Events for Black History and African Heritage Month have begun in Halifax and Nova Scotia. With in-person events cancelled due to the pandemic, Dalhousie University and other organizations have several events planned online.
Dalhousie opened the month with a virtual flag-raising ceremony, raising the Pan-African and African Nova Scotian flags on its campuses. Online events followed in the first week of February, ranging from panels to instructional cooking classes.
In her opening remarks of the flag raising ceremony, Barb Hamilton-Hinch, the assistant vice-provost of equity and inclusion, encouraged everyone “to take the opportunity to attend African Heritage Month … we all look forward to celebrating African Heritage Month in person, but for now, we will see each other online.”
The provincial theme for this year’s African Heritage Month is Through Our Eyes: The Voices of African Nova Scotians. “I believe that every month of every year should have this focus,” Hamilton-Hinch said. “Acknowledge the contributions of African Nova Scotians and all people of African descent who have contributed to building this institution, province, and country.”
The ceremony included a spoken word performance by Guyleigh Johnson supported by Drummers from Home. Johnson asked the school and of its community, “Where are you from and what is your background? … Why do we insinuate a divide when on this land our roots are tied?”
A video of the flag-raising at the Halifax and Truro campuses was preceded by words from president and vice-chancellor Deep Saini, who said, “this month is a chance to reaffirm Dalhousie’s commitment to supporting all people of African descent in the community.”
Saini said, “Throughout the implementation of our strategic plan and African Nova Scotian Strategy, we commit to strengthening Dalhousie’s engagement with the broader African Nova Scotian Community.”
Events at Dal and beyond
Dalhousie is hosting events to celebrate the month, as well as the Halifax Public Libraries and others organizations.
Three events hosted by the library involve celebrating and learning about African cuisine. On Feb. 28 and March 7, Halifax Public Libraries is hosting Chef Mary Nkrumah of Mary’s African Cuisine, who will teach people how to prepare and serve Fufu, Okra Stew, and Yam and Cocyam Leaf Stew.
On Feb. 17, Dalhousie’s Diversity and Equity Committee from the School of Social Work will host an online panel discussion titled “Fitting African Centred Perspectives into Social Work Practice.” Speakers will include Vivian Dixon, Afolake Awoyiga, Mario Rolle, professor Dave Este and Robert Seymour Wright, with Terrence Lewis moderating.
Two other panels were held earlier in the month that looked at inclusion and diversity in the workplace and teaching while Black. Both events focused on challenges (such as racism and micro-agressions) and solutions (such as representation in decision making) in professional and academic environments.
Angela Simmonds, a Dal Grad From North Preston running for leader of the provincial Liberal party, spoke on Feb. 8. “We are already a diverse city and a diverse province, what we struggle with is inclusion,” said Simmonds.
Suzy Hansen, the NDP MLA for Halifax Needham also spoke, Hansen is the first Black woman, and Black person, elected to the riding. “I wanted to prove to my children and my community members that anyone can sit in these seats,” said Hansen.
Musician Amadou Kienou from Toronto opened the event on Feb. 8, playing Burkina Faso style djembe. “This is not only Black History Month, this should be Black history year,” he said after his performance.
On Feb. 24, Halifax Public Libraries is hosting a virtual concert in partnership with the Halifax Jazz Festival. The concert will feature Corey Adams and The All Star Band.
On Feb. 25, the library will host panel discussions with the Halifax Black Film Festival (HBFF). The first panel will discuss the lack of diversity behind the camera in Halifax’s booming film industry. The panel will be moderated by Tara Taylor, a co-founder and director of the Emerging Lens Cultural Film Festival. It will include Laura MacKenzie, the executive director of Screen Nova Scotia, Erica Meus-Saunders, an independent filmmaker and the membership co-ordinator of Screen Nova Scotia, and Richard Jean-Baptiste, a producer.
Later that same day, the second panel will discuss media representation and the impact a lack of diversity in media can have. The panel will be moderated by Amber Fryday, a video journalist with Global News. The panel will include DeRico Symonds, a senior executive advisor in the provincial Office of Equity and Anti-Racism Initiatives, Jarvis GooGoo, a presenter on Mi’kmaw history and culture, Brian Daly, the Atlantic Canada director of the Canadian Association of Black Journalists and an assistant professor of journalism at the University of King’s College, Matthew Byard, the Local Journalism Initiative Reporter with the Halifax Examiner, and Trina Roache, the Rogers Chair in Journalism at the University of King’s College.
The HBFF panels continue that evening and on Feb. 26 and Feb. 27, with topics such as forgotten Black stories and the systemic racism performers can face in the hair and makeup chair.
Further discussions are being held by the library in March, with African Nova Scotian Genealogy on March 5 and a presentation on Gloria Baylis, a Canadian freedom fighter, humanitarian, and businesswoman, on March 10.