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This summer, Black Lives Matter protests around the world sparked a commitment among many individuals and organisations to educate themselves about Black history, heritage and culture – as part of understanding racism and standing in solidarity against it.
If that commitment is to transcend beyond social media into real change, everyone, from all communities, needs to embrace Black History Month as a starting point for exploring, discovering and celebrating Black history, heritage and culture – both past and contemporary. From the incredible achievements and contributions, to the many untold stories and barriers to progress – the day-to-day reality of institutionalised racism.
Black Lives Matter - Sudbury is proud to present to you the Virtual Museum of Black History.
Take this time to learn, discuss, and share.
In 1978, the Ontario Black History Society (OBHS) was established. Its founders, including Dr. Daniel G. Hill and Wilson O. Brooks, presented a petition to the City of Toronto to have February formally proclaimed as Black History Month.
In 1979, the first-ever Canadian proclamation was issued by Toronto.
In 1988, the first Black History Month in Nova Scotia was observed.
In 1993, the OBHS successfully filed a petition in Ontario to proclaim February as Black History Month. Following that success, Rosemary Sadlier, president of the OBHS, introduced the idea of having Black History Month recognized across Canada to Jean Augustine, member of Parliament (MP) and Parliamentary Secretary. Augustine enthusiastically supported the idea.
In February 2008, Senator Donald Oliver, the first Black man appointed to the Senate, introduced a motion to have the Senate officially recognize February as Black History Month. The motion was approved unanimously and was adopted on 4 March 2008, completing Canada’s parliamentary position on Black History Month in Canada.
Did you know?
Jean Augustine was the first Black woman elected to the House of Commons (1993) and the first Black woman to be appointed to Cabinet (2002). Augustine served as Secretary of State in charge of multiculturalism and the Status of Women in the Cabinets of prime ministers Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin.
The educational pipeline is a period of exploration of one’s identity, place in society and their academic interests. It is a phase where opinions are like clay in its initial stages — if well-shaped it can make a beautiful pot, but mishandling can result in long-lasting effects.
The curriculum taught to children in school defines the opinions formed at this “early clay” phase but also sets them up for future academic exploration.
Unfortunately, cultural diversity has yet to be fully integrated into the school curriculums. As demonstrated by the Ontario Black History Society, in Canada, history is only ever taught one way.
It is essential to teach the youth of Ontario about the ways that Black Canadians have contributed to this country, but also the ways in which they have been mistreated by the Canadian government.
If we want equality for all, we need to confront history as it happened, even if it might make us uncomfortable.
"Have we read our own authors such as Dionne Brand, Afua Cooper and George Elliott Clarke? Do we know that the story of African-Canadians spans four hundred years, and includes slavery, abolition, pioneering, urban growth, segregation, the civil rights movement and a long engagement in civic life?" — Lawrence Hill
— Lawrence Hill, Canadian novelist, essayist, and memoirist. He is best known for his 2007 novel The Book of Negroes, inspired by the Black Loyalists given freedom and resettled in Nova Scotia by the British after the American Revolutionary War.
The first Canadian chapter of Black Lives Matter was established in Toronto in 2014.
In 2016, chapters were established in Vancouver , Edmonton and in Waterloo region.
In 2021, there are chapters all across Canada, including Sudbury, Ontario that are actively working to dismantle all forms of anti-Black racism, liberate Blackness, support Black healing, and affirm Black existence.
In addition to fighting against anti-Blackness, we create spaces to build our community. Through alternative forms of education, programming events for our communities, and supporting cultural creation, we believe that we create our own liberation through our commitment to thrive and build beautifully. In our movement for Black liberation, we join calls to decolonize Turtle Island and Nunavut Nunangatas there is no Black Liberation without Indigenous Liberation on Turtle Island.
In the video below, Sandy Hudson, founder of Black Lives Matter - Toronto explains what led her to take action and found the first Canadian chapter.
“Why am I waiting for someone else to do this?”
Mixed Up explores the isolation of being LGBTQ and BIPOC and the nuanced experience of living between binaries be them orientation, gender and ethnicity. The excerpt you will see explores the juxtaposition of my existence. The intersections of my European and Blackness. What is it like when I am mistaken for white when I exist as both? When I am told I am not black enough to be considered a person of colour.
