Winnipeg’s Black History Month (BHM) celebrations are going in a tasty new direction.
Events in celebration of BHM continue across the city to celebrate Winnipeg’s vibrant Black communities. Sobeys Extra (2850 Pembina Hwy.) is hosting cooking classes. The next one, on Feb. 20, will feature some mouth-watering Afro-Caribbean dishes. It’s the event’s first year, and the menu will include jerk chicken, jollof rice, beef patties and pineapple slaw.
Along with chef Patrice Gilman, Nadia Thompson is spearheading the project and is impressed with how it all came about. Due to the growing visibility of Winnipeg’s Black population, Sobeys and their dietitians contacted Thompson out of the blue through the Congress of Black Women of Manitoba Inc. (COBW MB), an organization she’s a member of.
Sobeys “had an initiative that they wanted to be more involved in Black History Month,” Thompson says. “We felt it would be a good way to share our culture through food.”
The COBW MB is a non-profit organization that provides a central hub for issues concerning Black women in Manitoba. Their website states that their main goal is to provide a forum for discussion and change but also to raise awareness.
Another organization aimed at showcasing Manitoba’s Black community is the Black History Month Celebration Committee (BHMCC) itself. The BHMCC is rooted in the National Black Coalition of Canada that officially launched celebrations in Winnipeg in 1981.
Nadia Thompson's twin sister Rhonda Thompson is head of BHMCC. She noted that the community does vigorous work to raise awareness at the government level, especially to adjust curricula and make sure more Black history topics are covered in Canadian schools.
“We’re getting the word out into the schools ... we’re taking the initiative from other provinces that have tried to do the same,” she says.
Cultural awareness is a main goal for the BHMCC. As Thompson points out, there are many hurdles that Winnipeg’s Black community has had to overcome.
“We have individuals in our community that can tell stories firsthand about being turned away to rent apartments when they first came,” she says. “They had to go to low-income housing. They had to take jobs as domestic workers and railroad workers, because we were seen to be a lesser population. The struggle was real.”
Mavis McLaren is head of the Jamaican Association of Manitoba, which is hosting four BHM events at their Jamaican Cultural Centre. In 1968, Mavis arrived from Jamaica to a surprisingly cold Winnipeg. Since then, she’s always been proud of how the Jamaican community has collaborated and flourished as a community, just like back home.
“Even in Jamaica, there’s a variety of different cultural backgrounds,” she says. “It’s a multicultural country. Our cultural celebrations are intertwined.”
Winnipeg’s BHM is full of events for everyone. These include luncheons, movie nights, a basketball clinic and many others. These are geared towards all Winnipeggers but are especially framed as an outreach to the city’s young people.
The history lesson (Feb. 18 at the Jamaican Cultural Centre) and youth debate (Feb. 16 at Truth and Life Worship Centre) are two especially important events, according to Nadia Thompson.
“Without knowledge, we’re nothing,” she says. “The more we come together, the wider we spread out... if we continue to get requests to do different things in the city, we could do Black History Month 365 days a year.”
Check out bhmwinnipeg.blogspot.com for a summary of Winnipeg events going on in this February. Also follow the BHMCC on Facebook and Twitter (@bhmwinnipeg).
Published in Volume 73, Number 18 of The Uniter (February 14, 2019)