Literacy campaign sheds light on Black History

Black History Manitoba educates communities through literary resources

Nadia Thompson is the chairperson of Black History Manitoba.

The month of February is dedicated to recognizing Black history, as well as promoting readership through I Love to Read Month. When taking both subject matters into account, storytelling and literature are crucial resources to understanding Black history and deconstructing racism. Aware of this, Black History Manitoba (BHM) offers various resources to help expose the community to Black history, which is often overlooked in school textbooks.

Nadia Thompson, BHM’s chairperson, says the volunteer-driven committee was initially called Black History Month, but they decided to rename it to reiterate that valuing Black history should be a yearround goal.

One of the ways BHM has contributed to further educating Manitobans is by partnering with libraries and schools to curate literature displays and storytelling activities.

“We talked a lot about February being I Love to Read Month, so we have been connecting with different organizations along the years to promote Black literature and Black authors. We have partnered with the Winnipeg Public Library for over 10 years. Last year, we extended the partnership with more community-based libraries for Black History Month and provided story times to various youth,” she says.

Thompson says part of why resources offered by BHM are so important is because they can lead people to gain more knowledge about and respect other cultures.

“There are many students out there who are open to learning about different backgrounds and other ethnicities, so this is a way to give them a platform to ask questions and be more community-based outside social media,” Thompson says.

Misgana Alemayehu learned about BHM through her church, Truth and Life Worship Centre. After participating in a debate, Alemayehu was immediately drawn to the internship opportunity with the committee as an administrative assistant.

“Prior to coming across BHM, I was quite unaware of Black history affairs in Canada in general. Even though my parents and I have Black backgrounds, they really did not teach us, me and my siblings, to be conscious of the subject matter. What really helped me to gain insight was participating in (BHM’s Youth Symposium debate). If I were not to get that chance, I would likely be in the same mindset today where I know little about my own history,” Alemayehu says.

Throughout her experience in the debate and as an intern, Alemayehu has learned about various Canadian figures who are part of Black history through story records. One of her personal favorites is Viola Desmond.

“She challenged racial discrimination when she sat on the seat reserved for whites-only in a cinema in Nova Scotia. She got arrested and fined at the time, but she inspired later generations to refuse racial discrimination all throughout Canada. This is meaningful to me, because if brave people like Desmond hadn’t fought for Black freedom, we may still live in a racially segregated society today,” she says.

For more information on BHM initiatives, follow @bhmwinnipeg on Twitter and Instagram.

Published in Volume 76, Number 18 of The Uniter (February 17, 2022)

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