In the song you will hear Canadian Tenor Isaiah Bell singing the song entitled "What Power Art Thou" from Henry Purcell’s King Arthur. In the song Arthur freezes to death. I liken this feeling to when I am perceived as white. I get frozen....stuck in a void.
I’ve often likened my existence to being like a bridge between worlds. The film asks that forgo our usual tendencies to avoid subjects that make us uncomfortable, but rather, face them with a vengeance ul0mately demanding that we celebrate the beauty of differences. MixedUp is available now on OUTtv, Amazon Prime and Apple TV. mixedup.ca
Howard J Davis aka HAUI is a multidisciplinary artist who defies categorization. He recently released his feature film debut MixedUp produced with Jack Fox and OUTtv. He’s currently in residency with Wildseed Black Arts Fellowship a 20 month paid residency through Black Lives Matter - Toronto. Upcoming he is creating a black opera based upon Canadian contralto Portia White. For more information head to haui.ca
Two years ago I went to the site that was formerly the Roseland Theatre in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia. What was in 1946 a cinema house is now a refurbished space. What once was the site of racial resistance to segregation is now remembered by few. This is not uncommon in Canada to move our stories of resilience into the peripheries. I am writing a new opera work about Portia White, a famed contralto from Nova Scotia who received international acclaim and fought racial barriers. Viola Desmond was Portia White’s hairdresser and is a character in my new creative work. Women like Viola and Portia are the reason I do what I do. So they can be remembered eternally. These women were trailblazers.
Q&A Controlled Damage Segment
In 2020, Andrea Scott’s Controlled Damage Premiered at Neptune Theatre in Halifax. This show documents portions of Viola’s life giving us all a deeper understanding of what her experience might have been like as a woman, a person of colour and a person of mixed heritage. Viola was a force to be reckoned with and was never satisfied with the minimum, the small things afforded to people of colour at that time. She had a very specific mixed experience that we must also remember would have been different from what even her husband would have gone through. She was a part of two worlds, neither of which saw her as completely their own. To give some insight into her experience working on this play, we have conducted an interview with the woman who played Viola Desmond herself, Deborah Castrilli.
What is something we might not know about Viola? Viola spent the last days of her life living alone in New York City, working as an entertainment manager.
You grew up in Halifax - any parallels between your and Viola’s experience? She obviously grew up in a very different time, but it's interesting to see how far we have come in some respects and not in others. Undoubtedly her story is just as relevant today (locally and nationally) as it was 75 years ago.
What was the best part about working on this project? Well in hindsight we now know that COVID-19 hit and shut down the theatre industry merely weeks later, so the fact that we got to tell this story and finish our run in its entirety is such a blessing! I look back on the whole experience and am continuously grateful for it. This story needed to be told, now more than ever.
What was the hardest part of working on this project? Embodying such an important figure that is known across Canada (but especially revered in Nova Scotia) was daunting to say the least! But the work felt so collaborative, and was done in such a way that it felt as though the entire company was carrying her story and her legacy. When injustices are committed it is our collective duty as a community to uphold each other to create effective change; and I think our show did a great job of showing not only the work of the woman alone, but the aspect of the community rallying behind (or shunning) her that was pivotal in her fight for equality
Black people have lived in Nova Scotia since before the founding of Halifax in 1749. However, it was only after the American Revolution, in the late 1700s and early 1800s, that large groups of Black settlers began to arrive in the province. Many of them were former enslaved people who had been promised freedom and land in Nova Scotia, but when they arrived, they encountered white settlers who viewed them as inferior.
Because of racism, Black settlers were pushed to the margins of society and forced to live on the most inhospitable land. Despite this, they persevered, developing strong, vibrant communities. Africville was one such place.
In 1848, William Arnold and William Brown, both Black settlers, bought land in Africville. Other families followed and in 1849, Seaview African United Baptist Church was opened to serve the village’s 80 residents.
