By Beatriz Neves
Arts & Culture Editor
February is known for Valentine’s day, but as lovely as chocolates and flowers are, it is defined by another significant event -- Black History Month.
Black History Month is an annual celebration of important people and events of the international Black community. Carter G. Woodson, a Harvard-educated African American historian, was the first to propose a “Negro History Week” in 1926 to honour African American’s achievements and raise awareness about Black history in the United States.
Later, the week became a month. February was chosen because two essential figures in African American history -- nineteenth-century abolitionist Frederick Douglass, and President Abraham Lincoln, who issued the Emancipation Proclamation -- were born in February.
Yet, February was only officially recognized in the United States as Black History Month in the ’70s. In Canada, the House of Commons officially recognized Black History Month in December 1995. In Quebec, it was only in 2006 that the National Assembly adopted a law project to make February Black History Month.
Nowadays, a different theme is chosen for the month every year. In the United States, the responsibility to choose the theme is given to the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, a non-profit organization founded in 1915. This year, the theme is “The Black Family: Representation, Identity, and Diversity.” It explores how the black family’s “representation, identity, and diversity have been reverenced, stereotyped, and vilified from the days of slavery to our own time.”
In Canada, the theme chosen by the federal government is "The Future is Now.” According to the government of Canada’s website, this theme “is a chance to celebrate and acknowledge the transformative work that Black Canadians and their communities are doing now.”
In sum, it’s the perfect time of the year to learn, remember and honour Black history throughout the world. It is surprising how little people know of it, and there is always more to study.
Normally, in Montreal, we would have various events organized by the Round Table on Black History Month, a non-profit dedicated to promoting Black communities' history and contemporary situations in Quebec. This year they are celebrating their 30th anniversary, unfortunately, all online. Michaël P. Farkas, the president of the Round Table, says in his statement that “we thank the City of Montreal for 30 years of loyal support that was crucial to highlighting the undeniable role we’ve played during the last 350 years on this unceded Native land.”
Farkas also emphasizes the importance of such celebrations and their impact. “By honouring our heritage, we carry—from generation to generation—the legacy of an amazing village, which has stretched across the expanse of history, revealing the extent of our voyages to the four corners of the world.”
Despite the pandemic, the non-profit is holding various events that go from an artistic workshop for children on Central African masks to a Poetry Jam showcasing Montreal’s spoken wordsmiths. There are installments in both English and French, and for every audience and age.
Even though the Black community still has a lot to fight for, it is equally important to celebrate victories of all sizes. It is essential to support Black voices as they fight against ignorance. As Nelson Mandela once said: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”