HREO launches Black History Month at Queen’s

Opening ceremony ushered in a month of celebration 

Award-winning poet and professor closed ceremony with spoken word. 
Journal File Photo
The Human Rights and Equity Office (HREO) kicked off Black History Month at Queen’s with an opening ceremony on Feb. 1.
Moderated by Jeremiah Marshall, HREO inclusion & anti-racism advisor, the event included a panel discussion on Black health and wellness featuring Celina Caesar-Chavannes, senior advisor of EDI initiatives with the Faculty of Health Sciences; Wanda Costen, Dean of the Smith School of Business; Samara Lijiam, Social Issues Commissioner at the AMS; and Ayden Adeyanju-Jackson, EDI student assistant at the Yellow House. 
“When we think about Black health and wellness, it means everything,” Caesar-Chavannes said.
“We need to understand [the importance of] correcting the disparities that exist in access in health and wellness for Black people who are continuously at the fringe of those access points.”
During the half-hour discussion session, the panelists touched on topics ranging from the impact of racial trauma on one’s physical and mental health to combatting burnout as Black learners and professionals to fostering Indigenous allyship in self-care and work.
The conversation centered on the health of  Black staff, students, and faculty at Queen’s as a predominantly white institution.
“I think, for me, Black wellbeing is very much self-preservation and about survival, and about not just surviving, but also thriving and doing what you have to do to thrive in whatever space you’re at,” Lijiam said.
“Many of us are in roles and positions within our organizations because of a lack of representation. It’s a term that I coined, to be ‘the lonely only,’” Costen added. 
“Wellness is a is a broad, holistic term, but that is lived down in organizations that have an impact. We’re not in a space where we legitimately feel welcomed and included. All that pressure and angst weighs on our bodies.”
In discussing the supports and resources available for Black faculty and learners, several panelists acknowledged the need to dismantle the stigma surrounding dialogues on Black mental health and the lack of culturally competent care.
“For a lot of people, [achieving Black wellness] requires unlearning, either from the things that their families taught them about wellbeing and health, or the messages that we get from society because they are very often steeped in
Eurocentrism and capitalism,” Lijiam said.“I think it was bell hooks that said, ‘healing is an act of communion,’ and I think that even in my answers today, I can tell that I’ve relied so much on my friends for a lot of the wisdom that I’ve gotten around wellbeing.”
Britta B., an award-winning poet and professor, closed out the evening with a spoken word performance. She took a moment to recognize the importance of Black History Month as a source of visibility and hope for creatives like her. 
“Growing up myself in Kingston, it was hard to see what was possible for me. I didn’t imagine that this lifestyle that I now have was possible, and it took a lot of encouragement a took a lot of listening to find the permission to be me,” she said.
“If there’s anything that I could share with my former selves, [it’s] that you are holding that possibility for someone to see who they can be.”
Following the panel discussion, an event calendar highlighting Black History Month celebrations in Kingston was unveiled.

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