Black History Month

Black History Month

With a spirit of celebration and ceremony, The City of Calgary recognizes Black History Month in February and moves forward in the journey towards becoming an anti-racist organization.

Black History Month is about honouring and celebrating the resilience, innovation, determination and contributions of Black people across generations in making Canada the country it is today.

For many Black Calgarians their ability to thrive is directly linked to their state of health and wellness, which in turn is linked to being Black in Canada. 2022 Black History Month created the space for us to re-think how Black health and wellness are shaped by historical realities, present human social conditions, and an envisioned future where colonial legacies are no longer a key determinant of health, wealth, and survival.

2022 Canadian theme

February and Forever: Celebrating Black History today and every day

2022 City theme

Health and Wellness of Black Lives in the Past, Present, and Future

Recorded sessions

Watch the virtual speaker sessions that took place to celebrate Black History Month.

Feb. 9 - Dr. Carl James

Dr. Carl James

Why a Black History Month? Shouldn't we be past this by now?

View the recorded session from Feb. 9.

It is generally accepted in North America that February is Black History Month. But what does it mean to have a month devoted to Black history? What is Black history? Many of us have simply accepted the construct of a month “devoted” to “celebrating” Black History. But should this be the case? In this presentation, we will reflect on what brought Canada to the point of having February “officially” declared as Black History Month. Is it that we have been omitting Black History in what we present as Canadian history? How is that possible? Is there a difference? In exploring these questions, we aim to understand how until the incomplete history of Canada is acknowledged, the presence of Black people in Canada becomes “mainstream” or normalized, and talk of “systemic racism” (following Spring 2020 awaking) is acted upon, then the questions raised here will remain. 

Feb. 14 - Dr. George Sefa Dei

Dr. George Sefa Dei

Teaching African History

View the recorded session from Feb. 14.

This session invites educators, practitioners and policy workers to consider decolonial perspectives in teaching about Africa and African history [broadly defined] in schools, colleges and universities. The learning objective is to think through what scholars define as the coloniality of the Black experience and the complicities of academic research and knowledge on Africa and Blackness.  Discussions will assist session participants to flesh out what it means to rewrite knowledge about Africa through a project of reclamation and restoration of authentic African historical realities and human social conditions.  The session will highlight the necessity and urgency of looking at Africa beyond its [physical] boundaries, i.e., taking Africa as an idea and more than a physical space. Among the topics covered are de/anti-colonial approaches to African history, curriculum as a challenge to the dominance of White/Eurocentric perspectives, and interpretations of the formal and informal curricula, developing a foundational framing for understanding the processes of Africanization and Indigenization, and the practical suggestions, as well as, strategies for ensuring an inclusive approach to teaching Africa.

Feb. 28 - Dr. Bukola Salami

Dr. Bukola Salami

Mental Health of Black Canadians and Black Immigrants in Alberta

View the recorded session from Feb. 28.

Black Canadians and Black Immigrants have poor mental health outcomes. Diverse social determinants of health contribute to the mental health of Black Canadians. Drawing on multiple data sets, this presentation will highlight the mental health of Black Canadians and Immigrants with a focus on Alberta.  First, I will present data generated from the Statistics Canada Health Measures Survey on the mental health of immigrants in Canada.  Our analysis revealed that immigrants’ mental health declines after five years in Canada. Income and community belonging contribute to mental health. I will then present data from interviews of around 55 immigrant service providers in Calgary and Edmonton on the mental health of Black Canadians. Next, I will draw on data collected from around 75 stakeholders on the mental health of African immigrant children. The last data source will be data collected from Black youths in Alberta on the mental health of Black youths. This presentation will highlight how racism, income, community belonging, and other determinants contribute to the mental health of Black Canadians.

Questions to ponder

The following are some suggested questions to think about as you hear the speakers:

  1. How can you educate yourself about a comprehensive history of Canada that includes the participation of all people?
  2. Why is it important to learn about Black History?
  3. What is your understanding of the phrase “living while Black”?
  4. What is your awareness about the impact of racism on the health and mental wellbeing of Black Canadians.