The church was called “the beating heart of Africville” and was the centre of the village to both church-goers and non church-goers. It held the main civic events, including weddings, funerals, and baptisms. The church’s baptisms and Easter Sunrise Services were well-known.
Black Nova Scotians would line the banks of the Bedford Basin to watch the singing procession leave the church to baptize adults in the basin’s waters. After much petitioning by Africville residents, a school opened in 1883. Previously, a local resident had taught many of the children in Africville before the City school opened.
An image of the church before it was demolished in 1967
Africville residents ran fishing businesses from the Bedford Basin, selling their catch locally and in Halifax. Other residents ran farms, and several opened small stores toward the end of the 19th century.
In the city, Black women were generally only able to find work as domestic servants and where men were limited to a few jobs such as sleeping car porters on trains. Children swam in Tibby’s Pond and played baseball in Kildare’s Field. In the winter, everyone played hockey when the pond froze.
“You weren’t isolated at any time living in Africville, you always felt at home; the doors were always open. This is one of the most important things that has stayed with me throughout my life”
-- Irvine Carvery, former Africville resident
The City of Halifax collected taxes in Africville, but did not provide services such as paved roads, running water, or sewers. Municipal services such as public transportation, garbage collection, and recreational facilities were non-existent.
Africville residents, who paid taxes and took pride in their homes, asked the City to provide these basic services on numerous occasions, but no action was taken.
Africville residents did not receive water and sewer services provided to other Halifax residents. For their water supply, they relied upon on an assortment of wells
Instead of providing proper municipal services to the community, the City of Halifax eventually decided to relocate the residents of Africville. The City said it wanted to build industry and infrastructure in the area. But it also used the language of human rights, claiming that relocation would improve the standard of living for residents.
In January 1964, Halifax City Council voted to authorize the relocation of Africville residents. Before this decision was made, there was no meaningful consultation with residents of Africville to gather their views.
In fact, it was later reported over 80 per cent of residents had never had contact with the Halifax Human Rights Advisory Committee, which was the group charged with consulting the community.
Home to Halifax's Black community for generations, Shauntay Grant wants readers to feel her love for the place.
Led by Eddy Carvery and the 'Africville Protest' movement, for 50 years Africville residents have been in search of justice. Today the community and citizens all over the world are uniting as a collective to demand reparations for the once-prosperous black community, Africville.
In 2017 the UN Human Rights Council discussed a report with Canada, regarding issues affecting Black Canadians. A working group laid out dozens of recommendations to redress past and present wrongs affecting Black Canadians, and to consider issuing reparations.
We need to call on the municipal, provincial and federal governments to begin a reparations process that ensures prosperity and quality of life of Africvillians.
To take immediate action head over to: Collective Action
Desiree Adaway is the founder and principal of the Adaway Group and has over 25 years of experience leading and creating international multicultural teams in over 40 countries through major organizational change. Desiree is Senior Director of Mobilization for Habitats for Humanity and has now developed some of her knowledge and expertise into a series of courses surrounding equity.
Remember! Equity is not equality. Real equity ensures that every person has what they need to thrive. We all have different starting places, and we all have different needs.
Below we share some important and enlightening information about one of her courses “Whiteness at Work”.
"Love the collective more than you hate the system"
- Desiree Adayway
"Organizations have a responsibility to learn from the lessons of the pandemic, the constant struggle for Black lives....
...We have a responsibility to stop the harm that is happening to people of color within our organizations.
This requires skills that most of us don’t have. It requires imagining new ways of working and sharing power. It requires an on-going commitment to personal, interpersonal and organizational growth. It requires explicit conversations about how white supremacy manifests in our policies, practices, relationships and cultures.”
- Whiteness at Work
Below is a very useful framework which works on both individual and organizational levels. This is a process which it is imperative that we follow to ensure that our actions will be beneficial. This framework asks us to take the time to consider: what is the action that will cause the least amount of harm and the most impact?
If you’re interested in learning more from Desiree and her team, we have provided you below with a link to the first Lesson in her 2020 Whiteness in the Workplace course.
Shown below is a short video piece documenting footage from the original Diva Day Workshop. One of the organization’s Co-Founders, Malindi Ayienga, has contributed commissioned art for the Black Lives Matter - Sudbury social platforms and her work to create a more equitable future around the globe is deeply impactful.
