Family history of Black Nova Scotians is being celebrated as Halifax officially kicks off African Heritage Month 2023.
“Our ancestors are the focus of respect and gratitude, so we must honour them,” said event emcee Tracey Jones-Grant as she helped usher in the month-long celebration Thursday night at the Halifax North Memorial Public Library.
With the launch of events just days away on Feb. 1, guest speakers, performers and a capacity crowd gathered to get the festivities underway early.
Sobaz Benjamin and The Circle in the Square youth drummers played a set of traditional drum tunes to welcome attendees to the 39th annual event.
This year’s theme is Seas of Struggle – African Peoples from Shore to Shore and focuses on resiliency, strength and determination.
The theme highlights the role the Atlantic Ocean played in the history of people of African descent in the development of Canada and Nova Scotia. Some of the earliest Black settlers in the province arrived by boat including enslaved people who were brought to Halifax in 1749, Black Loyalists and War of 1812 refugees according to Colchester Historeum records.
During her speech, Beatrice J. Wilkins of the Africville Genealogy Society spoke of the struggles residents of Africville faced during their early settlement in Nova Scotia.
“I’d like people to know our history,” Wilkins said. “We lost so much, and it has taught me that, ‘you can not hold onto the hate. The hate is only going to ruin you.’”
African Heritage Month was first observed in Nova Scotia in 1988. It was initially referred to as Black History Month before changing its name in 1996.
During his speech, Mayor Mike Savage reflected on Halifax’s “long, deep and complex history of systemic racism.”
There’s been progress “but there is still so much more to do,” Savage said. “We have a responsibility to own our history … the responsibility to change rests with us individually and collectively.”
Throughout Thursday’s event, singer-songwriter Jah’Mila serenaded those in attendance with songs of redemption, freedom and unity.
During her performance of Go Down Moses to close the night’s festivities, Jah’Mila was joined by a sea of voices who sang in unison, “let my people go.”
A full list of African Heritage Month festivities can be found here.
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Brad Chandler is an aspiring video journalist from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia with a special interest in sports reporting and broadcasting. He...