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Feb12FriCelebrating Black History Month in Canada. February 12, 2021 by Edi Matondo and Buhle Dlamini
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It’s February, and that means it’s time for Canada to celebrate Black History Month. In Nova Scotia it is referred to as African Heritage month.
In December 1995, Dr. Jean Augustine (the first African-Canadian woman elected to the House of Commons) led the motion for Canada to officially recognize February as Black History Month. Today, Black History Month provides the opportunity to recognize and celebrate contributions of Black Canadians of the past and present. Not only are successful stories highlighted, but so are the hurdles Black people face, including systemic racism stemming from slavery to modern-day lack of funding in support of Black businesses and communities. These stories help to eliminate stereotypes and start conversations about how we can build better communities together as a nation.
The Future Is Now
This year, Black History Month comes at a crucial moment in history as it takes place amid a global pandemic, following a summer of awakening to racial injustice, brought about by the murder of George Floyd in Minnesota. This year’s theme is: “The Future Is Now.” It is a chance to celebrate and acknowledge the transformative work that Black Canadians and their communities are doing now.
Why Is it Important?
Many Black Canadians, Indigenous peoples and other racialized communities deal with the reality of systemic racism on a day-to-day basis. Designating a specific month to recognize Black Canadians places a priority on the importance of hearing their stories.
How Does it Affect The Salvation Army in Canada and Bermuda?
The Salvation Army in Canada and Bermuda plays an integral part in communities across the territory and often has a deep reach particularly in marginalized communities. The Army can play a critical and leading role in championing and celebrating Black History Month. It is notable that George Floyd had a Salvation Army connection, as he was both a client and a former employee of the Army’s community services. George Floyd was one of the many nameless individuals helped by the Army on a daily basis, until his name was blasted across the world.
In 2020, the Army’s Ethics Centre hosted a webinar series entitled “Moving Salvationists Beyond ‘I’m Not Racist.’ ” This online experience drew a national and international audience, indicating that people are willing to engage and listen if we invite them into the conversation. There is an excellent opportunity for our corps and other mission centres to continue that conversation at a local level. Many of our corps across the territory are diverse and it is important that as a community of believers we engage with those who may experience life differently than we do.
Are you aware of the stories of Black Salvationists, clients, donors and volunteers? Are you aware of the discrimination and challenges they face? How can you support them? Now is the time to engage in these conversations, as difficult as they may be. These can take place at an individual level, in small groups or as a congregation, by having speakers share in our services to provide perspective on the issues faced by many Black people.
What Can We Do? Pause, Acknowledge and Celebrate
Often, it can be hard to know what to do practically, so as we celebrate Black History Month: The Future Is Now, here are some suggestions:
We need to create moments in our programs when we pause to recognize the challenges and struggles faced by Black people in particular and racialized, Indigenous peoples in general. This can be through short moments of prayer or silence.
We can spend some time acknowledging the contributions of Black people throughout the history of Canada as well as The Salvation Army. This can take the form of sharing stories, posters and other ways that highlight the contributions of people of colour. You can find resources here.
We need to celebrate publicly our local Black heroes that are making a significant contribution to our community. These could be community members, donors, volunteers or our church members who are critical to our success as a movement. We can recognize them with special events or designated time in our ongoing programs and services.
There are many other ways we can become involved in celebrating and acknowledging that Black Lives Matter, such as supporting your local small businesses, reading books about Black heroes or attending a special event (in person or digitally). But the most important thing we must do is to go beyond knowledge to action. We need to speak out against the injustices we see, call out racism and prejudice in our communities and, most importantly, give credit where credit is due for the many Black Canadians who make this country amazing. Let us stand together in solidarity. As The Salvation Army, we can do a much better job every year to celebrate Black History Month, but it’s not too late to start.
Edi Matondo is an Angolan Canadian Salvationist and a member of East Toronto Citadel in the Ontario Division. Buhle Dlamini is a South African Canadian Salvationist and a member of Westville Corps, N.S., in the Maritime Division.