The opening ceremony for Black History Month offered Afro-Caribe food, a display of Afro-Caribbean art and discussion of the importance of black lives and history to Canada.
The third annual ceremony was held at the Renaissance Centre on Queen St. at 6 p.m. on Feb. 1, with approximately 120 people in attendance. The venue was decorated with a display of African art and culture.
The ceremony was organized jointly by the Kingston Afro-Caribe Association and Queen’s Black History Month Committee members.
Among the guests were Queen’s Principal Daniel Woolf, former Kingston and the Islands MP Peter Milliken, current MP Ted Hsu and MPP Sophie Kiwala.
The speakers present included Judith Brown, president of the Kingston Afro-Caribe Association, and CBC broadcaster Adrian Harewood.
After a performance of the national anthem, and a reading by town crier Chris Whyman, Woolf spoke briefly about the many important strides made in African-American history, many of which occurred in February.
“Although Black History Month does not undo those oversights or right those wrongs [suffered by African-Americans], it does give us the chance to pay particular attention to the many remarkable accomplishments of black people in Canada,” he said.
Woolf was followed by Milliken, Hsu and Kiwala, who spoke about the cultural diversity in Kingston and the importance of remembering the past for all of its pain and glory.
“There are many stories that people haven’t heard,” Hsu said.
“Stories are defining, and by missing some, we are missing parts of our history.”
Brown spoke next and began by explaining why Canadians celebrate Black History Month.
“We need to celebrate Black History Month so that all Canadians, not just black Canadians, know of the stories of our country … [and] to make the Canadian community at large aware of the part played by blacks and all early pioneers in the building of this great nation,” she said.
Brown also spoke of several pivotal figures spanning across five centuries of black history — including Harriet Tubman, Robert Sutherland and Viola Desmond — who suffered injustices because of race and colonialism.
Harewood, the anchor of CBC News: Late Night in Ottawa, spoke about how the influence and help from many people in his life got him to where he is now.
“I got here because black lives matter, because black lives have mattered,” he said.
He also emphasized the importance of stepping over divisive lines to break down barriers between cultures, adding that both action and inaction matter in the pursuit to achieve equality.
The ceremony also featured an African drum performance by local djembe teacher Julian Gregory and his students, and spoken word poetry by Yema Quinn, education co-officer of the African and Caribbean Students Association.
“Body language will let you know loud and clear if someone thinks something is of importance. Especially if they think that political correctness is what is said or not said, as opposed to a state of mind,” Quinn, ArtSci ’16, said in her poem “Conversations”.
Though the night demonstrated a movement towards the fulfillment of the hopes and dreams of older African-Americans, Brown ended the ceremony with a call to action.
“We the blacks are still facing problems. The city is not as wonderful for some as it is for others, and we still have more work to do,” she said.
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