A little about Diva Day:
“Diva Day uses arts-based education to demystify and normalize menstruation. Established in both Kenya and what is colonially known as Canada, we facilitate empowerment workshops with young menstruators to encourage body literacy, eradicate shame, provide a global perspective on menstrual equity, and create a sense of community. We highlight and provide a variety of menstrual products to offer agency over each participant’s menstrual care.
Educating and supporting menstruators alone cannot change a culture of shame. We engage non-menstruators and community elders in our workshops to foster empathy for menstruators and enrich the dialogue on how to dismantle society’s oppressive narratives surrounding menstruation.
Diva Day works towards a future where no day of school is missed due to menstruation.”
- Diva Day
Provided below is an excerpt from Chapter 6 of Reframing the Musical: Race, Culture and Identity. The writer, Sean Mayes, has gifted us with a look at his writing on black erasure throughout history. Though this piece is on the subject of Musical Theatre and Musical Direction, we feel that expressed is a sense of what we can all be striving for within our own vocations. Though this was written pre 2020, Mr. Mayes has given us all something to consider in how we move forward in this Black Lives Matter resurgence and strengthening.
"Through surveillance of role versus race, artist versus labourer, we consider, given our histories, how we seek to move forward. What is the music director’s role in the history of musical theatre? How are we benefiting and serving our art in preserving it? And how can this be accomplished?
In the beginning to answer these questions, I would propose that anyone who is ignorant of their past is in proper form to repeat it. Examining the historical relevancy and providing additional survey on the people who are responsible for designing the function of the music director is crucial in uncovering how they worked, and what individual contributions to the field were provided. ...Accolades can be frequently tossed out with a pat on the back in accomplishing integration - for example, many individuals have been in turns cast as “the first” African American music director or conductor: variously William Accooee in 1896; Will Marion Cook in 1903; Everett Lee for Carmen Jones (1943); Cornelius Tate for Hair (1969); and Dr Joyce Brown as the first woman for Purlie (1970). The inconsistency within identification allows for these names to slip through the cracks, along with many others not mentioned at length in this chapter but eager for unearthing: Shelton Becton, Joseph Joubert, Zane Mark, Daryl Waters, Linda Twine, Joyce Brown, Chapman Roberts, Neal Tate, Thom Bridwell, Leah Richardson, Margaret Harris, Danny Holgate, Harold Wheeler, Frank Owens, Hank Jones, J. Leonard Oxley. All of these people, despite discovery sometimes only within buried archives, have laid a pathway worth exploration. As those whose names are forgotten are unearthed, we discover in their methodologies how their work was developed.
...Ultimately, the reconstruction of lost labours - both in role and in race - must be embraced for what it needs to be: a reconstruction. The acknowledgement of the shortfalls within our theatre community in fully acknowledging the music director in all its realms, whether in recognition in performance to the public via greater prominence, in equal appreciation through our own circles (reinstating that ‘Tony Award for Music Direction’?) or by sheer higher virtue in embracing greater ownership in the rehearsal space. Not only must we embrace this within the role, but we must accept the history of a standardized approach towards the liminal nature of this role, and by doing so, reject the closed institutionalized tendencies of the colour-blind past in opening up opportunity to leaders of all multiplicities. This could hold no more truth than within the periphery of the theatre practionary community. Black practitioners must seek to lead musicals that sit outside of a Black-centralized idiom, while the theatre community must actively seek to employ practitioners of all minority standings in all shows, regardless of casting, setting or profile. Exploration of Black works by Black practitioners is impactful but not enough; transparency throughout the entire community is key in the synthesis of dissolving current constraints of liminality, intersectionality and institutional permanence for not only minority music directors but music direction at large. Institutionalized permanence of expectations within the role and race must be rejected, as homogeneity of approach to style and content is discarded and all practitioners are guided into projects across all spectrums. The impetus points in a promising direction, but the road is long, and we must be wary of taking our hands from the steering wheel."
