Black History Month is for all Canadians, says Shalema Gantt, Nanaimo African Heritage Society president.
“We just want to make sure everyone comes out. It’s not just for black people. It’s for our community. It’s to embrace the pioneers that were part of making Canada great,” said Gantt, adding that Black History Month has been celebrated in Nanaimo for the past 17 years.
Events in Nanaimo kicked off Thursday with a storytelling event with Victoria author A.A. Riley. Riley read from her book Introducing Sophia Firecracker, tailored for children ages nine to 12. Riley said she started writing when she was in the third grade.
“It was definitely in my blood and in my bones,” said Riley about writing. Riley said libraries were her home when she was a kid.
She read everything she could get her hands on.
“I read everything under the sun. What was missing was a little black girl,” she said. “I always wanted to see me. I wanted to be Ramona the Pest or in a Judy Blume book would have been my Heaven. So when I got older that’s what I focused on. That’s what was missing and what I wanted to put out there.”
The kick off event continued later Thursday evening with a performance by the Vagn Moore Trio.
The idea of honouring the legacy of black Canadians is rooted in a proposal suggested by African American historian Carter G. Woodson in 1926. According to the Government of Canada’s website, Woodson proposed “setting aside a time devoted to honour the accomplishments of African Americans and to heighten awareness of black history in the United States.
Celebrations in Canada began shortly after, and at first it was known as Black History Week.
In 1976 it was expanded to Black History Month. In 1995, February was officially recognized as Black History Month after the Honourable Jean Augustine, the first black Canadian woman elected to Parliament, made a motion in the House of Commons. Black History Month honours the legacy of black Canadians both past and present.
“Throughout our history, black Canadians have played a key role in building and shaping the diverse, compassionate, and prosperous country that we are all so proud to call home,” said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in a press release. “Every February, Canadians celebrate Black History Month by acknowledging the remarkable achievements and contributions that Canadians from African and Caribbean descent have made to Canada.”
Trudeau said he encourages Canadians to participate in events across the country to “honour the integral role [black Canadians] have played in shaping our democratic and free society.”
The Nanaimo African Heritage Society hosts a Gospel Jazz Concert, featuring the Freedom Gospel Choir, Gina Williams and the Jackmans Family Band Feb. 19 at Brechin United Church, located at 1998 Estevan Rd.
Tickets are $25 or $20 for members. Doors open at 5 p.m. Gantt said the Freedom Gospel Choir’s music is “soulful and wonderful.”
The Finale Gala and Dinner with Gina Williams on Feb. 25 features a fashion show, musical performers and award presentations.
Tickets are $35 or $30 for members. Doors open at 6 p.m. and dinner is at 7 p.m.
“For the gala we have the great Gina Williams. She has been with us a few years. She’s such an accomplished singer,” said Gantt.
A portion of proceeds will go toward fundraising for Haiti schools.
Tickets and more information is available online at www.nanaimoafricanheritagesociety.com.