Volume 91, Issue 72

Thursday, February 5, 1998



Praising black Canadian heritage

By Natalie Henry
Gazette Staff

Black History Month examines many aspects of black heritage and culture – not to mention a remembrance of the road travelled in order to change the present. While admiring the pedestal-worthy historical heros like Martin Luther King Jr., who cleared the way for many blacks, individuals often miss the neighbour or acquaintance who selflessly gives up their time for others without ever seeking reward.

"Naming role models is easy – it's a short cut," says Esmeralda Thornhill, the first holder of the James Robinson Johnson chair in Black Canadian Studies at Dalhousie University. "We must look at the real people, the unsung – every day of survival is a victory for us. Black people are challenged all the time."

Canadian heroes are virtually unknown in comparison to the Martin Luther King Jrs. and Malcolm Xs of our Southern neighbours; however, the effort made by student clubs and organizations, reading material and even educational Web sites, show an enlightening change is in the works.

The Western campus club called Organizing Other Voices looks at writings and poetry, Stephanie Cornish, political affairs officer for the Black Students' Association, says. "This month the theme is called Black Achievement. We're recognizing people in the Western and London community. People who sing, write poems, art etc.

"The focus is on community talent. We often bring in speakers from Toronto and we forget to recognize people who live next door," she adds.

A recent Internet resource on black history is Dalhousie University's Black Canadian Studies Web site. "The [James Robinson Johnson] chair is a catalyst for change," Thornhill says. "There are three components for change: a roster of imminent speakers, a grad school and a special library collection."

The resource is part of the library's collection and consists of a network of Web sites which anyone interested in black culture and heritage can visit.

"The university has a responsibility to public education and very few take responsibility to diversity in the public," Thornhill explains.

The importance of Black History Month is defined differently for everyone despite the one commonality of taking pride in one's past and taking part in the present, she adds.

"Black History Month is whatever anyone wants to make of it," Thornhill says. "It should be celebrated during any month. I celebrate my history every day of the year. I don't limit the celebration to February – I have never limited it to February.

"I celebrate my history every day. I reach down into my consciousness to face micro and macro aggressions and channel that anger so it's not boomeranged back at you. History helps to do this," she adds.

Cornish says she commemorates black history and culture by "participating in things like the BSA and Other Voices and other groups." Reading books and looking on the Internet are other ways, she adds.

Author and journalist Cecil Foster says, "I celebrate 12 months a year. As a writer writing about issues, history of the people and their contributions. I go to schools, read at events, I attend talks, talk to kids and attend many cultural events."

It would seem normal to reach some kind of conclusion, however, that the education on unsung Canadian heros and black heritage can be aptly described as the beginning.

"We must look around us at the Austin Clarkes, Dionne Brandes, the people in science, in the media – there's no shortage of heroes. There's a shortage of people given hero status," Foster says.

To Contact The Focus Department: gazfocus@julian.uwo.ca

Copyright The Gazette 1998