Black history a cause for celebration

Ceremony honours black alumni and students’ contributions to the University

Queen’s first-ever Black History Month (BHM) opening ceremony was held last Friday night in the JDUC.

In an effort to make this year’s BHM more celebratory, the planning committee decided to host the ceremony, which included several speakers.

The seven-person committee is comprised of students from the African & Caribbean Students’ Association, Queen’s Black Academic Society and Queen’s Coalition against Racist and Ethnic Discrimination.

The committee began planning for all of the month’s events in October.

“I hope [what] Queen’s students take away from this is that there is a big Afro-Caribe culture here at Queen’s,” organizer Stephanie Jackson, ArtSci ’14, said. In February 1926, ‘Negro History Week’ was initiated by black historian Carter G. Woodson, the date chosen to mark the birthday of both President Abraham Lincoln, who signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, and Frederick Douglass, an activist, writer and escaped slave. It eventually became Black History Week, and in 1976, the week was expanded to a month-long celebration.

In 2008, the Canadian Senate officially recognized Black History Month after black Nova Scotian Senator Hon. Donald H. Oliver brought forward the resolution.

Over 50 people filled the JDUC’s McLaughlin Hall on Friday to attend the ceremony, while Queen’s TV offered live broadcasting of the event on TV Cogeco.

“I was happy if we just filled the chairs,” organizer Jackson said. “People kept filing in.”

Organizers aimed to spread the word about the celebratory month by involving different student-run committees, as well as posting flyers and advertising on Facebook and Twitter.

Jackson planned the event with fellow committee member Sharon Obuobi, who was also pleased with the turnout.

Obuobi said it was important for them to increase the presence of BHM on campus this year to show students what people of colour have contributed to the University. She didn’t want the month to be “subtle” like previous years, she added.

The prevalent theme of the ceremony was raising awareness about those contributions and how they affect students today.

“I hope the students get a better appreciation for the significant role that black students and alumni have played in the development of the University and the programs,” Obuobi, Comm ’13, said.

The ceremony featured five speakers, including Principal Daniel Woolf; Wayne Myles, Queen’s University International Centre Director; Felix Akols, president of the Kingston African and Caribbean Collective; Judith Brown, president of the Afro-Caribe Community Foundation of Kingston; and Rector Nick Francis.

There was also performance by spoken word artist and student Daniel Quainoo, ArtSci ’14.

“Black history month is an opportunity to commemorate and remember some very important people who are a part of our collective history,” Quainoo said.

“As [Woolf] said today, I think Black History Month isn’t always going to be necessary … “But [BHM] is important today in order to raise awareness about our history.”

Woolf’s speech included a mention of changing the curriculum so that it covers broader historical perspectives.

A list of events for BHM is available on the committee’s Facebook page. This month will include a soul food gathering, a cooking demonstration, radio broadcasts and an ongoing photo gallery in Stauffer Library.

Notable alumni

Alumnus and lawyer Robert Sutherland, whose namesake building houses the School of Policy Studies, was the first known person of colour to graduate from a Canadian University. His donation of $12,000 to Queen’s in 1878 saved the University from
financial crisis.

Sutherland is only one of many black graduates to make an impression on the University and the country. Here are just a few others:

George Elliot Clarke, PhD ’93: Clarke is a poet and playwright whose work often concerns the African-Canadian communities of the Maritimes.

Yolande James, Law ’03: James was the first black female Member of National Assembly and first black cabinet minister in Quebec history.

Eon Sinclair, ArtSci ’04: Sinclair is the bassist for Bedouin Soundclash, which he formed with two other students while studying at Queen’s.

— Holly Tousignant

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