Black history on campus

Organizers deconstruct meaning behind annual event

Activist, author and poet Anne-Marie Woods spoke to a crowd in Dunning Hall as part of the annual Black History Month
Activist, author and poet Anne-Marie Woods spoke to a crowd in Dunning Hall as part of the annual Black History Month

Opportunities to study black history at Queen’s are limited, says Maame Debrah, a board member for Queen’s Coalition Against Racial and Ethnic Discrimination (QCRED).

“I don’t think there’s an avenue for people to learn outside of classrooms,” Debrah, ArtSci ’13, said.

February is Black History Month and this year’s theme at Queen’s is “deconstructing.”

The main goal is to break down why this specific month exists and what it means to black people in both the Queen’s and Kingston communities.

Debrah, who interns with CFRC as the Black History Month co-ordinator, said black history shouldn’t be separate from everyone else’s histories.

“As a human race, what affects someone else does affect another person in some way. It’s not only something that should be seen as affecting only black people,” she said. “It intersects. It is everyone’s history.”

One downfall of QCRED-organized events this year was minimal outreach to students, Debrah said, adding that more community-building needs to occur.

“The turnout wasn’t so amazing and we probably didn’t reach out as much,” she said.

Last night’s speaker was Anne-Marie Woods.

Woods is a creative consultant at Imani Enterprises and focuses on youth education.

She is also a spoken-word poet, actress and singer.

She wrote a travel column for Sway Magazine and is a CBC radio producer based in Toronto.

Her talk, what you don’t know can hurt you, centred on the importance of education on black history.

Woods sat down with the Journal after her presentation.

Q. Why is Black History Month important?

A: I just think that all history’s important … It’s not really just the history of black people, it’s a part of world history and so for me that’s why it’s important that everyone learns about it, because … you know that your ancestors played a part in it [and] other people know we did something in history too.

Q. How has art shaped you personally?

A: It allows me to paint pictures in a way that can help some of the history come to life… You can read something, and it can have an impact on you, but then if you hear or you see it visually too I think that it’s just something that adds to black history … Being an artist is who I am and the art is what I love.

Q. Why focus on youth?

A: If you have a gift to work with young people you should use it … I can count how many black teachers I had on one hand between elementary school and university.

For me, I think it’s important for young people to be exposed to people of all cultures. One, because a lot of times they may never get a teacher who is from another culture. Two, for kids that are black so they can see that ‘you know what this is something that I can do.’ I am of the mindset that young people are the future so I want to invest in them.

Q. How has living and traveling to a variety of places influenced you?

A: I grew up in a West Indian household so I grew up with West Indian values … My parents were stricter than others, so it still had that sort of different culture when I came home.

I think I have a nomadic spirit, because I was born in one country, then six months later I was baptized in another, and then I moved to Nova Scotia.

Q. Why is the education of black history so important?

A: That’s what shapes you whether you realize it or not. Kids spend more time in school than with their parents … I know the teachers who supported me, I remember all of them from when I was young.

Education it should just include everybody and the world would just be a better place … I don’t know what’s going to change that — there’s systemic racism, there’s systemic barriers with everything. It’s just going to take dialogue.

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