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

A dose of COVID-19 vaccine is prepared at a vaccination clinic in Montreal’s Olympic Stadium on Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
39 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health region

The total number of cases in the region since the pandemic began is now at 7,334

A rainbow shining on Kelowna General Hospital on May 12, 2020 International Nurses Day. (Steve Wensley - Prime Light Media)
New COVID cases trending down in Interior Health

24 new cases reported Thursday, Feb. 25, death at Kelowna General Hospital

(File Photo)
Crash causes delays on Coquihalla southbound, travel advisory issued

A vehicle incident between Merrit and Hope has caused major delays heading south

A nurse performs a test on a patient at a drive-in COVID-19 clinic in Montreal, on Wednesday, October 21, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson)
30 new COVID-19 cases, five more deaths in Interior Health

This brings the total number of cases to 7,271 since testing began

FILE – A COVID-19 vaccine being prepared. (Olivia Sullivan/Sound Publishing)
B.C. seniors 80 years and older to get COVID vaccine details over next 2 weeks: Henry

Province is expanding vaccine workforce as officials ramp up age-based rollout

Abbotsford’s Kris Collins turned to TikTok out of boredom when the provincial COVID-19 lockdown began in March 2020. She now has over 23 million followers on the video app. Photo: Submitted
Internet famous: Abbotsford’s Kris Collins is a TikTok comedy queen

Collins has found surprise stardom alone with a phone

Pig races at the 145th annual Chilliwack Fair on Aug. 12, 2017. Monday, March 1, 2021 is Pig Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Feb. 28 to March 6

Pig Day, Canadian Bacon Day and Grammar Day are all coming up this week

Staff from the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre, passersby, RCMP and Nanaimo Fire Rescue carried a sick 300-kilogram steller sea lion up the steep bluff at Invermere Beach in north Nanaimo in an attempt to save the animal’s life Thursday. (Photo courtesy Marine Mammal Rescue Centre)
300-kilogram sea lion muscled up from B.C. beach in rescue attempt

Animal dies despite efforts of Nanaimo marine mammal rescue team, emergency personnel and bystanders

Doctors and counsellors warn of an increase in panic attacks, anxiety, depression and suicide ideas between ages 10 to 14, in Campbell River. ( Black Press file photo)
Extended pandemic feeding the anxieties of B.C.’s youth

Parents not sure what to do, urged to reach out for help

Kara Sorensen, diagnosed with lung cancer in July, says it’s important for people to view her as healthy and vibrant, rather than sick. (Photo courtesy of Karen Sorensen)
B.C. woman must seek treatment overseas for inoperable lung cancer

Fundraising page launched on Karen Sorensen’s behalf, with a goal of $250,000

Gina Adams as she works on her latest piece titled ‘Undying Love’. (Submitted photo)
‘Toothless’ the kitty inspires B.C. wood carver to break out the chainsaw

Inspired by plight of a toothless cat, Gina Adams offers proceeds from her artwork to help animals

B.C. Finance Minister Selina Robinson presents bill to delay B.C.’s budget as late as April 30, and allow further spending before that, B.C. legislature, Dec. 8, 2020. (Hansard TV)
How big is B.C.’s COVID-19 deficit? We’ll find out April 20

More borrowing expected as pandemic enters second year

The first of 11 Dash 8 Q400 aircraft's have arrived in Abbotsford. Conair Group Inc. will soon transform them into firefighting airtankers. (Submitted)
Abbotsford’s Conair begins airtanker transformation

Aerial firefighting company creating Q400AT airtanker in advance of local forest fire season

The Canada Revenue Agency says there were 32 tax fraud convictions across the country between April 2019 and March 2020. (Pixabay)
Vancouver man sentenced to 29 months, fined $645K for tax evasion, forgery

Michael Sholz reportedly forged documents to support ineligible tax credits linked to homeownership

Most Read