With Black History Month in February, the Black History Month Committee—consisting of members from the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU), the African Students Association, the Somali Students Association, the Black Literature Club, Caribbean Connections, and the Black Students Association—has organized several events to raise awareness of Black history and success.
The Medium spoke with the UTMSU vice-president of equity, Reagan Roopnarine, about this year’s Black History Month.
Roopnarine shares that the theme for Black History Month 2023 is “Black Royalty,” explaining that it was chosen due to numerous reasons. “Black history tends to be told from the perspective of suffrage and struggle—we wanted to switch the narrative and make Black history more about triumph, and more about overcoming barriers,” explains Roopnarine. The committee recognizes that the African continent is home to many monarchs and empires that are often not highlighted in history. Another contributing factor to the theme has to do with hair. “Black hair and textured hair have been stigmatized for a very long time, and we loved the idea of comparing hair to a crown,” shares Roopnarine.
There are five major events planned for Black History Month.
On February 2, 2023, the Buy Black event will take place at the Student Centre from 12:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. Many Black-owned businesses will be setting up stalls. Students will be able to purchase products and learn about the various Black business owners by visiting the booths.
On February 6, 2023, the 12 Jurors event will be held at the Student Centre’s presentation room from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. Everyone is welcome to participate as a member of a mock jury, returning a verdict to a real case that has gone through the judicial system.
On February 9, 2023, an open mic night will take place at the Blind Duck Pub from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. The event will be open to anyone looking to have a good time and enjoy Black art and music. Performers can sign up through a form available on the UTMSU Instagram page (@myutmsu), as well as that of the Black Literature Club (@black_literature).
On February 15, 2023, the day after Valentine’s Day, Caribbean Connections will be leading an annual love, sex, and relationships event from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. in the presentation room of the Student Centre. The event provides a closed space for Black students to have an open discussion about everything relating to relationships. “It gets super spicy and really fun,” remarks Roopnarine. This event is open to Black students only.
Finally, on February 17, 2023, Nuit Noire will take place from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. in the Blind Duck Pub. It is open exclusively to Black students, where they can enjoy cultural food, gain insights from a presentation, and have a celebratory end to Black History Month.
Recognition of Black history goes beyond just one month of events. Since the Covid-19 pandemic, there have been more equity-based events hosted at the UTMSU, creating more opportunities to engage with racialized students. Roopnarine highlights the Black Mentorship program, which was launched partially in January 2023, and is created by Black students, for Black students. “We’ve already collected a group of really passionate mentors and will be reaching out to mentees shortly,” shares Roopnarine. “Any first- or second-year student who wants to get connected with an upper year student, get career advice, more communication, understand the grad school [or] law school process, or whatever they need—they can do that [through the mentorship program].” Interested students can register through the UTMSU Instagram page (@myutmsu).
“The Black community on campus is growing; it’s very strong and it’s full of a lot of very talented students,” states Roopnarine. “I want people to take away that [Black History Month] is also about celebration, recognizing the innovation that comes out of the Black community, the endless contributions to academia, and the Black people who have influenced history positively.”