By Jacob Dearlove & Taylor Berzins
Black History Month programming has virtually disappeared from Brantford and Brant County this February, leaving the community without access to the diverse celebrations it once knew.
In 2014, the Black History Month Planning Committee of Brantford & Brant County, which is run out of the Sydenham St. United Church, hosted an entire month of events, including an art exhibition at Glenhyrst Art Gallery, a family arts day at the Brantford Arts Block, a Film Night at the church, and a closing ceremony on the first day of March. A big part of the month’s events was a panel which was held to talk about both black history and the current issues facing the black community- something that the committee hosts each year.
According to Rev. Wayne Beamer of Sydenham St. United Church, the church has had to cut back on its planning this year, but the month has not gone entirely unrecognized.
Rev. Beamer explained that committee would not have the same number of events during the month that it has had in the past.
Chair of the planning committee, Yvonne Wright echoed this statement, citing the “transition period”that the church is experiencing as the reason for less planned events.
Members of Sydenham St. United Church are recovering from a devastating summer, and the Church is now under new leadership. The planning of annual events, like Black History Month, have suffered since the Church’s former pastor, Barry Pridham, was suspended from the United Church of Canada in September after being charged with sexual exploitation, luring a child and possession of child pornography, upon allegations of sexting a teenage girl.
Pridham was an active member within the local community and before his charges, attempted to run for City Council during the 2014 Municipal Election. In an article published by The Expositor during his campaign, Pridham was cited as being “a longtime promoter of Black History Month”.
For community members like, Rhinda David, a fourth year student and co-ordinator of Laurier Brantford’s SOUL, Brantford could be making more room to celebrate diversity and inclusivity. Despite having seen the local culture of diversity grow since she was in first year, David says, “there’s always room for improvement.”
SOUL, which has recently been incorporated into Student Life and Engagement, is a group that works to celebrate and foster racial diversity on campus. Much of its current programing exists to create change and develop community within the student experience, although members, like David, would like to see SOUL have an impact on Brantford at large.
In celebration of Black History Month, SOUL organized a Student Life and Engagement ‘Diversity Certificate’ event at the beginning of the month surrounding the theme of music, this week’s Tshepo Institute lecture by Dr. Idahosa on security issues and development in Africa, as well as a Black History Month Extravaganza taking place on Feb. 25.
The Extravaganza will be held in the RCW lobby at 10pm, and will include food, dance and spoken word.
“We’re trying to branch out to different community organizations,” David said, explaining that SOUL would have been excited to work with the community on organizing events for Black History Month 2015.“We could have done something really great outside of our University buildings.”
Despite the pains of transition, and there being no arts events planned, no films being shown, and no annual panel for the community this February, Sydenham St. United Church did begin their month with celebration.
Rev. Beamer launched the month with a special worship service on Sunday Feb. 1. The theme of racial equality ran throughout the service into the postlude, where Rev. Beamer recommended that the congregation could make this month “a time when a congregation makes a commitment to become more culturally sensitive, racially inclusive, and justice-conscious.”
Along with prayers and a message from Rev. Beamer, the service featured a southern gospel-centric worship component that differed from the traditional hymns, which are sung each Sunday. It also featured a guest speaker, who has become somewhat of a tradition for the annual Black History service. Natasha Henry, the author of Emancipation Day: Celebrating Freedom in Canada, who is an educational specialist and curriculum consultant in the area of Black History, gave a powerful and informative guest speech at the service.
Yvonne Wright spoke very highly of the information that Henry shared, referring to Henry as an “excellent” educator. Wright, who has been on the planning committee for Black History Month in Brantford and Brant County for 13 years, referred to a “picking up the pieces and moving on” attitude that permeated the service. Rather than focusing on the past, the committee and church have chosen to focus on the contributions and successes of black people in the world today, and what they can do to continue to break down barriers that still exist.
Wright spoke fondly of Lincoln Alexander, Canada’s first black member of Parliament; Jean Augustine, the first black woman in Parliament who passed the motion for Black History Month in Canada; and the Carter family from Brantford, who came to Canada via the underground railroad.
Although there are fewer celebrations in Brantford this year than others, Wright and Rev. Beamer both attested to the fact that plans are underway to see that there will be more programming next year. In the mean time, Wright stressed the educational value of Black History Month, referencing Speakers of the Dead and Seeking Salvation as two documentaries that provide knowledge and insight into Canadian Black History.
For 2015, the government of Canada has aligned its Black History Month celebrations with the Governor General’s proclamation of 2015 as “The Year of Sports”. The Federal government is encouraging communities to engage in narratives of diversity in athletic achievement, celebrating the efforts of Canadian black athletes who have broken down racial barriers in national and international sport.