Reframing the Black Musical: Race Culture and Identity, Edited by Sarah Whitfiled is available online at Amazon and at Chapters: Indigo.
Sean Mayes is a music director based between New York City and Toronto, with a background in London and the UK. He is an active member of the Broadway community as an MD, orchestrator-arranger, vocal coach, accompanist, and pit musician. Sean is a proud music director in education circles with Disney Theatrical Group, New York City Center, and The New York Pops. In 2019, Sean was Music Director and Conductor of the Canadian premiere of The Color Purple. As an author, Sean has published on the role of Black music directors on Broadway (Reframing the Musical, Palgrave Macmillan, 2019), and the retracing of Black practitioners through British musical theatre history (An Inconvenient Black History of British Musical Theatre, Bloomsbury, 2021).
At dawn my mother stands on the hill behind our house and invokes the sun to rise then she goes to the outdoor kitchen and prepares tortillas and cocotea for our breakfast My mother sells fruits and flowers in the market stuff she grows with her own hands she does not solicit customers they come to her of their own volition and at the end of each day her items are all sold out Now at age 42 my mother decides to stop having children but not because her blood has ceased "I have peopled the world with the numerous men and women that my body has birthed," she says "now it's time for me to birth other things" At times my mother's back and feet grow tired so I anoint them with coconut oil her feet is a detailed map her back is the starapple tree outside our front door My mother has never travelled abroad but she knows tales of everyland she says the flowers in her gardens especially the ginger lily, orchids, and the bird of paradise, bring her such tidings My mother is short in stature all her children tower above her some do not even want to recognise or acknowledge her as they pass by in the marketplace they are ashamed of this fruit and flower woman this woman who fed them milk and tortillas that made them so strong sometimes they mock her "she looks like something out of a Rivera mural," they jest but my mother does not hear her ears are beyond their words. In the evening when she grows weary my mother sings lullabies to the sun to entice it to sleep so the dark can come and we all be rejuvenated "It's in the darkness that we grow strong," she tells us How wise she is this woman with a life that no one can capture how essential she is this woman who makes gardens flower and who feed us milk and tortillas I watch her as she descends the hill to the marketplace her skirt at her knee her black hair flecked with grey From Understatement: An Anthology of 12 Toronto Poets Dr. Afua Cooper is a multidisciplinary artist and a tenured professor at the University of Dalhousie. She was presented in 2015 with the Nova Scotia Human Rights Award from the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission and was recently appointed as Halifax’s 7th Poet Laureate. Dr. Cooper has a deep interest in World Religion and Mythologies, themes of which are present in much of her work. “Birds of Paradise” which you’ll see here references a painting by the Mexican Muralist Diego Rivera, whose work is greatly admired by Cooper.
Oreka James, Untitled, 2016. Oil paint, oil stick and acrylic gouache on stretched canvas, 1.52 x 1.22 m.
The Virtual Museum of Black History is an interactive and educational online space curated by Black Lives Matter - Sudbury in celebration of Black History Month 2021.
In this museum you will be able to learn about; Black Canadian Liberation, Viola Desmond, Africville, Advocacy and Equity, and Black Canadian artists.
Take this month to recognize the contributions and achievements of those from African or Carribean descent. It is also an opportunity to learn more about the effects of racism, discrimination, and how to support Black liberation.
The Virtual Museum of Black History is curated by Isak Vaillancourt and Ruthie Nkut. Web development by Willem Deisinger and Michael Boyce.
Black Lives Matter Sudbury is an organization committed to fighting systemic racism in all its forms, demanding that society and all levels of government address and fix the root causes of racism in all social institutions.
We are a Black-led coalition of educators, students, activists, artists, and everything in between.
We work in solidarity with Indigenous communities.
Did you know we have a monthly bilingual newsletter? It’s filled with exclusive information about all of our events, community partnerships, BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) arts and culture and more!
Learn more about our work at blmsudbury.ca
Did you know we have a monthly bilingual newsletter? It’s filled with exclusive information about all of our events, community partnerships, BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) arts and culture and more! Join below.
Your support will help us continue our work fighting systemic racism in Greater Sudbury, support BIPOC healing, and create freedom to self-determine.