Black History Month

Sam Cooke’s “Change Gon Come” blasted through the speakers in my high school auditorium during our annual Black History Month assembly. A movie sized projector displayed historical images of slaves on the plantation, restaurant signs that read “No blacks allowed” and imprisoned civil rights leaders such as Malcolm X, Rosa Parks and Nelson Mandela. By Shannon T Boodram

“God I hate Black History Month. It’s just a series of lectures on why we should feel guilty about being white,” whispered one of my classmates to a friend.

I was absolutely appalled at how anyone could be so insensitive and downright ignorant. However, years later as I write this article I can reflect on how right she was as well.

History in general, does have a tendency to focus on the negative: be that wars, political battles or religious oppressions. Black History follows this trend by heavily focusing in on slavery and segregation. While it is important to learn about the injustices of African settlement in the Western world, it should not be the main focus of the month: history should celebrate not alienate. I believe Black History could best be spent commemorating the achievements of the pioneers and recognizing today’s leaders that have followed in their footsteps.
 
When I think of why I am proud to be black – I think of the inventors, entertainers and movement makers; the people who not only tell a story of triumph but encourage greatness in everyone – void of colour.

Here are three black historians who we can all learn from and three black Canadians who commemorate the historian’s spirit through their work today.

1) Mary Ann Shadd moved to Canada in 1851 and was the first woman publisher in North America, establishing the Provincial Freeman Newspaper in 1853.

Nam Kiwanuka is best known as a MuchMusic VJ and Host for Sportsnet. She left her high profile job in order to pursue a career as a journalist and filmmaker in Africa. Nam currently writes for the BBC’s Focus on Africa Magazine and is currently producing, directing and hosting a pilot called ‘t.i.aTV’, a show brings light to the inspirational faces and places of Africa.

2) Oscar Micheaux was the first African-American to make a film. He wrote his films by using real life stories from African Americans and in doing so helped to break many stereotypes.  Micheaux was also the first African American to produce a film to be shown in "white" movie theaters.

Hubert Davis is the first Black Canadian filmmaker to be nominated for an Academy Award. Davis draws upon family experience and community voices to write the treatments for his documentaries.


3)    Dr. Saint-Firmin was a Haitian-Canadian politician and doctor. In 1964 he became the first Black Canadian to be elected as mayor of a Canadian municipality. 

Michaƫlle Jean is the current Governor General of Canada and the first black person to hold the position. She was also born in Haiti and came to Canada as a refugee.

My Black History motivates and teaches me that no matter what others do to you – you can always aspire to do the best for yourself.  Let’s keep in mind the pain of the past but concentrate on the members of the Black community that have worked to make this a better world, for all of us!

For more work by Shannon T Boodram, check out ThoseGirlsAreWild.com and LaidTheBook.com