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Nova Scotia

GBHS kicks off Black Heritage Month with flag raising

GUELPH – February is Black History Month in Canada – a time to celebrate the contributions of black historical figures.

The Guelph Black Heritage Society (GBHS) celebrates Black Heritage Month to “commemorate past and present achievements within the black community” and “to envision our bright future,” said GBHS President Denise Francis.

About fifty people gathered in Heritage Hall on February 1st for the GBHS’ first Black Heritage Month event of 2023.

It started outside with the raising of the African flag from Nova Scotia.

The flag was first introduced in February 2021 and was created by artist Wendie L. Wilson. It is red, gold and green with a Sankofa symbol in the center – a bird representing the spirit of the African Nova Scotians.

Kween, Executive Director of GBHS said: “For the African and Caribbean diaspora and their peoples, this [flag] is about the representation of liberation.”

The colors in the flag each have a meaning; Red symbolizes sacrifice, gold symbolizes cultural wealth, and green symbolizes fertility, growth, and future generations.

The raising of the flag was followed by a ceremony inside hosted by Francis and Kween.

The ceremony began with a “Declaration of Unity” recognizing the strength and importance of relationships between Black and Indigenous communities.

Kween then led the participants into a prayer and blessing.

“Through our prayers and our work for justice, let us shine the light of faith on our world and live in solidarity with those around us, respecting the God-given human dignity that we all share for one another,” Kween said.

“Enslaved people were forbidden by their masters to pray. For this they were beaten mercilessly.

“Despite this cruelty, they still prayed for the love of Jesus.”

Heritage Hall was built as a church in 1880 by formerly enslaved people.

In that light, Kween said it was important to gather in the hall and pray to remember and honor the past.

The prayer ended with a minute’s silence for Tire Nichols, Atatiana Jefferson and Amber Carr.

Nichols and Jefferson died as a result of violent interactions with police in the United States. Carr was Jefferson’s sister who died of heart failure on January 30.

After a tearful moment of silence, Francis said, “We always think of our black communities and the hardships we endure, but in everything we do there is always joy and we have something to celebrate this morning.”

She invited Mike Shreiner, MPP of Guelph, and an Ontario Trillium Foundation (OTF) volunteer to the front of the room to announce that the GBHS has received a $100,000 Resilient Communities Fund grant from the OTF is obtained.

The grant, designed to help society recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, will help cover costs for staff, “experts” and equipment.

The Guelph Black Heritage Society (GBHS) received a $100,000 Resilient Communities Fund grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation to help with recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. From left: Lu Roberts, member of the OTF Grant Review Team, Kween, GBHS Chief Executive, GBHS President Denise Francis and Guelph MPP Mike Schreiner. Photo by Robin George

Black Heritage Month Events

GBHS organized four other events in February to celebrate Black Heritage Month.

February 4th is the opening of Our stories. Our history. Our heritage Exhibited at the Wellington County Museum and Archives.

The opening reception will be held from 1:30pm to 4:00pm and will include music by DJ Jinx, catering by Big Jerk and a cash bar. Admission is by donation to GBHS.

The exhibition will remain on view until July 9th.

February 9 at 6:30 p.m Songs of Sunyaan immersive theater experience at Heritage Hall.

“It’s something new that we’ve done,” Francis said. “It’s a table reading of a play by an amazing young black author named Adam Myrie.

“We’re going to read a few acts from his play and Kween kind of convinced me to go on stage.

“As the introverted kind of both of us, this isn’t an ordinary experience for us…so come out and be amazed.”

Admission is free with a suggested donation of $10 per person or a donation to Chalmers Food Bank.

People can attend either in person or online and register at eventbrite.ca/e/songs-of-sunya-table-read-tickets-474393031327.

16 February at 6:30pm is Canvas and Cocktails at Heritage Hall. This event is for women only.

It begins with a free-flowing art class with positive affirmations with Dr. Shara Ally and ends with a guided movement meditation led by Kween.

“While we paint and meditate, we will also have drinks and cocktails,” said Francis, laughing. “So it will be a good time for everyone.”

There will also be snacks and prizes.

On February 24th at 7pm, Fergus musician Shane Phillips will perform at the Guelph Civic Museum for the Fourth Friday Concert. Admission is free.

The Guelph Civic Museum was one of GBHS’ early community partners.

GBHS will be celebrating Black Vacation Week in late February, an initiative created by The Kween Company “for black people to take time for themselves and for each other,” Kween said.

This GBHS display explains various quilt patterns that people associated with the Underground Railroad used to covertly communicate with each other. Photo by Robin George

Beyond Black Heritage Month

Wearing a shirt that read “still black on March 1st,” Francis reminded people that the importance of recognizing Black heritage and history doesn’t end at the end of February.

She laughed at having some of the shirts at home and said she will be wearing the shirts to all Black Heritage events this month to remind people that the importance of Black Heritage doesn’t go away on March 1st.

The shirts are available through The Kween Company.

In March, students in grades 7 and up can come to Heritage Hall for Code Black, a march break camp where participants learn to create their own websites using Java and HTML.

The camp is free and open to everyone. Space is limited. Register at https://forms.gle/AqCsdz9xstZsmeSYA.

For more information on GBHS, Heritage Hall and Black Heritage Month go to guelphblackheritage.ca.

GBHS officials held a flag raising on February 1 to start Black Heritage Month in Guelph and Wellington County. Photo by Robin George

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