Black history is Canadian history

(From left) Camille Dundas, Kike Ojo-Thompson, Celina Caesar-Chavannes at the launch of DRPS Black History Month on Jan. 28.

Many Black Canadians feel one month is not enough to tell their history – believing it needs to be intertwined with all history.

Camille Dundas, the editor-in-chief of the online magazine, says she gets more requests to speak during February than the entire year.

“It’s like we’re Black 365 days, so hey let’s talk about it on Tuesday,” says Dundas, who was at the Durham Regional Police Services Black History Month launch Jan. 28.

“In March,” adds Celina Caesar-Chavannes former Whitby MP and Parliamentary Secretary to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Caesar-Chavannes says Black people don’t have the luxury of having Black history end in February.

“If that was the case we would never be in spaces, we would never occupy spaces and then reach out and pull others into those spaces,” says Caesar-Chavannes.

“That is living our ancestral wildest dreams. That is why we are here. We are constantly teaching even when it’s not our children.”

She says when people ask her ‘so where’s our history month?’ She says she tells them, “well, that happens from Grade 1 through 12.”

An Afiwi Groove School dancer performs at the launch of DRPS Black History Month on Jan. 28. Photo credit: Tracey Bowers-Lee

Dundas says she would, and most Blacks would, “gladly” give up Black History Month if they taught Black history throughout the schools.

She says there needs to be inclusion and fairness about Black history or Black people will never move forward.

Kike Ojo-Thompson of the Kojo Institute works to create solutions around equality at an institutional and systemic level. She also joined Caesar-Chavannes and Dundas as panel guests at the launch.

She says she wouldn’t give Black History Month back.

“At least we have the month because if you come from a space or home where it’s not a conversation at least this happens. It’s like we have Women’s Day,” says Ojo-Thompson. “I’m sure it’s an easy argument for why we have Women’s Day. So that same argument is why we have Black History Month.”

A former teacher in the Peel District School Board, Ojo-Thompson says kids aren’t being taught about Black history.

“We teach your children not one thing, not one single, solitary thing about the second largest land mass on the planet, and that is the continent of Africa,” says Ojo-Thompson.

“We teach them absolutely nothing. We should be enraged and not just Black people, white people, you should be enraged your children think Africa is a country. You should be disturbed.”

Ojo-Thompson says a month can’t take care of systemic racism but says the reason a month like this is given to communities is about equity.

“Which community, which youth know their history? Not ours, not here. Anything that I know, happened later in life or through my parents with intentionality,” says Ojo-Thompson.

“A white child’s parents don’t have to have intentionality for them to know their heritage or their roots or feel rooted.”

She also says on the slight chance Black history is shared; it is often not represented accurately.

Ojo-Thompson also explains the powers of unexamined racism and spoke about personal experience.

“To be black is to have a lifetime of experiences, a realization of how you are being taken up,” says Ojo-Thompson.

She says while she was a student at McMaster University she faced racism while walking to class.

“I am alone, not with a posse or a gang. I am wearing my hoodie, but the hood was not up. I’m wearing a McMaster backpack. And yet when I stopped at a stop sign and a white woman pulled up beside me to stop at the stop sign,” says Ojo-Thompson. “When she noticed me, she rushed to lock her door in fright. Am I scary?”

She says she had to realize it really wasn’t personal, it is about the ideas people have about Black people and surround no matter what space they are in.

Members of the DRPS, Durham Regional Council and panellist at the launch of DRPS Black History Month on Jan. 28. Photo credit: Tracey Bowers-Lee

Ojo-Thompson, Dundas and Caesar-Chavannes agree if there was equity within the system then Black History Month wouldn’t be a subject of any discussions.

Ojo-Thompson says whenever she gets an opportunity to speak, she is happy to speak “truth to power.

“I’m doing it for people that look like me because I know we don’t get to hear it often. It’s to the point where you start to feel like you’re crazy,” she says. “You start to feel maybe it’s me, this experience because you’re not hearing our truth on microphones anywhere.”