Winnipeg Black History Month in its 36th Year

Tracing the origins of celebrating black accomplishments in February

The 36th annual Black History Month in Winnipeg is a celebration of black culture and accomplishment highlighted by a series of events put on by the Winnipeg’s Black History Month Celebration Committee (BHMCC). 

Black History Month began in the United States in the 1920s by Carter G. Woodson as “Negro Awareness Week.” It was originally held in the second week of February to not only celebrate the black community, but also to coincide with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. 

Patricia Kumbakisaka, who is a Congo native and works for the United Nations Association of Canada, lists the 44th president and First Lady of the United States as important figures for her.

“If we look at the States, we can see that they had the very first black president. People in the future will have Obama there as a figure for black history. As a black woman myself, I see a lot of strength and a lot of courage from people like Michelle (Obama).”

In 1955, Black History Month was adopted in Canada through a motion introduced to the House of Commons by Jean Augustine and approved by the Senate in 2008. 

African-Canadians and Caribbean-Canadians celebrate prominent black figures from the past and from today. 

Kumbakisaka highlights the excitement in the African-Canadian and Caribbean-Canadian communities, as 2017 marks the induction of Viola Desmond as the first woman and black Canadian on the Canadian $10 bill.

A beauty parlour and beauty school owner, Viola Desmond is an iconic figure in Canadian history. In 1946, Desmond sat in the “whites only” section of a New Glasgow, N.S. theatre and was arrested. 

“Just because of her skin colour, they didn’t want her to enjoy a movie,” Kumbakisaka says. “If people didn’t stand up in the past, who knows what could have happened?”

In Winnipeg, Black History Month began in 1981 through the National Black Coalition of Canada. 

Although the planning of Black History Month has gone through the hands of several organizations, according to the BHMCC website, they have been planning it here in Winnipeg since 2010.

Through a variety of events, BHMCC shines a light on the strong and diverse black community in Winnipeg.

Every year, BHMCC works to plan events for Black History Month in Winnipeg, something that can be seen from the 13 events offered this year. The events are diverse and accessible, with some aimed at youth and others open to all ages.

“The African-Canadian community here in Winnipeg is very united. We are very diverse,” Kumbakisaka says. “Overall, the community is very involved.”

More information about events put on by BMHCC can be found at bhmwinnipeg.blogspot.ca.

Published in Volume 71, Number 22 of The Uniter (March 2, 2017)

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