African Heritage Month celebrated using verse

Poets, historians, educators highlight themes of resilience and heritage at event

2 min read
caption Dr. Afua Cooper, principle investigator for A Black People’s History of Canada (BPHC), speaks at an African Heritage Month event on Wednesday at Halifax Central Library.
Aidan Rawding

Poets at an African Heritage Month event Wednesday used the medium to highlight themes of strength of heritage, rhythm and resilience. 

In addition to presentations from educators and historians about Black contributions in Nova Scotia’s history, poetry was a powerful tool used to enlighten attendees.

Afua Cooper, principle investigator for A Black People’s History of Canada (BPHC) and former poet laureate for the city, said poetry was chosen as a medium for the event because it represents art and culture.

Cooper holds a PhD in Black Canadian History from the University of Toronto, is the author of two novels, and has conducted award-winning research in her field.

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“It’s a way to reach people,” said Cooper. “Poetry is able to distill certain experiences, and it’s a democratic medium.” 

Two Halifax poets presented at the event, which took place at the Halifax Central Library: Sue Goyette, the city’s poet laureate, and Damini Awoyiga, one of the municipal youth poet laureates. 

Awoyiga presented a poem called The Nature of Our Rhythms, intentionally referencing the event’s title, Roots and Rhythms. 

“The Nature of Our Rhythms is about how, as Black people, we are really tied to our ancestry and where we come from,” said Awoyiga. “That helps us to be able to go forward and conquer the world and do what we have to do as people to survive.”

Sue Goyette presented two poems about places in Halifax — the site of what used to be St. Patrick’s High School, and Meagher Park, a former homeless encampment. 

“What if we created a force of care as we walked through that field for the future teenagers, who are growing toward the world as it is? What if we utter a kind and loving word for them that could syrup and energize the bright lights that they are?”

These were some of the lyrics of Goyette’s poem about the high school that used to be on Quinpool Road. 

High school poets

The night ended with a poetry competition featuring spoken words from high school students from Armbrae Academy. A video compilation played, featuring the school’s Grade 11 African Canadian Studies class. Each student delivered their own poem, and the top three entries were rewarded.

BPHC’s mission is to teach more Black history in Canadian schools. Armbrae Academy’s African Canadian Studies class is an example of those efforts. 

Tara Spicer, one of about 50 attendees, said it was “very emotional” hearing the students’ presentations.

“It’s really lovely to see that the newer generation is so informed and so passionate,” said Spicer. 

Poetry is integral to Black culture, said Cooper. 

“It’s such a flexible medium,” she said. “You can sing poetry, you can dance poetry, you can … use the orality of poetry to reach people and to disseminate information. Tonight, so many of our points use that medium and disseminated wonderful information with respect to Black history.”

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