‘Trying to make Black History Month 365 days in a year’

Exploring February’s local events

The Black History Manitoba Celebration Committee is hard at work preparing a new slate of events for the upcoming month of education, fun and reflection. (Photo by Keeley Braunstein-Black)

There’s more to celebrate this February than just Groundhog Day or the successful passage through another dreary January.

The Black History Manitoba Celebration Committee (BHMCC) will commemorate this year’s Black History Month with a host of activities, events and other celebrations.

BHMCC treasurer and co-facilitator Rhonda Thompson has spent the better part of two decades with the committee. She joined after encouragement from the community and initially sharing a table with the committee’s founder, Wade “Kojo” Williams Sr.

“I just got involved through community connections,” Thompson says. “I loved the camaraderie and the work that was being done by the committee, and the rest is history.”

While the group hosts BHM celebrations annually, they are also committed to their role in activism for Black issues, most notably their lobbying for including more Black history into the Manitoba school curriculum.

“We do advocate where we see it fit,” Thompson says, mentioning the Black Lives Matter movement and the fact that BHMCC members “sit on committees for policing matters. Anywhere we can lend a hand and lend a voice, we try to sit at as many tables as we possibly can in order to ensure that the issues that are important to us and our community are voiced.”

The programming slate kicks off this year with an opening ceremony and memorial service to honour the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the New Anointing Christian Fellowship Church. This year’s theme is “Black Resistance – Remember, Recognize and Educate,” partly in an effort to engage the community.

“Many community groups have found that there’s been a lack of volunteers and connectivity within our individual committees, so with this theme, as well, we’re trying to encourage individuals to rise up and be a part of the systems that we’re trying to change,” Thompson says.

Events include a cooking class, youth debate and research challenge, history lesson and an end-of-the-month gospel concert, led by Thompson, which returns after a COVID-19 pandemic-induced hiatus.

“We coin it as the Heart, Spirit and Soul Concert,” Thompson says. “It’s always lent itself to be very eclectic in its format in that we have individuals presenting, and we have reggae gospel, contemporary gospel, hymns, dancers that will dance to new-wave gospel. You just never know what you’re going to get.”

She says recognizing Black history is crucial to understanding the plight of Black people today.

“Many don’t understand how when Black people first started coming to Manitoba, how difficult it was to get housing, to get a job, to be able to integrate into the society that was already here while still being able to be themselves,” Thompson says.

“There’s so much rich history here because Black people have been here for a while now and, again, there were so many struggles that they had to go through to lay down the foundation to what we’re able to experience today.”

And while the month of February is dedicated to sharing and celebrating Black stories, she hopes education won’t be confined to a mere 28 days.

“We’re trying to make Black History Month 365 days a year, so not to just take the opportunity during February, but also go out at all times of the year.”

For more information about this year’s Black History Month events, visit bhmwinnipeg.com.

Published in Volume 77, Number 15 of The Uniter (January 19, 2023)

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