Student Life

Black History Month 2020

The 29th edition of Black History Month in Montreal kicked off on Jan. 23 at Place des Arts with a conference that introduced this year’s theme, representative spokespeople and laureates, and the events that will take place in February.

This year’s edition of Black History Month is called “Here and Now,” which focuses on celebrating Black excellence through the achievements of the younger Black generation in Montreal, and encouraging unity and action towards Black cultural education in Quebec. 

Michael Farkas, president of the board of directors for Black History Month, said it “allows the opportunity for Black excellence to be recognized, it creates awareness for all people, it brings us together, and it reminds us that Black history is a part of all history.”

For Farkas, recognizing Black youth contributing to Black excellence is vital in empowering the generation of the future. “There is an urgency to see the Black community, and particularly the youth, to come in and really play the vital role that they can, so that’s ‘Here and Now,’” said Farkas. “That means there is a space for them and a place for them and they need to be totally invested in the fabric of our society.” 

Singer and songwriter Sarahmée Ouellet, and comedian and actor Aba Atlas were chosen as the spokespeople for Black History Month. Alongside them, 12 distinguished Black youth from Montreal who excelled in their respective areas, which include teaching, entrepreneurship, and the arts, were chosen as this year’s laureates. 

Shanice Nicole, one of the chosen laureates, is a feminist educator, writer and a curator of free community resources in organizations such as the Black Foundation of Community Networks Scholarship Directory and All Black Everything in Montreal. She is working on a children’s book scheduled for publication in 2020 called Dear Black Girls.

“Young people are revolutionary and throughout history, young people have always been at the front and forefront of movements,” Nicole said of this year’s theme. “[Young people] have such capacity for change and a willingness as well to change that I think is really exciting.” 

Atlas said his race never came into question in Ethiopia, where he grew up, as it is a predominantly Black country. 

“Once I immigrated to Canada, that reality changed because the environments are different,” said Atlas. “That led me to want to know more about what it means to be Black, and I think it led me to where I am today; the importance of my race, the importance of my identity in general, and how it helps me to navigate the world,” he added, crediting his journey of education and empowerment.

According to the Canadian government’s webpage on Black History Month, the lack of any proper Black history was what inspired historian Carter G. Woodson to found “Negro History Week,” in 1926, which became Black History Week in the 70s. In 1976, it finally became Black History Month. According to the Mois de l’Histoire des Noirs’ website, the month of February was chosen because it was the birth month of two celebrated slavery abolitionists: Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. The purpose of this event was to educate the public and to empower the Black community by teaching Black history objectively and fairly, and to advocate for Black history to be taught in public schools.

Black History Month has been celebrated in Montreal for decades by public and private institutions. Despite this, it was only officially adopted into law by the Quebec National Assembly in 2007, inaugurating February as Quebec’s official Black History Month, according to the Mois de l’Histoire des Noirs’ website.

Catherine Verdon Diamond is a local weather and traffic presenter, and media personality at CBC. As the main public speaker and host of the event, Diamond invited the public to “get to know Black culture in all its forms, as infused into all of these shows, exhibitions, conferences and screenings more than 150 cultural and social activities themed around the achievements of Black communities will be in the spotlight.”


Photo courtesy of Napoleon Communications

Student Life

DESTA gives hope to the forgotten youth

Off the streets and into the working class, DESTA, the Black Youth Network, is a government-funded group that helps young people reverse their downward spirals in the Little Burgundy neighbourhood of Montreal.

The founder, Frances Waithe, is a mother of eight and a foster mom. She started the charity in 2007 after realizing just how much there was a lack of citizen support for the black youth in Montreal. Helped by a group of community workers, Waithe and her team began wondering what they could do to help. Since then, DESTA has been an organization that succeeds in demarginalizing black 18 to 25-year-olds in our city.

Waithe has been a caregiver all her life, a trait she takes from her mother, who was also a foster mom. She sees the everyday need for an organization like DESTA, and she makes it a mission to help each person that walks through her office door.

“This is my community; these are my friends and my extended family,” she said, adding that a space like DESTA is a place that young people can walk into and call home.

The first of DESTA’s participants to obtain his high school diploma with the organization’s help was a young man named Dwayne Clark. Tattooed all the way up to his neck, he went from being on the streets to becoming a programmer for computer games at Montreal’s CDI College. “I know I’m in a different place in my life, and DESTA definitely helped out with it,” he said.

There are three main points that define how DESTA works: education, health and personal development.

“They don’t call MTL M-T-Hell for no reason. This age group is getting caught up in the streets or getting locked up, we don’t want that,” said Mustafa, a representative for the network. “What we do is help them go back to school, gain personal development, whatever crisis they have.”

The charity runs numerous resources. For education, among other things, DESTA operates an alternative school to help participants obtain their high school diploma with a one-on-one tutoring service. They also have on-site counselors to assist people with their housing, psychological or direct physical health problems. Also, the organization holds a series of activities to support the interests of participants and help them develop as active members of society. “These go from sexuality, to leadership skills, to T.V. writing and the list goes on,” said Waithe.

Concordia students have a history of working with DESTA as many volunteers and tutors are students.

Concordia students who wish to participate in one of DESTA’s events can attend its Health Awareness Day on May 30, where kiosks and workshops will be held on various subjects ranging from boot camp and yoga classes to HIV and drug information sessions. This will be held in the charity’s offices on 1950 St-Antoine W. St. The very popular annual gala, which is the group’s biggest event of the year, will take place June 4.


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