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Durham’s Black History Month helps voices be heard

A volunteer experience at an Ajax event propelled a then Grade 12 student and her poetry club to larger performing stages – including an upcoming Durham Black History Month event.

Tala Lumbu, 19, started her poetic performance journey with the Notre Dame Catholic Secondary School Spoken Word Team in Grade 10. The group performed at school events with researched topics like mental health.

Lumbu re-created the group in Grade 12 because it had fizzled out and she missed performing.

In 2019, Lumbu met the volunteer coordinator for Durham Black History Month (BHM) at church and asked if her club could participate in the event.

They’ve been part of it ever since.

The group renamed itself the Black Stars Spoken Word Team, after not being able to use the school’s name for administrative reasons.

“We actually performed using that name because we kind of went on tour after our debut performance at the Durham event,” says Lumbu.

“We just came up with a new name, that’s who we are now, yeah, of course, a lot of fun.”

Durham BHM is holding its 14th annual event on Feb. 6 with the theme being the Feast of Black Excellence.

In previous years, the event was at J. Clarke Richardson Collegiate in Ajax, but the event has moved remotely due to COVID-19.

The event is free and showcases performing artists like Lumbu and the Black Stars Spoken Word Team.

“We wanted to use the principles of Kwanzaa… what does it mean to our people, how are we able to connect those principles and implement it into our lives,” Lumbu explains.

“I brought it up to my group because my family celebrates Kwanzaa [and] before I was even born.”

Lumbu explains the group performance will be pre-recorded to ensure the presentation goes smoothly.

“We’re all kind of scattered around Durham and the country,” says Lumbu.

Three of the members are out of Notre Dame including Lumbu, and four of the members still attend the school.

“We have a member who lives in Quebec, and it’s kind of difficult for to be [at the event] on time and kind of be present so and connections are kind of off,” Lumbu explains.

Nicole Griffith, an executive committee member for Durham BHM, has volunteered her time planning the event for six years.

“I’m behind the scenes I’m not the person in front so I’m helping to do all the administrative and coordinating people, that’s my love, my profession,” says Griffith.

The volunteers of Durham BHM faced challenging moments setting up the first virtual event.

“So many months had been talking about how exactly we will do it…what resources, can we extend to what can we actually afford in terms of the budget and the sponsorship that we normally have on an annual basis,” says Griffith.

“That was quite the learning curve.”

The volunteers found luck with a partnership to help with the virtual production.

One thing the performers and organizers of Durham BHM will miss is the audience interaction.

“I love performing arts, I love to see the audience reaction, it’s such a joy to see all these ideas come to life,” says Griffith.

“I guess they’re streaming it live so that’s really great, but I really missed the live interactions with the audience,” adds Lumbu.

“You can say something, and they’ll be like, ‘yes, yes I believe you’.”