Events focus on history, current issues facing Black community
February is Black History Month, and the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO) and the University of Ottawa’s department of history have a number of events lined up to celebrate Black history both now and throughout the year.
Sylvie Perrier, chair of the history department, explained that the department is currently in a partnership with the Association canadienne pour des heritages africains (ACPHA) to promote Black history within the Ottawa community and support community involvement, largely through the use of the university’s resources and research.
The department is also hosting a conference with a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization representative, and professors from the history department on Feb. 27, which is open to all high school and university students in the area.
In terms of the SFUO, vice-president equity Leila Moumouni-Tchouassi discussed eight events for this month, such as a screening of Get Out on Feb. 6, a workshop on how to care for black hair also on Feb. 6, and a comedy night on Feb. 14.
“It’s important that we continue to support Black students by celebrating their histories but also by creating more spaces for students to see themselves reflected in this institution that can often disenfranchise many of the most marginalized,” Moumouni-Tchouassi said in a statement to the Fulcrum.
Although this month is important for Black history, it is critical that the discussion not end when March rolls around. Black history needs to be celebrated throughout the year.
“It should not be during only Black History Month that we aim to remind ourselves of the atrocities that black bodies and minds have been subjected to and continue to be subjected to,” Moumouni-Tchouassi said. “The work of learning and unlearning from the past to learn and move forward to a better future should not be only on the black population which is why this month and its events should be huge.”
The history department also offers several courses on African history, namely two on the history of Africa south of the Sahara from the year 1,000 to the present, which are open to all students at the university. The department also has seminar courses on African history.
“Our teaching is not necessarily nation-based or geographically based; sometimes it’s transnational, international, global,” said Perrier.
Canadians know of the Underground Railroad which helped escaped slaves find freedom in our country, but Canadians also owned slaves while a colony. Slavery was only abolished in the British Empire in 1834. Perrier said this history is easy to find, but not many people might know Canada’s complicity in the slave trade. Classes in the history department seek to teach a more balanced and nuanced view.
“Black History Month is a showcase … it makes people aware of the importance of African history, but for us, the study of Africa is year-round, we do that all that time, and not only in the history department, but also in cross-interdisciplinary initiatives,” said Perrier.
Now with the partnership with ACPHA, the university can continue teaching African and Black history to the community, and serve an important mandate for historical education, while the SFUO continues to create spaces for Black students
“The study of Africa is year-long. We do it all the time,” Perrier said.