Arts

SFUO’s Black History Month kicks off with rap bio series

Photo: Allegra Morgado

Muhammad Ali or Bob Marley may not have been mentioned in your history class, but they probably would have kept your attention—especially if they were taught in the form of a rap verse.

That’s the philosophy of Shaun Boothe, a motivational speaker and artist from Toronto who spoke at Back to Black, an art show and open mic event hosted at Café Alt as part of Black History Month.

Boothe performed part of his biographical rap series on cultural icons. His spoken word act documented the lives of Muhammad Ali, Barack Obama, Sean “Diddy” Combs, and Bob Marley.

He said people ought to find different ways to teach and motivate others to see a different angle of black history.

“Really it comes down to repackaging history through hip hop,” said Boothe.

“Hip hop is the most powerful youth culture of today, and history, as important as it is, it loses people, especially in education in schools and classrooms. So I wanted to use my talent to repackage it and make it engaging and connect with people.”

After stepping away from the music industry, Boothe decided he wanted to inspire others through motivational speaking and art.

“I was always the person who wanted to inspire others. I would always be the type of person who wanted put some knowledge or something in there and it wouldn’t necessarily be fully appropriate for the music industry,” he said. “Going into schools, these are the same things that propel me forward.”

Learning about black history is about more than just 28 days, said Maya McDonald, vice-president of equity of the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO) and lead organizer of Black History Month at the U of O.

She said students should think of black history as more than just a month-long event. The #NotJustAMonth social media movement is a move away from the February celebration of black history toward long-term education of black people’s history, icons, and issues.

“What we perceive being black is, what black culture is, what other people and we see, and how we can make the public perception of black culture and black history reflect more of the narratives that aren’t being heard as much now,” said McDonald.

Emily Manns, a recent communications graduate who attended the event, said she was surprised by how she didn’t know nearly as much about the historical icons as she’d thought.

“They have very deep histories that I couldn’t even have imagined,” said Manns.

“I grew up in a very white community, to put it bluntly,” she said. “I never experienced black history or multiculturalism until I came to Ottawa.”

Prya Smita Selvarajoo, a first-year philosophy and sociology exchange student from Singapore, says she went to the event to learn more about black history and left “inspired to take steps to be who I want to be.”

In the wake of the Michael Brown shooting and other police-caused deaths of black Americans, and the “Black Lives Matter” movement that followed, Boothe said he admires the movement’s passion and that people need to put themselves on the “frontlines” of change.

“It’s great because a lot of the time people feel like they have no power, but when you see that, that passion is power,” he said. “You can’t ignore that. It’s them saying, ‘We will no longer be ignored.’”