BY KATHY MCDONALD
Black History month is now over and as I reflect on the flurry of activities that occurred to celebrate the history and culture of Black people I wonder, I celebrate and I dream. I wonder when Canada will have its first Black Prime Minister. I celebrate the accomplishments, the victories and the stories. I dream about a day that Black culture will be embedded in the society, in the curriculum and in our everyday lives that it will not have to be relegated to one month.
I would like to share some of the highlights of the month of February through the lens of a storyteller. During February I usually spend my days visiting schools and sharing stories of Black history through the eyes of a Caribbean Immigrant. There are tales of slavery, island life and folklore. This year my theme was the French influence of the Caribbean. I was intrigued that so many of my St. Lucian creole stories were identifiable by students from other heritages. A Punjabi boy came up to me and told me that his grandfather use to tell him a similar story to that of ‘Compere Lapin Pays a Price’. A South Asian grade one student approached me after hearing the ‘Faces of the Caribbean’ narrative and expressed his genuine sorrow that I was a slave. His innocence and his authentic sympathy was delightful. I was touched when the mother of a sassy little grade three student saw me in the supermarket and told me that her daughter had just earlier that day educated a school mate on the bus. “When Preet was on the bus and was about to sit beside Natasha, Chandra told her not to sit beside Natasha because she was Black. Her mother told her that Black people are bad. Well Preet simply said “What century are you living in?” and proceeded to sit. For the rest of the journey Preet, based on the lessons she had learned from your storytelling session, educated Chandra about her folly.” (names were changed to protect the identity of the students)
Perhaps the most gratifying moment was seeing the final draft of my son’s essay. “……My heritage is a fundamental part of my identity, so there was no question that I would use it as a conduit to helping me understand my history. When I look at my community, I often wondered why many of my friends come from single parent homes, while I am fortunate enough to have both parents, who were also both actively involved in mine and my siblings lives. Because slavery was one of the greatest horrors of history, where an entire race was subjugated and decimated, I decided to investigate whether it was correlated to the issues I had identified in my community today. I conducted extensive research, which included reviewing library catalogues and databases, reviewing past research papers from reputable historians and journals and interviews. It became clear to me that there is a relationship between the slave family, which was first separated from their African homeland through the transatlantic slave trade and then often separated years later in the domestic slave trade and today’s Black family. For four hundred years, the ability to form solid relationships was damaged across several generations. The repercussions of this are still being felt in the Black community.
The slavery story is often dismissed and relegated to something that happened “so long ago.” Many in the Black community have never truly embraced, studied and learned from this ordeal. Learning about one’s history is fundamental for one’s total development, especially in the area of self-esteem and self-awareness. My parents have always discussed with me at length the legacy of slavery, the resiliency of Black people and the negative remnants of slavery that still permeate in the Black/Caribbean community today. They have instilled in me a deep desire for learning, for commitment to family and a duty to the community. My parents believe strongly that a thriving community needs strong, educated families as its foundation…… I believe that one’s history does not have to define one’s future. Many Blacks need to become educated on the importance of family and nurturing so that the cycle does not continue to perpetuate itself in further generations.”
So I would like to challenge you, my readers to keep learning about Black history. If your heritage is Black or Caribbean, the profuse wealth of stories that have accumulated over the years will empower you and your children and your children’s children. If you identify as a different ethnic group celebrate our differences. The more you know, the more you grow. So Walk Good – Belle Marche!!