Last week saw the start of Black History Month in the U.S. and Canada.
UTMSU, ECASA, the Somali Students’ Association, and Caribbean Connections collaborated to plan the month’s events at UTM.
Although the opening ceremony was cancelled due to the snow day, the rest of the events are still on schedule.
The theme this year is “LIFE”—love, inclusion, freedom, and education.
When asked why they chose the theme, ECASA president Chinelo Okereke said it “really sets this year apart […] we are going back to our roots, we are educating, we are celebrating”.
Okereke said that the collaboration between the groups involved this year “show[s] a greater form of unity amongst clubs on campus”.
Black History Month has come a long way from “Negro Awareness Week” to being recognized officially as “Black History Month” in 1976.
Last week’s events included the Panel on Police Brutality on Tuesday, which featured four panellists from around the GTA who are involved in educating the community on black history and tackling current issues.
The panellists were Digal Halo, a lawyer with the Office of the Ontario Ombudsman; Zakaria Abdulla, an advisor to the UTM SSA who also works with the advocacy group The Policing Literacy Initiative; UTSU president Yolen Bollo-Kamara, also a community organizer with Black Lives Matter; and La Tanya Grant, a first cousin of Jermaine Carby and the chair of the Justice for Jermaine committee.
Jermaine Carby was shot and killed by the Peel Regional Police last September. Witnesses claim he had his hands up the entire time and had no weapons in his possession.
The event featured discussion on police brutality, the treatment of black students in public high schools, and the treatment of black women.
Bollo-Kamara said she believed strongly that “we [black women] need to be telling our stories”.
Each panellist encouraged raising awareness through social media, letters, and public speaking.
Grant said that the most effective approach is to “change the narrative” and not let others define black people.
Upcoming events include an open mic night, a discussion on how to support black businesses, and art displays by black artists.
The organizers shared the hope of a future without racism.
Okereke said that showcasing “black excellence” will show the world that “we as a collective empower each other and educate ourselves on ways to beat the norm […] and transform the perceived disadvantage [of black communities] into an advantage.”
The organizers spoke about the importance of the month despite the lack of attention it receives in mainstream education.
Melissa Theodore, of the St. Lucian diaspora, chair of the BHM Committee and UTMSU’s VP equity, says learning black history is necessary.
“Our education system is based on a Eurocentric model that intentionally highlights contributions from white people,” she said. “As anti-black racism is needed for white supremacy to thrive, it is important for black youth, and everyone, to become aware of our past, as it will determine our future.”
Abisola Olaniyi, volunteer coordinator for the Women’s Centre, said the month offers an opportunity to explore a “different section of history that’s not often talked about”.
The UTMWC is also hosting events this month.
“We try and look at sections of identity […] such as how sex intersects with race and gender and [other] political and status issues going on within these communities,” Olaniyi added.
The centre hosted a film screening and discussion on colourism on Wednesday and have an upcoming panel on “Hair and Politics”, examining how hair products aren’t designed for afro-textured hair.
UTMSU, ECASA, SSA, and Caribbean Connections will host the “Black Excellence Ball” on February 27.