In honour of Black History Month (BHM), we reached out to executive members of the uOttawa International Student Association (UOISA), Clémence Mugabo, Laure Ngarambe and Sara Ayé, and spoke with them about the importance of BHM. These three uOttawa students share their thoughts and experiences as well as what Black History means to them.
Question: Why it is important to celebrate Black History Month?
Clémence: “As someone who comes from outside of Canada, there is a story of Canada that I know, that I’ve learned in History books. It’s a story I learned before I came to Canada and it is part of the reason I wanted to come to Canada. However, Black History in Canada is a story that is less familiar to me. It’s a story I have been learning about since I got here.”
Through Black History Month, she has learned more about the realities of other black people living in Canada. “I identify with the black community, so it’s interesting for me to learn more about it.”
Laure: “…as young people, we don’t realize how much it took for our ancestors to get to where I am. I wake up everyday, I go to work or school without thinking that people are going to see me as a black person and [that] they are going to treat me differently. It still happens in some cases but in general, most people don’t think like that. We go to work, we go to interviews thinking we are going to use our person and our intelligence to do what we want to do. It is important to celebrate Black History Month because in order to do something as simple as to wake up and be free to do whatever you [want to do], so many people had to die, go to war, prove themselves for [this] simple thing to happen. We have to be grateful and celebrate them.”
Sara: “We don’t talk much about black people and about what they brought to the world, it is important to share the story of what they brought…and to share it loudly.”
Q: What do you think of when you hear “Black History Month”?
Clémence: “I get really excited when I hear about it, I’m a person who likes to learn and it’s all about information.” Clémence shares. “I love all the initiatives that are happening, people get really creative” she tells us.
Laure: “I have a lot of questions” she shared what she knew about Black History in the United States but also that she knew little about Black History in Canada. “What is the history of black people in Canada? Where are they today? How long have black people been in Canada?”
Sara: “To our complex history and all that it brings to the world. We have a lot to say but are not always given the time to say or to explain it.”
Q: Why is it important to talk about black history month and what it signifies to people?
Clémence: “BHM is not just for black people, it is for everyone. It is Canadian History that everyone should know.” It is an opportunity for the non-black community to identify with the black community through storytelling, music, food and celebration. “I am from Africa, I did not grow up in Canada but in hearing about it, I identify so much so maybe that feeling can happen with non-black Canadians as well”.
Laure: “While many people are aware of Black History, we [can’t forget] that there are still people who think differently, who do not acknowledge that there is Black History that black people also deserve for their History to be acknowledged. In repeating history and continuing to tell a story, eventually people will come around. When you do something again and again it keeps getting better, so if not this year, maybe next year those people will understand the meaning and the importance of Black History Month.”
Sara: “We are here and we have a story that is our own.”
Events to look out for:
- Exhibition: The Black Canadian Experience in Ontario: 1834—1914
- Empowering the future: presented by the Afro-Carribean Mentorship Program
- Still I Rise: Panel Discussion presented by the Black Student Leaders Association
- Soulful Expressions: The Blackprint presented by the Black Student Leaders Association
- Black History Month Gala and other events presented by the University of Ottawa Students’ Union