Arts

Black students gathered to attend events like the Surviving School While Black workshop. Photo: Courtesy of Black Like Me.

Social justice, brunch, and workshops—BLK Frosh grows stronger in Ottawa

From Sept. 9 to Sept. 15, around 150 black students from the University of Ottawa, Carleton University, and around the community, took part in a different kind of welcome week.

An inter-campus organization titled Black Like Me organized a week of activities following the U of O’s 101 Week, that they styled as “BLK Frosh.” The week was open to black community members of all ages, but primarily featured university-age students hoping to meet other members of Ottawa’s black community.

“I was just hanging out in my apartment with (a) friend … we were talking about school and all the things we don’t like about school and how it’s so much of a difficulty,” explained Selali A-W, an upper-year Carleton student, and co-founder of the organization. “He was telling me about frosh, and how, when he went, he didn’t really feel like it addressed a lot of his needs as a black student.”

So, in 2015, A-W pitched her ideas to U of O student Sakinna Gairey, and began formulating the plans for the week. “We just started popping off ideas left and right, and thought that we (could) finish this—we (could) do this,” said Gairey, a sixth-year communications student at the U of O and co-founder of the organization.

“I think we’ve always been pretty set on the vision for what we’ve wanted to be doing, but not necessarily in the ways (in which) we want to be doing it,” explained Gairey. “It also comes from whatever the community is telling us (that) they want … so, it’s brewing in many ways, but not different from our original thoughts.”

Throughout the week, BLK Frosh featured different events that gave black students a place to meet one another and find similarities through black culture. The events were not limited to social outings either—the week also provided outlets for black students to have their voices heard, such as a workshop they hosted titled Surviving School While Black.

“It was a room full of people sharing life-hacks, tips, and sharing resources,” explained A-W. “It was just really beautiful to see people connect to each other—to have two people in the room who both go to Carleton … say that they don’t really have anybody else to hangout with, (but to) find each other at this event was great.”

Since BLK Frosh’s founding in 2015, the inter-campus event has seen some growth. Having started with roughly 100 students, the group has grown to 150, with many attendees returning in subsequent years. “Anything that anybody can think of, there’s a place for that,” said A-W. “I always say that there’s a place in the revolution for everybody.”

For second-year U of O commerce student, Steve Rutikara, the group almost came across as too radical to him when he first joined. “First year, I liked it, but I felt suspicious … about how harsh their fight against racism (was). (But now I know) I was just used to being (a) victim of racism without feeling the need to fight against it.”

“Today, as my second frosh week with (Black Like Me) is ending, I can say that I now consider the participants as my family away from home,” explained Rutikara.

“We’re here for you, if you want us to be. If you don’t want us to be, that’s cool,” said A-W. “There’s never (any) wrong way to be yourself—just because you don’t see yourself in the world … doesn’t mean you’re not meant to exist. Your existence is enough proof and validation.”