History of Black People in Canada

Black people have lived in Canada since the 1600's, and yet very little is known about their lives, challenges, and contributions to Canadian society. The earliest record of a Black person in Canada is that of an enslaved six-year-old boy from Madagascar or Guinea who lived on New France. He was brought there by British traders (Kirk brothers) in 1629 and sold to a Frenchman Olivier le Bailiff who gifted the boy to Guillaume Couillard. The boy was baptized Olivier le Jeune in 1633. We do not know what the boy’s African name was, his real-life experiences, or his contributions to society.

Black history is important because it is interconnected in many ways to the lives and histories of Indigenous Peoples and other Canadians across generations. Despite the 1911 immigration ban on Black people, several early Black settlers in Alberta give testimony of the hospitality and assistance they received from Indigenous Peoples and European settlers.

The CBC documentary “Black on the Prairie” provides insights on how these Black pioneers grappled with racism and segregation and contributed to the Canadian mosaic of diverse races and cultures. Communities like Campsie, Amber Valley, Junkins (Breton) were largely by Black settlers from the US who were specifically placed in these communities by the municipal urban planning policies of that time.

Some of the notable descendants of these Black settlers include Violet King (the first Black woman to graduate in law in 1954) and her brother Ted King who was a trailblazer for human rights advocacy in Calgary in the 1950’s. Oliver Bowen, born in 1942 in Amber Valley, is known for designing the first Calgary CT line, but little is known about his life at Amber Valley or how the 1911 immigration ban systemically led to the depopulation of his hometown.

Calgary is home to over 240 nationalities and ranked third in Canada in terms of diversity. Around 3.5% of Calgarians self-identify as Black, and while this Blackness is a mosaic of different shades of Black, their lived experiences of racial trauma and the perpetual quest to belong in an authentic and dignified way, is the same for all people identifying as Black. This quest to belong as a Human worthy of dignity is not unique to Black people, and can form the commons upon which all Calgarians can come together to celebrate Black history, increase social cohesion, and live the lives that all our fore-parents, across the races, wanted us to live.

Why Black History Month is Important in Canada

Over the past two years, Canadian institutions and leaders have begun to admit to systemic racism in the country. Their statements followed peaceful demonstrations across the country. As well, recent data showed the significant differences in Canada between the Black and the general populations (Houle 2020, p. 31). These gaps were particularly apparent in education, employment, and income.

The data further highlights that Black people born in Canada have less access to education and quality jobs than their counterparts in the general population. Through formal and informal institutional mechanisms, our Canadian society does not offer Black people the same opportunities as other Canadians. This is systemic discrimination, and it must be acknowledged and eliminated by our leaders and citizens to ensure equity for everyone. The impact systemic racism has on the wellbeing and livelihood of Black Canadians is significant enough for recognition of Black History Month in Canada every day and every year.

Building the case to improve mental health services for immigrant, refugee, ethno-cultural and Racialized populations

Mental Health Commission of Canada

  • Racism is twice as likely to affect mental health than physical health.
  • An American study found Black men are four times more likely to be diagnosed with schizophrenia than white men, while being underdiagnosed with mood disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • 64% of young Black women in Canada aged 12–17 reported their mental health to be “excellent or very good,” compared to 77% of young white women. 
  • During the COVID-19 pandemic, 28% of participants from visible minority groups in Canada reported their mental health to be fair or poor, compared to 23% of white participants. 
  • During the COVID-19 pandemic, 28% of recent immigrants reported their mental health to be fair or poor, compared to 24% of Canadian-born participants and 20% of established immigrants.
  • The Edmonton Public School Board is the first school board in Alberta to collect race-based data.

Speaker bios

Dr. Carl E. James

Dr. Carl E. James holds the Jean Augustine Chair in Education, Community and Diaspora in the Faculty of Education at York University and is the Senior Advisor on Equity and Representation in the Office of the Vice President of Equity, People and Culture. He is Professor in the Faculty of Education and holds cross-appointments in the Graduate Programs in Sociology, Social and Political Thought, and Social Work. He is also served as Affirmative Action, Equity and Inclusivity Officer (206-2020); was the Director of the York Centre on Education & Community (2008-2016) which he founded, and Director of the Graduate Program in Sociology (2007-2008).

