SFUO executive director Vanessa Dorimain gave a powerful speech at the Wednesday night gala. Photo: Amy Yee.
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Event celebrating black Canadians included keynote address by Keke Palmer, speeches from SFUO staff

SFUO capped off Black History Month with its annual gala celebrating the culture and accomplishments of black Canadians.

University of Ottawa students filled the Sala San Marco Centre Conference Centre on Feb. 27 for a night showcasing cultural and artistic displays from the black community. This year’s theme, “Surviving Violence,” was punctuated by a keynote address by Keke Palmer on her experiences as a black woman.

Palmer is an actress and singer/songwriter, recently appearing on the Fox TV series Scream Queens. But besides her successful career in the arts, Palmer is also a sought-after speaker.

“We have amazing performances here as well,” said Faduma Wais, Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO) vice-president social, at the event. “We have cultural dancers, singers, musicians, poets, artists are here, celebrating black love, black liberty, black excellence in our communities.”

“And so it’s amazing to see all, not just (University of Ottawa) students but Ottawa community members come together for such a beautiful event, to share stories with one another, to meet one another and just have this experience and memories as the black community come together on such a special month for all of us.”

“Black History Month is so important to me and many of my colleagues who have helped organize this event because of the experiences, that we’ve, you know, kind of survived, the experiences that we’ve learned, the experiences that we’ve grown from being black in this community.”

In a speech, SFUO executive coordinator Vanessa Dorimain recounted the many ways violence had manifested itself in her own life and in the lives of others, including targeted attacks online and harassment by police.

“Violence is wanting something so bad and watching generations of your people fight for it just to have you living like you’re still in a cage,” she said. “It is dying inside and being forced to live.”

“Violence is the need to erase experiences for the sole purpose of maintaining an oppressive order and as much as it hurts, as much as we have lost and as much as we have yet to endure, we are surviving violence every day, which means we are constantly disrupting the oppressive order.”

“We are surviving through oppression and my hope is one day we will live without it. We will live without violence because we will have learned that love is an everlasting solution, it is the already God-given tool to help us succeed and know happiness and peace”

The gala was just one event related to Black History Month on campus in February.

The history department hosted a networking event and conference-debate around the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) project on the General History of Africa that featured a representative from that organization.

U of O also screened Black Panther, which was nominated for Best Picture at this year’s Oscars but lost out to Green Book.

The SFUO had planned a number of other events but many were cancelled.

—With files from Amy Yee.


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