For Elorm Vowotor (Artsci’18) and Shanice Howard (Artsci’18), co-presidents of the African and Caribbean Students’ Association (ACSA) at Queen’s University, they look forward to a day when hosting Black History Month isn’t a necessity, a day when black culture, history and achievements are fully integrated into the Canadian fabric, included in textbooks and accepted by all.
That day has yet to arrive, so the work goes on.
Recognition for Robert Sutherland
Greg Frankson, the first black student elected president of the Alma Mater Society in 1996, was determined to resurrect the memory of Robert Sutherland. Visit the 175 website to learn more about students’ efforts to recognize the contributions of Robert Sutherland.
On Sunday, Jan. 29, the members of ACSA and the Queen’s Black Academic Society (QBAS) hosted an opening ceremony for Black History Month at Robert Sutherland Hall, bringing the Queen’s and Kingston communities together for an evening of performances and guest speakers, including Nikki Clarke, president of the Ontario Black History Society.
The two have also played a leading role in organizing a series of events throughout February to highlight black history as well as the current experience, from cultural displays and dance workshops to a panel discussion featuring a number of Queen’s academics.
Another key aspect for the events is strengthening the ties between the Queen’s and Kingston communities.
“What I’m really looking forward to is doing more Kingston community events because there is a tendency for Queen’s students to just go to Black History Month events on campus,” says Ms. Howard. “For myself I’ve never really been involved in the community activities but we were sure to include them in the calendar. It’s Black History Month and we wanted it to have a wider reach.”
That reach begins with Judith Brown, a Queen’s alumni and president of Kingston’s Afro-Caribe Community Foundation. At the opening ceremony, Ms. Brown highlighted some local history, including the fact that the event was held in a building named after the first student and graduate of colour at Queen’s and one of the university’s most important early benefactors. Robert Sutherland would also go on to become the first black lawyer in Ontario.
Ms. Vowotor herself only recently learned about Sutherland but adds that it points to the continuing lack of inclusion and awareness of the black community’s contributions. For both Ms. Vowotor, an international student from Ghana, and Ms. Howard, who was born in Jamaica, it was a very clear omission.
“I am African and my history and heritage is very, very important to me. Coming to Kingston and Queen’s it was such a shock that there wasn’t a lot of diversity,” Ms. Vowotor says. “So this event is very important because it gives us a chance to really show that we are here, that we do exist, listen to us and hear our voices as well. It gives us a chance to raise awareness among the students of Queen’s.”
Through the events they are hoping to expand the knowledge of black history not only in Kingston and at Queen’s but across Ontario and Canada as well by reaching students who will take this knowledge back to their hometowns.
Both say they are encouraged by the increasing diversity at the university and by the increasing number of people attending the events.
For more information about Black History Month at Queen’s and Kingston visit the ACSA page on Facebook.
To learn more about black history in Canada, visit the Ontario Black History Society website.