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

RCMP were on scene under the Menzies Street bridge in Chilliwack on Thursday, March 4, 2021 where a body was found. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
BREAKING: Body recovery underway at Menzies bridge in Chilliwack

No details on age or gender as RCMP officers were on scene Thursday morning

A black sedan, white SUV, red pickup truck and black hatchback were all involved in a four-vehicle collision at Hodgins Avenue and Yale Road on Friday, Feb. 26, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
Driver responsible for four-vehicle crash in Chilliwack last week was in stolen truck

‘Do not leave your vehicle unattended and running with the keys in the ignition,’ says RCMP

Annette Williams with Chilliwack Learning Society holds up one of the pages of ‘Muncha! Muncha! Muncha!’ by Candace Fleming, the story chosen for the downtown StoryWalk event. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
StoryWalk transforms Chilliwack trails, sidewalks into outdoor literacy adventures

Families can read children’s stories together, page by page, as they walk story routes

Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson (Office of the Chief Justice)
Judge questions whether B.C.’s top doctor appreciated right to religious freedom

Lawyer for province says Dr. Henry has outlined the reasons for her orders publicly

Items seized by Chilliwack RCMP and Abbotsford Police during a Feb. 23 traffic stop. (RCMP photo)
Police from Chilliwack and Abbotsford seize drugs in traffic stop

Chilliwack RCMP worked with the Abbotsford PD to seize four kilograms of suspected fentanyl

Health Minister Adrian Dix looks on as Dr. Bonnie Henry pauses for a moment as she gives her daily media briefing regarding COVID-19 for British Columbia in Victoria, B.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
7 additional deaths and 542 new COVID-19 cases in B.C.

Provincial health officials reported 18 new COVID-19 cases linked to variants of concern

Jobs Minister Ravi Kahlon speaks in the B.C. legislature, describing work underway to make a small business and tourism aid package less restrictive, Dec. 10, 2020. (Hansard TV)
B.C. extends deadline for tourism, small business COVID-19 grants

Business owners expect months more of lost revenues

Anti-pipeline protests continue in Greater Vancouver, with the latest happening Thursday, March 4 at a Trans Mountain construction site in Burnaby. (Facebook/Laurel Dykstra)
A dozen faith-based protestors blockade Burnaby Trans Mountain site in prayer

The group arrived early Thursday, planning to ‘block any further work’

Mid day at the Vancouver Port Intersection blockade on March 3, organized by the Braided Warriors. (Zoë Ducklow photo)
Anti-pipeline blockade at Vancouver intersection broken up by police

Demonstraters were demanding the release of a fellow anti-TMX protester

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

(Government of B.C.)
Backcountry skiers are dwarfed by the mountains as they make their way along a mountain ridge near McGillivray Pass Lodge located in the southern Chilcotin Mountains of British Columbia, Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2012. Avalanche Canada has issued a special warning to people who use the backcountry in the mountains of western Alberta and eastern British Columbia. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Avalanche Canada special warning for mountains in western Alberta, eastern B.C.

Avalanche Canada also says everyone in a backcountry party needs essential rescue gear

A recently finished $4.3-million taxiway extension at the Victoria International Airport (not pictured) is unusable because of a blind spot. (Black Press Media file photo)
Blind spot leaves Victoria airport’s new $4.3-million taxiway extension unusable

Solution has been put on hold by COVID-19 pandemic, says airport authority

The City of Vancouver estimates there are 3,500 Canada geese in the city right now, and that number is growing. (Bruce Hogarth)
Help tame Vancouver’s Canada goose population by reporting nests: park officials

The city is asking residents to be on the lookout so staff can remove nests or addle eggs

Most Read