Black History Month started as Negro History Week in the United States. Each year the month of February is dedicated to the teaching and learning of the achievements of black people in the United States and elsewhere, thanks to people like Carter Woodson.
Woodson, a distinguished African-American historian that passed away in 1950, was known as the Father of Black History. Today Black History Month is recognized and celebrated by not only Americans but Canadians, mostly African-Canadians, as well. It's also celebrated in the United Kingdom during the month of October.
The celebrations usually take the form of public lectures, symposia and even social events involving eating, drinking and dancing. It's a time of re-evaluations, re-assessments and projections for the future of African-Canadians and their children. It's also a time of sharing, in all its forms.
One such event was held last Saturday at Douglas community college in New Westminster, a city in British Columbia with a high proportion of black residents. It (New Westminster), also known as the Royal City, was the first capital of British Columbia. Douglas College was named after Sir James Douglas, the first colonial governor of British Columbia. Douglas, also known as the "Father of British Columbia," was born in Guyana and was half-black.
The event was the third annual Black History Month symposium by the Urban Youth Association of BC. Bernard Piprah, one of te organizers, said the symposium seeks to honour Black History Month (which is no longer a solely African-American affair), through entertainment and the sharing of experiences. Piprah is from Ghana.
This year's celebration attracted an appreciable number of attendees and a distinguished set of presenters including film maker Lincoln Thorne, RCMP constable George Amoako, educator and poet Sonya Littlejohn, engineer Ezra Allen, counselling therapist Geoff Ayi-Bonte, poet and performer Kevan "Scruffmouth" Cameron and musician Obediah Jones.
In his presentation Linncoln Thorne spent some time narrating his extremely difficult childhood in Toronto and how he was finally able to overcome gigantic obstacles, trials and tribulations to attend film school in Vancouver and start a career in film and documentary making. He held the audience spellbound with his story which had a lot of pathos and pain including serious health issues. He also spoke about his projects and his film Fade to Black (see video). He urged the black community in British Columbia to unite and patronize and support the work of Black culture producers in all genres.
The presentation by RCMP constable Amoako was mostly targeted at young people and was packed with advice on how they could follow their dreams and stay out of trouble.He also gave a blow by blow narration on what he went through to become an RCMP officer: the tension-packed interviews, the tough exams and finally the rigorous training in Regina, Saskatchewan. Everybody in Canada knows it's extremely difficult to become an RCMP officer, it's an elite group of law enforcers, so what Amoako, who was born in Ghana and came to Canada when he was eleven years old, ws saying is - "If I can do it, you too can do it." It was a very inspiring presentation for a community which is not highly represented in law enforcement and other security agencies.
Seattle-based engineer Ezra Allen, for his part, dwelled on an engineering training program he has put together for young people called Computer Aided Design (CAD). CAD, he said, is used to create drawings using the computer for architecture, engineering, construction and design. He hopes to offer this as a free service via a local non-governmental agency in BC, as he presently does in Seattle, Washington state, USA. Allen also talked about the achievements of African- American scientists and inventors, many of whom are unknown to most black children and even adults.
Geoff Ayi-Bonte, the counselling therapist, a senior counsellor at Better Balance and Support, spoke on the importance of having a positive outlook on life. He also narrated the troubles he and his family went through in Germany where he was born and partly raised, concluding with the words, Never Give Up.
Dub poets and performers Sonya Littlejohn and Scruffmouth talked about their lives and activities as artistes and performers (Sonya also mentioned health issues she defeated) and gave brilliant spoken word performances of some of their poems. Musician Obediya Jones and his colleague, Marisa Gold, did a very beautiful dance performance with mesmerizing choreography of "Nkrabea's Destiny," which is about destiny and Black or African experiences.