Every February Nova Scotia observes African Heritage Month. It’s a time for people to celebrate African history and culture through readings, music and food.
There are many events happening in Halifax this year following the theme of Educate, Unite, and Celebrate Community.
The Signal spoke to six members of the African-Canadian community to see how they celebrate AHM and encourage others to do so in Halifax.
Marcus James, 51, does community engagement for Halifax North Memorial Public Library. Born and raised in Halifax, James is a big supporter of AHM. He finds ways to celebrate year-round and tries to use library programming to showcase African history.
“For me, African heritage was something celebrated in my family, so I grew up with it,” he says.
James believes AHM is especially beneficial for youth to learn about the accomplishments African people made before coming to North America. He also encourages those not from the African community to attend events and ask questions.
“A lot of people are afraid to talk about AHM. They may be afraid of saying or thinking the wrong things. But until we start having those conversations and start coming to the events you’re never going to know,” he says.
“It’s about knowledge and knowledge is power.”
George Frempong, 60, is the director of research for the Delmore (Buddy) Daye Learning Institute. Born and raised in Ghana, Frempong was always surrounded by African heritage. He lived in South Africa for many years where the month is celebrated in May instead of February. He moved to Halifax last year and finds it interesting how AHM is celebrated here.
“Lots of the diaspora were born overseas, in Europe and Canada, so the culture is changing,” he says. “So we have a fusion of both, the old and the new. There’s a lot of activities that celebrates both.
He believes that a good job is being done to encourage everyone to enjoy and learn from AHM.
“I’ve seen here in Halifax non-African people be interested in our culture, and music is a good way to do that.”
Rania ElSouri works as a career counsellor at the YMCA Halifax and has a Sudanese-Eritrean father and Palestinian mother. ElSouri says AHM is an excellent way for those in North America to celebrate African ancestry and culture.
“Even for me being here, you’re disconnected from the motherland, so it’s nice to celebrate those cultural values we brought with us,” she says.
ElSouri says being born in the Middle East, she was surrounded by African heritage and understands the challenges of learning it here in Canada. She encourages those who are not of African descent to take advantage of programs during AHM.
“There are lots of events at the North End Library,” she says.
Bernadette Hamilton-Reid, 52, is the president and CEO of Sankofa Marketing and Sales. Born and raised in Beechville, N.S., she celebrates her heritage 365 days a year, through education, dress and culture. She also celebrates AHM by travelling across the province.
“Different rural areas celebrate differently. We always learn about somebody new, some ancestor that did something wonderful and people are still uncovering their roots about a lot of good stuff,” she says.
Hamilton-Reid feels that AHM needs to better educate youth about pre-colonial African history.
“We have to remember we came from kings and queens, Imhotep … the Kemits, pyramids. A lot of children and those under 50 probably don’t know a lot of ancient history and what the continent has done,” she says.
“More needs to be done in our school system, a lot of the kids feel disenfranchised because they are just taught about slavery.”
For those not from the African community, she also recommends the library’s programs.
“As people of African ancestry, we’re very welcoming and open,” she says. “We want everyone to know about our culture because the more you know about us, the better we can work together in harmony and unity.”
Tyquaisha Allison, 19, recently graduated from Citadel High School. Born and raised in Halifax, she celebrates AHM by recognizing the historical contributions that blacks have made in society.
“School-wise all we learned about was slavery and that’s where our history starts, but really doesn’t,” says Allison. “We learn about the same people … Martin Luther King … but we didn’t do much.”
She feels a better job could be done identifying the history of African people.
“We only know what people tell us and what’s in our history books; it’s not like our ancestors are here so they can tell us,” she says.
She encourages people to participate in AHM festivities and to dig deep to learn more about African culture.
“Everyone can join in, and try to learn about us. It’s just not what they teach in history class; there’s more to come. Visit the Black Cultural Centre or if there’s an event at the library, go.”
Duane Gero, 27, is a coach for the under 12 Panthers basketball team. Born and raised in Halifax, Gero celebrated AHM when he was young, but not in the past few years. So to him, it’s just another month.
“I don’t know African history pre-slavery; I know slavery, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and all the way up till now. Anything previous wasn’t taught in schools,” he says.
For those who want to learn about AHM, he recommends going to historically black communities in Nova Scotia, including North and East Preston.
”The North End library, they have lots information … so I’m sure they have those in other communities as well.”