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Black History Month ain’t history, baby!

by Archives March 7, 2007

Montreal author Fimo Mitchell never considered himself a Canadian until he went to China to teach and looked at his passport. It suddenly dawned on him that yes, he is a Canadian. It was a revelation he shared in a panel discussion at Chapters last Tuesday evening at the launching of his debut novel, Lost or Found, a literary exploration on the mindsets of young black North Americans.

“Technically, I’m a Canadian, a young black man from Montreal, but I never really never felt part of or attached to that,” he said. “You don’t feel represented in politics or business because you don’t see faces of people you can relate to. Many black people feel overlooked the way I did and don’t feel they belong anywhere.”

The novel is based on the reality of growing up as a young black in Montreal and explores sexuality, faith and the quest for material wealth. Mitchell, who grew up in Lachine and studied journalism at Concordia until he graduated in 2003, needed to leave and work in China to come to terms with his identity and write. But he found the same things there.

“In China, I worked in a small village where no one spoke English and no one was black,” he said. “I was alone and could not relate to anyone. So I began writing and what came out was a revelation; when you feel you’ve been overlooked, you overcompensate; you form a hyper-excessive attitude and approach everything in excess, women, clothes and jewelry, whatever.”

While Mitchell was happy for the opportunity to present Lost or Found, he hoped to turn the launch into a town-house meeting for anyone to attend. The author organized a panel with UMOJA, the African Student Union of Concordia, so teenagers and young adults could discuss black masculinity, youth violence and other issues.

Nearly 100 people showed up for the discussion as part of Black History Month, a celebration of the history, culture and identity of black people around the world. The month was marked throughout the month of February at Concordia by UMOJA events including a fair of art, poetry, food and dance and an open-mic spoken word experience.

February as Black History Month has now become part of national consciousness, which in itself is a great leap forward from the days when African American history was taught usually as one course in a small number of universities with at best small numbers of African American students

When people ask him “Why a Black History Month?”, Mitchell’s response is always that black students and youth need to have role models. But more than that, Mitchell would like to see Canadian history books include the contributions of the black community in Canada. “People need to value the contributions blacks have made in society and to know the history of Canada – which includes the black community,” he said.

Find Lost or Found at the downtown Chapters and at www.fimomitchell.com

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