GUELPH – February is Black History Month in Canada – a time to celebrate the contributions of Black historical figures.
The Guelph Black Heritage Society (GBHS) celebrates Black Heritage Month, to “commemorate the past and present accomplishments within Black community” and “set sights on our bright future ahead,” said GBHS president Denise Francis.
About fifty people gathered at Heritage Hall on Feb. 1 for the GBHS’s first Black Heritage Month event of 2023.
It began outside with the raising of the African Nova Scotia flag.
The flag was first introduced in Feb. 2021 and was created by artist Wendie L. Wilson. It is red, gold, and green with a Sankofa symbol in the centre – a bird representing the spirit of African Nova Scotians.
Kween, executive director at the GBHS, said “for the African and Caribbean diaspora and its peoples this [flag] is about representation of liberation.”
The colours in the flag each have significance; red symbolizes sacrifice, gold symbolizes cultural richness and green symbolizes fertility, growth and future generations.
The flag raising was followed by a ceremony inside, hosted by Francis and Kween.
The ceremony began with a “unity statement” acknowledging the strength and importance of relationships between Black and Indigenous communities.
Kween then led the attendees in a prayer and blessing.
“By our prayers and our work for justice, let us shine the light of faith on our world and live in solidarity with those around us, respecting the God given human dignity that we all share for each other,” Kween said.
“Enslaved persons were forbidden to pray by their masters. They were beaten unmercifully for doing so.
“In spite of this cruelty, because of their love for Jesus, they prayed anyway.”
Heritage Hall was built as a church in 1880 by formerly enslaved people.
Kween said in that light, it is important to gather in the hall and pray to remember and honour the past.
The prayer ended with a moment of silence for Tyre Nichols, Atatiana Jefferson and Amber Carr.
Nichols and Jefferson died due to violent interactions with police in the U.S. Carr was Jefferson’s sister, who died of heart failure on Jan. 30.
After a tearful moment of silence, Francis said “we always think about our Black communities and the hardships we endure, but there’s always joy in everything that we do, and we’ve got something to celebrate this morning.”
She invited Guelph MPP Mike Shreiner and an Ontario Trillium Foundation (OTF) volunteer to the front of the room to announce the GBHS will be receiving a $100,000 Resilient Communities Fund grant from OTF.
The grant, intended to help the society recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, will help cover costs for staffing, “experts” and equipment.
Black Heritage Month events
GBHS has organized four more events in Ferbruary to celebrate Black Heritage month.
On Feb. 4, is the opening of Our Stories. Our History. Our Heritage exhibit at the Wellington County Museum and Archives.
The opening reception is from 1:30 to 4pm and includes music from DJ Jinx, catering from Big Jerk, and a cash bar. Admission is by donation to GBHS.
The exhibit will remain on display until July 9.
On Feb. 9 at 6:30pm is Songs of Sunya, an immersive theatre experience at Heritage Hall.
“This is a brand new thing we’ve done,” Francis said. “It is a table read of a play by an amazing young black author named Adam Myrie.
“We will be reading a couple acts from his play, and Kween has somehow convinced me to go on stage.
“As the sort of introvert of the two of us this is not a usual experience for us … so come out and be amazed.”
Admission is free with a suggested donation of $10 per person or a donation to the Chalmers food bank.
People can attend either in person or online and register at eventbrite.ca/e/songs-of-sunya-table-read-tickets-474393031327.
On Feb. 16 at 6:30pm is “Canvas and Cocktails” at Heritage Hall. This event is for women only.
It begins with a free-flowing art class involving positive affirmations with Dr. Shara Ally and concludes with a guided movement meditation led by Kween.
“While we are painting and meditating we will also be having drinks and cocktails,” Francis said with a laugh. “So it will be a good time for all.”
There will also be snacks and prizes.
On Feb. 24 at 7pm, Shane Phillips, a musician from Fergus, will be performing at the Guelph Civic Museum for the Fourth Friday Concert. Admission is free.
The Guelph Civic Museum was one the GBHS’s first community partners.
GBHS will be observing Black Vacation Week at the end of February, an initiative launched by The Kween Company “for Black individuals to take time for themselves and for each other,” Kween said.
Beyond Black Heritage Month
Francis wore a shirt that said “still Black on March 1st” and reminded people that the importance of recognizing Black heritage and history does not end at the end of February.
She laughed about having a few of the shirts at home and said she will be wearing the shirts to all of the Black Heritage events this month, to remind people the importance of Black heritage does not disappear on March 1.
The shirts are available through The Kween Company.
In March, students in Grade 7 and up can come to Heritage Hall for “Code Black”, a march break camp where participants learn to build their own websites with Java and HTML.
The camp is free of charge and open to all. Space is limited. Register at https://forms.gle/AqCsdz9xstZsmeSYA.
For more information about GBHS, Heritage Hall and Black Heritage Month, visit guelphblackheritage.ca.