As a multicultural agency, cultural diversity is what gets us excited to come to work every day. So, when February rolled around, we formed an agency huddle for ideas on how to celebrate Black History Month. The ideas poured in, with team members inspired with different initiatives to celebrate Black contributions to Canada – from soul food, to sports, art, films, books, music, history, and more. It turned into a month of self-learning, sharing, and being inspired with what inspired others.
Here are some of the things we did, and you can too, to celebrate our vibrant black community in Canada, not only in February but every day of the year.
We all felt a huge surge of pride when Able Makkonen Tesfaye, the first Canadian to perform at the show solo, took to the stage at the Super Bowl this year, keeping us enthralled with The Weeknd hits. Many in our agency are immigrants ourselves, and we resonated with this Scarborough-raised Canadian icon’s nod to his heritage and cultural roots, “My natural singing voice was inspired and shaped by Ethiopian music. The older I got, I was exposed to more music, and my voice became a chameleon going into different characters with each album.”
The sports fans in our ranks introduced us to Willie O’Ree, who became the first Black player in the NHL when he made his historic debut with the Boston Bruins against the Montreal Canadiens. O’Ree was legally blind in one eye, but that did not stop him from achieving his dreams and working to make the dreams of thousands of youths from diverse ethnic backgrounds come true as the NHL’s first diversity ambassador. https://www.nhl.com/community/oree
Here are some of the films that we watched this month:
Giants of Africa – A Canadian documentary on the Toronto Raptors’ Nigerian-Canadian President Masai Ujiri’s ‘Basketball Without Borders’ program to promote and build the sport of basketball in Africa from a grassroots level, driving hope, nurturing talent, fostering basketball skills, and inspiring a generation to believe that they can be Giants! https://giantsofafrica.org/thefilm
Deeply Rooted – Created by Cazhhmere, one of Canada’s busiest music video directors, and a 7th-generation Canadian. Her family were among the first black settlers to come to Canada. Her family-tree has war veterans, an Olympic medalist, a boxing champion, a deputy Mayor of Halifax, and one even graced a postal stamp. However constantly asked where she is from, the simple answer ‘Canada’ is always met with disbelief. https://youtu.be/MCg1t3mdWwM
The Haircut – This is a funny, thought-provoking story of Marvin a senior executive in Ottawa. An immigrant from Jamaica, he refuses to cut his hair, because with no black barbers in Ottawa, haircuts are a painful affair for him. https://youtu.be/M56CI_Qh8hs
ART AND BOOKS
This month, one of our colleagues was so moved by his exploration of Black artist Joan Butterfield’s innovative way of layering, blending and applying various effects and filters, that he has taken up his brush and started painting! This award-winning Founder and Art Director of the Association of African Canadian Artist’s newest collection was inspired by a safari in Africa, a vibrant culture she embraces in her work. https://joanbutterfield.com/
Dressed in Dreams
A Black Girl’s Love Letter to the Power of Fashion by Tanisha C. Ford, was the book that caught our colleague’s eye. She gives the book a 5–star rating because it gave her an insightful look into the Black Arts Movement and fashion. The glimpse into a Black girl’s closet throws light on her desires and conformity, and also gives the reader a look into Black culture, struggles, inventions and innovations.
Canada has many strong, motivational black figures who have helped shape our history. Here are two that our colleagues were inspired to learn more about.
As a student in University not long ago, our Account Coordinator was fascinated by Anne Cools, the first black person to become a Canadian senator. Born in Barbados, Anne arrived in Canada as a teenager and studied at McGill University. Pierre Trudeau appointed her to the Senate in 1984. As a social worker, Cools was a pioneer in the protection of women from domestic violence, running one of the first domestic violence shelters in Canada.
Currently, President Biden’s Treasury Department is working to add Harriet Tubman’s portrait to the front of the $20 bill, a move being applauded by Canada. Called the Black Moses, Harriet, an enslaved African woman in Maryland, helped many black people escape slavery and suffering, by organizing as many as 19 rescue missions to freedom in Canada. She did this as a conductor through the Underground Railroad. Often pursued by angry slaveowners and their bloodhounds, they would get into the streams to throw off their scent. The gospel song ‘Wade in the Water’ was their secret code. Our colleague who sings in a choir, learnt this beautiful powerful song, that resonated with the message of freedom for so many.
Our agency has a passion for food, the more diverse the more mouth-watering! This month we cooked up soul food that inspired us to learn and virtually share some delicious recipes inspired by Black roots. Jambalaya, Red Beans and Rice, Creamy Seafood Stew, Honey Turmeric Skillet Chicken, Chicken Gumbo, and Cornbread, are some of the dishes we homecooked with our families to celebrate.