Dr. Carl James is widely recognized for his research contributions in the areas of intersectionality of race with ethnicity, gender, class and citizenship as they shape identification/identity; the ways in which accessible and equitable opportunities in education and employment account for the lived experiences of marginalized community members; and the complementary and contradictory nature of sports in the schooling and educational attainments of Racialized students. In advocating on education for change, James documents the struggles, contradictions and paradoxes in the experiences of Racialized students at all levels of the education system. In doing so, he seeks to address and move us beyond the essentialist, generalized and homogenizing discourses that account for the representation and achievements of Racialized people – particularly Black Canadians -- in educational institutions, workplaces, and society generally.

Dr. George Sefa Dei

Ghanaian-born George Sefa Dei is a renowned educator, researcher and writer who is considered by many as one of Canada’s foremost scholars on race and anti-racism studies. He is a widely sought after academic, researcher and community worker whose professional and academic work has led to many Canadian and international speaking invitations in US, Europe and Africa. Currently, he is Professor of Social Justice Education & Director of the Centre for Integrative Anti-Racism Studies at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto (OISE/UT). Professor Dei is the 2015, 2016, 2018-19 Carnegie African Diasporan Fellow. In August of 2012, Professor Dei also received the honorary title of ‘Professor Extraordinarire’ from the Department of Inclusive Education, University of South Africa, [UNISA]. In 2017, he was elected as Fellow of Royal Society of Canada, the most prestigious award for an academic scholar. He also received the ‘2016 Whitworth Award for Educational Research’ from the Canadian Education Association (CEA) awarded to the Canadian scholar whose research and scholarship have helped shaped Canadian national educational policy and practice. He is the 2019 Paulo Freire Democratic Project, Chapman University, US - ‘Social Justice Award’ winner. This April 2021, Professor Dei received the 2021 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Ontario Alliance of Black School Educators [ONABSE] for how long-standing work promoting Black and minority youth education. Professor Dei has forty (40) books and over seventy (70) refereed journal articles to his credit. Finally, in June of 2007, Professor Dei was installed as a traditional chief in Ghana, specifically, as the Gyaasehene of the town of Asokore, Koforidua in the New Juaben Traditional Area of Ghana. His stool name is Nana Adusei Sefa Tweneboah.

Dr. Bukola Salami

Dr. Bukola Salami is an Associate Professor at the Faculty of Nursing, University of Alberta. She received her Bachelor of Science in Nursing from the University of Windsor and her Master of Nursing and PhD in Nursing from the University of Toronto. Her research program focuses on policies and practices shaping migrants health. She has lead research projects on African immigrant child health, immigrant mental health, access to healthcare for immigrant children, Black youth mental health, health of internally displaced children, and parenting practices of African immigrants. She founded and leads an African migrant child research network of 35 scholars from 4 continent. In 2020, she founded the Black Youth Mentorship and Leadership Program at the University of Alberta. The program, the first University based interdisciplinary mentorship program for Black youths in Canada, seeks to socially and economically empower Black high school youths to contribute meaningfully to the Canadian society. Her work on Black youth mental health lead to the creation of a mental health clinic in Alberta. She has also presented her work to policy makers. In March 2021, she was invited to present her work to Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau and four other ministers. She is involved in several community volunteer initiatives including serving as a public member on the Council of the Alberta College of Social Worker, the Public Health Agency of Canada Working Group on the Mental Health of Black Canadian, the Bell Lets Talk Funding advisory committee, and active involvement with the Black Opportunities Fund. She is an Associate Editor of the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) and on the Editorial Board of Nursing Inquiry and Qualitative Health Research Journal. Dr. Salami has received several awards for research excellence and community engagement: 100 Accomplished Black Women in Canada; Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing Emerging Nurse Researcher of the Year Award; College and Association of Registered Nurses of Alberta (CARNA) Award for Nursing Excellence; and Alberta Avenue Edmonton Top 40 under 40. In 2020, she became a recipient of the Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society International Nurse Researcher Hall of Fame, the highest research award in nursing. In 2021, she became a Fellow of the Canadian Academy of Nursing.