Black History Month
The 2023 Black History Month theme is “Black Resistance.” The theme explores how Black people have resisted historical and ongoing systemic oppression, especially the racial terrorism of lynching and increased gun violence, since their forced arrival in foreign lands. Black people have resisted racial oppression through movements such as the Underground Railroad in Nova Scotia, the Toronto against racism vigils, the Selma to Montgomery March, the Black Lives Matter movement and the most recent protest of the police beating of unarmed Tyre Nichols in Memphis. Black people continue to advocate for a dignified life in a racially-just society.
The question remains, when will we move past the condolences and shared grief to doing differently, because actions increase accountability around inclusion, racism, and the systemic barriers that influence us all.
This Black History Month, join in the observances, attend events in your community, read books by Black authors and enjoy music and movies that feature Black artists and actors.
Health and Wellness of Black Lives in the past, present, and future
Last February, The City Anti-Racism Program team shared presentations to help create awareness of the meaning of Black History, why the dedication of a whole month, and how historical realities and present human social conditions shape our concept of racial trauma, psychological safety and wellness. See the Videos tab to watch the videos.
Excerpts on recommendations are included to provide more information.
The Skin We're In: A Year of Black Resistance and Power
Author: Desmond Cole
Chronicling just one year in the struggle against racism in this country, The Skin We're In reveals in stark detail the injustices faced by Black Canadians on a daily basis: the devastating effects of racist policing, the hopelessness produced by an education system that fails Black children, the heartbreak of those separated from their families by discriminatory immigration laws, and more. Cole draws on his own experiences as a Black man in Canada, and locates the deep cultural, historical, and political roots of each event. What emerges is a personal, painful, and comprehensive picture of entrenched, systemic inequality.
Policing Black Lives: State Violence in Canada from Slavery to the Present
Author: Robyn Maynard
Delving behind Canada's veneer of multiculturalism and tolerance, Policing Black Lives traces the violent realities of anti-blackness from the slave ships to prisons, classrooms and beyond. Robyn Maynard provides readers with the first comprehensive account of nearly four hundred years of state-sanctioned surveillance, criminalization and punishment of Black lives in Canada.
Washington Black Paperback
Author: Esi Edugyan
When two English brothers arrive at a Barbados sugar plantation, they bring with them a darkness beyond what the slaves have already known. Washington Black – an eleven-year-old field slave – is horrified to find himself chosen to live in the quarters of one of these men. But the man is not as Washington expects him to be. His new master is the eccentric Christopher Wilde – naturalist, explorer, inventor and abolitionist – whose obsession to perfect a winged flying machine disturbs all who know him. Washington is initiated into a world of wonder: a world where the night sea is set alight with fields of jellyfish, where a simple cloth canopy can propel a man across the sky, where even a boy born in chains may embrace a life of dignity and meaning – and where two people, separated by an impossible divide, can begin to see each other as human.
Calgary Public Library: The Caili O'Doherty Quintet - Jazz and the Civil Rights Movement
The Caili O'Doherty Quintet, a New York-based jazz ensemble, will visit the Calgary Public Library for an educational performance on Jazz and the Civil Rights Movement, a look at U.S. history and the relationship between Black American Music.
Black History Extravaganza Gospel Concert
The 6th Annual Black History Month Extravaganza Gospel Concert featuring artists from Calgary, Edmonton and Burman University.
Rhythm and rhymes with Bubba B "the" MC
An exciting opportunity for students to learn and create together with award-winning artist and Dragon's Den Slayer, Bubba B the MC.
The Annual Black History Month Dinner
Friday, Feb. 10, 5:30 - 11 p.m.
Cheryl’s storytelling and accompanying images will illuminate the contributions Black people have made to Western Canada over the past 140 years.
A conversation with Distinguished Immigrants
Thursday, Feb. 16, 11:30 a.m. - 1 p.m. at SAIT
The panel discussion will feature Dr. Caesar Apentiik, Developmental Studies Professor, University of Calgary, Chi Iliya-Ndule, Co-Founder and President, Calgary Black Chambers, and Shauna Porter, Anti-Racism Committee Chair, Calgary Police Service who will talk about their lived experience in overcoming barriers as Black immigrants.
Ethnik Festival of Arts & Culture
Saturday, Feb. 25, noon - 6 p.m. at Telus Convention Centre
The Caribbean Presidents and Mount Royal University present Black History Month - Saturday, March 4th, 2023. Thornhill Community Association, Theme Seeds to Roots: Building on our Future
Twelve Years a Slave
In the antebellum United States, Solomon Northup, a free black man from upstate New York, is abducted and sold into slavery.
A historical epic inspired by true events that took place in The Kingdom of Dahomey, one of the most powerful states of Africa in the 18th and 19th centuries.
In 1955, after Emmett Till is murdered in a brutal lynching, his mother vows to expose the racism behind the attack while working to have those involved brought to justice.
2022 event video presentations
Dr. Carl James - Why a Black History Month? Shouldn't we be past this by now?
Dr. George Sefa Dei - Teaching African History
Dr. Bukola Salami - Mental Health of Black Canadians and Black Immigrants in Alberta
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.
- Government of Canada: Black History Month
- Calgary Library: Black History Month events
- Huffpost article: Black Canadian heroes who have paved the way for future generations
- Three Black Calgarians who changed Calgary's history
- Black Communities in Alberta - Alberta Labour History (ALHI): Workers' History / Workers' Stories
- Video on Black settlers on Canadian Prairies: Black on the Prairie
- Video: Secret Alberta: The former life of Amber Valley (13 min.)