February 3, (5 p.m. to 7 p.m.)
Opening Ceremony Red Table Talk
To start off this year’s Black History Month, the Black History Month Committee will be hosting a Red Table Talk. The theme will be “Finding Your Purpose While Black.” This interactive event will cover a range of topics from Black mental health, to life skills, to being Black at a post-secondary institution. This event is student-led and geared towards students navigating their next steps while trying to maintain a healthy personal life.
Thursday, February 4
To be a Black Student In Canada
Run by the Canadian Federation of Students, this event will bring Canadian students together through cross-campus conversations. Throughout the day, the Canadian Federation of Students will be holding various events open to students nation-wide. There will be five events: the “To be a Black Student in Canada” panel, the “Solidarity Across Movements” panel, the “Organizing as a Black Student (From Intention to Action)” workshop, the Black Students’ Caucus documentary premiere, and lastly the “Black Healing: Self and Community Care” workshop.
Tuesday, February 9, (6 p.m. to 8 p.m.)
Love, Sex, and Relationships
This annual crowd favorite will be hosted by Caribbean Connections. The event creates a safe and positive space for students to engage in discussion and ask questions on all things related to love, sex, and relationships.
Friday, February 19, (5 p.m. to 7 p.m.)
Black to the Kitchen (free food delivery and cooking class)
For the “Black to the Kitchen” event, students will be able to pre-register to receive a free meal kit packed with all ingredients necessary to make jollof rice, a West African specialty. Meal kits are available to any student living in Peel, Toronto, Halton, and York. There are a limited number of kits, so register before they run out!
Tuesday, February 23, (5 p.m. to 7 p.m.)
Black Professionals Panel
The Black Professionals Panel will provide students with an in-depth look into the Black experience in the workforce. This event will also allow students to network with others and ask questions specific to their desired field.
Friday, February 26, (6 p.m. to 8 p.m.)
Closing Ceremony Open Mic Night
The Closing Ceremony will give Black artists a platform in an open mic night. Registration to perform at the open mic night will be open soon. Performers and the audience will all have the opportunity to win a number of gift cards.
In addition to these events, the Black History Committee will be running the Black Excellence Art Contest. Starting February 3, students will be able to submit any art piece that they think encapsulates “Black Excellence.” Submissions can be of any art medium, including paintings, drawings, sculptures, dances, and songs. Art pieces can be sent to email@example.com by Friday, February 19.