The month of February is Black History Month (or as some prefer to call it, African Heritage Month), and Regina has been extremely busy celebrating and reflecting. |
Some of the monthıs events include several church services, religious events, symposiums and a banquet. Among the festivities was a youth program that celebrated black music. The event took place on Saturday, February 21, in the Education Auditorium, at the University of Regina. Pamela Brown, Coordinator of the Youth Program 1998, said that the program was an informative musical play that featured artists and musical styles that were introduced by black people.
"Much of what the world at large considers uniquely North American in the performing arts can be traced directly to black performers and their heritage," says Brown.
The performance included African drumming, African world music, calypso, and reggae.
"The performance on Saturday was excellent and a number of children from the black community participated. They were from kindergarten all the way up to men and women in their twenties." says Judy Kobsar, the Activity Coordinator for the Congress of Black Women of Canada (Regina Chapter).
In attendance were approximately two hundred people including fifteen singers from the Minot State Choir. Several U of R students participated in dancing, singing, and drill stepping. The performance was a mixture of African, Carribean, Canadian and American black culture.
Over the past few years the month's official name has been undergoing somewhat of a name transformation as well. Some people prefer African Heritage Month, African American History Month, or the more commonly used Black History Month. Regardless of the name, the meaning behind it seems to be the same for the majority of African- Canadians.
Kobsar says that, "Black History Month means a coming together of the black ethnic groups. It also addresses the different good that blacks have done over the years, not only in Regina, Saskatchewan, but all over the country. Black History Month reminds me and makes me reflect on my foreparents that came to North and South America as slaves."
Kobsar is originally from Guyana, South America. She was born there and then immigrated to London, England in the 1950s.
"My great-great-grandfather was brought here as a slave driver and he got the very strong slaves to work for the white man, the British. I am pretty sure that it must have been hard for him to do but it was a way of survival in those days." Kobsar says that to reflect back on those days and to see how far the black community has come is quite an achievement.
Brian Celaire, Master of Ceremonies for the Celebration of Black Music and a student at the University of Regina, feels that Black History Month is a time for black people to reflect and to see the advancements and achievements made.
"Things are beginning to change, black people are being portrayed seriously and professionally in the media and there is a direct and definite representation now. The month allows for an understanding of where we have come from, both figuratively and literally," says Celaire.
He adds that, "considering the time restraints put on University students, it is hard to take time to reflect and search for a deeper understanding of the significance and the meaning behind the achievements made within the black community."
In larger centers such as the University of Toronto or the University of Calgary, where the population is much more diverse, there is more display and exhibitions for Black History Month. Kobsar has had a display at the University of Regina for the past five years in the front main library showcase and there are displays at the Regina Main Public Library and the Regina Public School Board.
"We need to get caught on a little bit more, but the black population is so small that it will take some time. However, people like myself and others have been very influential in making sure these things get caught on," says Kobsar.
"I think that there is a big difference between the U of R and a larger University. In a larger community, the effect of these ceremonies would be the same only more powerful. The togetherness aspect would be amplified," says Celaire.
Celaire and Kobsar agree that it is tough when the black community is a small one. It is basically a small handful of people that are sacrificing a great deal to ensure that events like those taking place this month are able to continue.
"Pamela Brown is amazing and she is such a special person for coordinating the Youth Program and making sure the culture is kept alive," says Celaire. "She does have a lot of volunteers and help but she alone bears a lot of the responsibility and accountability."
There is a great deal of influence from the United States and unfortunately information on Canadian black history is not readily accessible. "Many believe that black history is an American, meaning a United States, event. The month has grown to a worldwide celebration," says Brown.
However, "if you go on the internet right now and try to find some Canadian information regarding Black History Month, there is nothing there. You are swamped with American ideologies regarding the month," says Kobsar.
"We as Canadian blacks should view ourselves differently. The whole United States view of black history is projected onto Canada. We do not have the same historical background as the States and we have to recognize that. However, the great Americans that changed history such as Rosa Parks, and Malcolm X, did have an impact on the rest of the world," says Celaire.
Kobsar says that there were a number of black settlers here in Saskatchewan in places like Weyburn and Prince Albert. However, many of the settlements were in Windsor, Chattum, and Nova Scotia as a result of the underground railway. Canada is such a diverse mosaic of people that the black population comes from all regions and ethnic backgrounds.
"In terms of awareness, I would like to see more government offices set up to do promotional work for Black History Month. I would like to see other government departments and corporations get involved in some of our programs," says Kobsar.
Black History Month began in 1926 as "Negro Appreciation Week." In 1977, the entire month of February was adopted by North Americans as "Black History Month." In 1995 the Canadian government passed laws in parliament proclaiming February as Black History Month. The City of Regina has issued a proclamation citing February as Black History Month.
February is the only month out of the year that is designated for black history and although many people criticize that it is the shortest month out of the year, there is significance behind it. February coincides with many of the slave rebellions that took place, not to mention that it follows the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr.
"A full appreciation of the celebration of Black History Month requires a review and reassessment of the social and academic climate that prevailed in the Western world, and especially in North America before 1926 when Black History Month was established," says Brown.
Throughout history peoples from African decent have been persecuted and dehumanized, however, the "accomplishments of black people here in Canada and throughout North America are too long to list," says Brown.
"Blacks have been inventors, blacks have been educators but unfortunately, there is not much written in the history books about it,"said Kobsar.
The first black man that landed on Canadian soil was Matthew DaCosta in 1605. On February 23, the City of Regina presented an award, in his honor, to the first student to excel in school in various subjects.
"The history of those of African descent can now be seen, although not on our desired scale, in educational institutions throughout North America. Black History Month should be the reaffirmation of struggle and determination to change attitudes and heighten the understanding of the African experience," says Brown.