African Heritage Month was officially launched in Antigonish during a ceremony Jan. 30 at Bloomfield Centre’s MacKay Room, on the campus of St. F.X.
February is recognized, internationally, as African Heritage Month; “a time to recognize and salute the many contributions and ongoing achievements of people of African descent from all over the world.”
The local annual ceremony, which has seen constant growth in numbers over the last few years, involves the unveiling of the official poster and theme for the month. The theme this year is; ‘Passing the Torch … African Nova Scotians and the Next 150.’
Michael Fisher, co-ordinator for students of African descent at St. F.X., emceed the event which featured remarks from Lorraine Reddick – student support worker with the Strait Regional School Board, Antigonish MLA Randy Delorey, Town of Antigonish Mayor Laurie Boucher, Municipality of the County of Antigonish Warden Russell Boucher and Kevin Wamsley, academic vice-president and Provost at St. F.X. speaking on behalf of President Kent MacDonald.
Wayne Hamilton from African Nova Scotia Affairs was also amongst the platform guests and Brenda Gatera sang rousing renditions of O’Canada and Lift Every Voice to begin the ceremony.
Local students Isiah Williams and Kyonnah Reddick-Smiley performed readings.
Wamsley’s remarks included recognizing Viola Desmond, the African Nova Scotia woman who stood up for her rights, and against racial segregation, at a New Glasgow movie theatre in 1946.
“As we launch African Heritage Month today let us remember Viola Desmond; business woman and activist who became an icon of the human rights and freedoms movement in Canada,” Wamsley said.
“One of the most important civil rights cases in our country; let’s celebrate the fact that on Dec. 8 Canada’s finance minister announced, in Ottawa, that Viola Desmond was selected from all Canadian women to be featured on the new $10 bank note.
“This is the first time in the history of Canada that the portrait of a Canadian woman will be featured on a Bank of Canada note and, as the minister stated before Christmas, Viola Desmond represents courage, strength and determination, qualities we should all aspire to every day.”
Warden Boucher talked about the early African Nova Scotia communities playing “a vital role in defining the Canada we celebrate this year.
“The resilience, pride and legacy of these founding communities needs to be celebrated,” he said.
Mayor Boucher also reflected on Desmond in her words.
“Although looking to the future is very important, we must never forget the past; never forget people like Viola Desmond, Rocky Jones and many others who shoulders the next generation will stand and forge ahead on.”
A highlight from the event came as poet Abena Amoako-Green read her powerful work Blazing Hope.
She said the poem references and celebrates writers who have inspired her over the years.
“I want to pay respect to those people as writers, thinkers and influences on culture,” she said.
“What they had to do, the topics they addressed, especially thinking of the segregation and oppression.”
Amoako-Green recalled writing this particular poem in 2013.
“I write very often, I don’t remember what was happening at the time but the influences were who I mentioned,” she said.
“I think, just being grateful for these great literary people, writers, for not only what they were writing about – beautiful topics whether it was fiction or non-fiction – the beauty in their stories and also telling the truth about life – how life was for them.
“So just my admiration of how they were able to master the language considering the fact that their ancestors were prevented – those who grew up on this side of the world – from even reading and writing.
“So it’s paying homage to their skill, creativity, their greatness.”
Talking after the event, Delorey noted the multi-generations participating.
“This year’s theme of ‘Passing the Torch’ is so appropriate when look at the people here, organizing and participating in the audience, you had a generational aspect to that,” he said.
“Some older members of the community and then a Grade 4 student who came up and read; that truly does capture the intentions of this year and it’s very exciting to have the opportunity, here in Antigonish, to participate and launch African Heritage Month.
“I really encourage all residents to take a look at the calendar online and see what other events are going to be taking place, in and around the community, to celebrate the month.”
Fisher talked about the broader community and university coming together for the event.
“It’s a good combination between the university and the community, the town council and African Canadian Services Division,” he said.
“For the university to have the chance to host it and welcome the community in, it’s just a really good fit.”