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An Inclusive Black History Month Agenda

02/19/2016 02:15 EST | Updated 02/19/2017 05:12 EST

At the beginning of this year, a friend invited me to be the guest speaker at The Children's Aid Society of Ottawa's Black History Month event. Initially, I was skeptical, not just because of my unease with public speaking but mainly because I wasn't sure of my deserving of being a guest speaker at a Black History Month event (BHM).

For so long, popular media has, in a sharp but narrow way equated BHM with "slavery"! So much that new African immigrants to the America's like myself have often struggled with seeing their role in the BHM celebrations. Subsequently, this has led to questions and doubt as to where global Africans fit where BHM is concerned. That perhaps, BHM is something strictly reserved for African Americans/ African Europeans etc.!? With this invitation, I was forced to address this issue again.

At the same time, it is not just new African immigrants who are struggling with seeing their roles in BHM. In fact, in recent times, BHM has become a contentious issue within the wider black community. For the most part, the feeling is that corporate America/Canada has hijacked BHM and focused its events on a constricted "slavery" narrative.

Another charge is that corporates take advantage of BHM to use the names of black heroes such as Martin Luther King and Rosa parks for its own public relations interests. For example, BHM events are used by company CEO's to speak on equality and civil rights when this values are absent in the workplace. It is this claimed corporate disingenuousness and a luck of totality that has turned off a lot of people in the black community.

Today, activists within the these community continue to work towards a more comprehensive BHM and we are starting to see fruits. Movements such as Black Future Month are bringing to the forefront issues that were previously ignored and providing a more expansive take where BHM is concerned. Thus, not only are we starting to see a wide range of issues and events during BHM, we are also seeing a much needed diversity in people involved.

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Going back to the invitation, it is this diversity and an inclusive agenda that convinced me to accept the invitation to speak at CASO last week. I knew I was sold for sure when I read that "we will be celebrating various African/Black cultures with each week falling under a different geographical theme and an entire week will be dedicated for Africa." I sensed that this was something unique and was not dissapointed. Reading on, I couldn't believe how comprehensive the agenda was. This organization was serious about celebrating the richness and diversity of the global black community. More importantly, they understood that people of African descent share the same struggles but that they are also very unique in their cultures and struggles.

Please see below what I think is an exemplary BHM event calendar that every workplace should aspire too.

WEEK ONE

FEB 1 - FEB 5: AFRICA

The first week of February was dedicated to celebrating Africa and highlighting the achievements of Africans in our community. I was the guest speaker and Burundian Dance troupe ISHAKA performed. Traditional Somali foods from Sambuza Village were served. The next day, Thursday, Feb. 4: a viewing party for the inspirational TED Talk "The Danger of a Single Story" by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was organized.

WEEK TWO

FEB 8 - FEB 12: SOUTH AMERICA

The second week of February is dedicated to celebrating Black History in South America and highlighting the cultural contributions of Black South Americans.

Staff member Leandro Silva-Stone, of Brazilian heritage, will speak about Black History in Brazil. Traditional Peruvian food from Petit Peru will be served.

Thursday, Feb. 11: Another TED Talk titled "Don't Ask Where I'm From, Ask Where I'm a Local" will be shown.

WEEK THREE

FEB 15 - FEB 19: CARRIBEAN

The third week is dedicated to celebrating Caribbean influence on Black History and exposing staff to various elements of Caribbean culture including food, music and dance. On Wednesday, Feb. 17: The Honorable Justice Hugh Fraser will be joining us to speak of his Jamaican roots and his journey to becoming a key figure in the criminal justice system. Traditional Caribbean food will be available for tasting.

Thursday, Feb. 18: Another viewing party for a TED Talk "How to overcome our biases? Walk boldly towards them" will be organized.

WEEK FOUR

FEB 22 - FEB 26: NORTH AMERICA

The last week of February is dedicated to celebrating Black History right here in North America, including historical and cultural influence in the United States and Canada. Recognized slam poet Roua Algi will be speaking about her story and performing a few of her poems. Southern comfort food will be served. Another TED Talk will be shown.

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I'd like to thank the staff at The Children's Aid Society of Ottawa for such an amazing and thoughtful program of events. I'd also encourage everyone reading this to share this program with his or her place of work. We have to redefine Black History Month and bring to our workplace and communities a diverse picture of what is truly quite diverse but interlinked black community.

Regarding my question as to if new African immigrants belong in the BHM narrates; a friend of mine put it this simple - "Once you step outside the African continent, you do not have the luxury of distancing yourself from the slavery narrative. Being Black outside of Africa is like having a spotlight on you always; reminding you that you're an outsider, that you're a minority. Your "Blackness" is illuminated always. Once you step out of the continent, you automatically become indoctrinated in to the larger narrative. We are part of the conversation."

For more on the Agenda above or if you'd like to attend any of the events - please reach out to,andre.fontaine@casott.on.ca, denyse.umutoni@casott.on.ca or ayane.ali@casott.on.ca

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