For the last three years – before the province officially recognized Black History Month in 2017 – social work faculty member Dr. Valerie Ouedraogo and sociology prof Dr. Kalyani Thurairajah have made a point of inviting guest speakers to their classes each February to talk about the history of black Canadians in Alberta and across the country.
It's part of the reason why both faculty members were happy to join the committee of faculty, staff and students organizing MacEwan University’s first Black History Month – a series of fun, interesting and informative events intended to celebrate and educate the campus community about the ways black Canadians have influenced Canada’s culture and history.
The role black Canadians have played in shaping her adopted country is something Dulu Modi is excited to continue learning about. “When I came to Canada in 2001, I mostly heard about black American history,” says the executive member of the South Sudanese Youth of Canada Club and African Caribbean Student Alliance. “Now I’m learning about prominent black Caribbean and African individuals who have impacted Canada, and with Black History Month, other students at MacEwan have the chance to do so too.
In the classroom
Valerie Ouedraogo invites Bashir Mohamed with Black Lives Matter into her social work class to present his work on the impact of black people within Alberta.
“As social workers, we need to work interculturally," says Valerie."Our students must learn openness – to not only acknowledge, but to understand, embrace and encounter their clients and their diversity.”
Dulu is looking forward to taking in many of the Black History Month activities on campus, including Afrofit, Socafit and a West African drumming and dance workshop, but says she’s most excited to attend the three film screenings and discussions hosted by anthropology student Dali Mwanza.
Like Dulu, Dali says that it wasn’t until university that he began learning about black history in Canada.
“It was disconcerting for me because I think it’s something I should be connected to,” he says. “I think taking a month to focus on black history allows us to reflect on on our past and how our past can inform our future.”
Kalyani Thurairajah’s Winter semester Sociology 368 classes hear from the brother-sister team Akilah and Omari Newton on black Canadian history.
“Students consistently express shock about how much they didn’t know,” says Kalyani. This year, her class’s conversation was about how Canadians’ knowledge bases differ depending on where they grew up.
“There’s one film about history, one that looks at things from the macro level and one about the very interpersonal experiences that many young black people are experiencing,” says Dali. What would Dali would like the MacEwan community to take away from the university’s first Black History Month? “Acceptance, love and respect,” he says. “I think those three things work together and help us truly become a community.”
Valerie agrees. “I believe that it is the right time. MacEwan, in every aspect, is really putting into action that we are an open space not only for the outside community, but for the community within.”
We acknowledge that the land on which we gather in Treaty Six Territory is the traditional gathering place for many Indigenous people. We honour and respect the history, languages, ceremonies and culture of the First Nations, Métis and Inuit who call this territory home.