Every year, Feb. 1 marks the beginning of a month of appreciation for black history and culture. Black History Month events clearly resonate with those of African descent, but organizers of Concordia’s 2011 edition say that the celebration serves as a valuable illustration of our collective histories.
“Basically it’s about unity within the community of people with African descent, or black people, with the larger community as a whole,” said Dwight Best, chief executive coordinator of the African and Caribbean Students Network and main organizer of this year’s celebration of Black History Month at Concordia. “We want the whole Concordia community to feel like it’s a part of this because Black history is only a part of the collective history that we all share.”
Best used the notion of collective history to illustrate unity, one of the month’s two themes. The other theme is evolution, which he said referred to the continuing progress and growth of the community. He also referenced the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. nearly 43 years ago as a marker of just how far we have come.
“Forty-three years in the span of history is not a long time,” Best said. “When you look at the development of the African Canadian community, not just the African American community, there has been a lot of progress in that time.”
The reference was a fitting one, as Martin Luther King III will be speaking on Feb. 10 at Concordia.
Other Black History Month festivities, titled “Lift Every Voice,” include multiple film screenings, an International African Inventors Museum showcasing some of the most notable inventions by those of African descent, and a presentation about the Sir George Williams University computer riots.
The latter event is another clear illustration of the collective nature of the month, according to National Society of Black Engineers member and Black History Month organizer Tamara Gordon. “Part of what happened to our heritage affected their heritage,” she said. “The [computer] riots were because of six black students who weren’t being graded fairly by professors and that did not only affect black students, it affected all of Concordia.”
ACSioN Concordia, the African Students’ Association of Concordia, Concordia Caribbean Student Union, NSBE-Concordia and the Ralliement Ã‰tudiant HaÃ¯ti-Canada planned this year’s festivities at Concordia with the help and contribution of many other student groups and a few external bodies.
Their collaboration has paid off according to Best, who said that this month’s activities will be the best in a few years. He said that in 2009 and 2010 the organization and quality dwindled in comparison to earlier years, attributing the chance to a few factors like a lack of help from the Concordia Student Union and more broadly the economic crisis underway.
While Best said that this year again “the CSU is not doing as much as maybe we would have hoped, or maybe they could have,” he added: “I think what they are doing is greatly appreciated.” He focused instead on how successful the organization has been in 2011 and all the positive contributions of the volunteers and member associations involved.
The strong planning, he said, will show itself in the quality of events.
“This is probably one of the best ways that our community has of really opening up and saying “Hey, this is what we’ve got, this is some of the best that our community has to offer and this is really your time to jump in and see what’s going on,'” he said. “Almost anyone at the events is going to learn a lot.”