Black History Month: Resilience, hope, & building community

Past, present, future.

In honour of the 20th anniversary of Black History Month, the Faculty of Arts and Science is examining our history, the work being done today, and projects that provide hope for the future.

“Black History Month has tremendous meaning for me; however, I approach this month with measured critique. I use the term ‘critique’ because as much as we focus on the achievements of Black Canadians in February each year, I cautioned against relegating this focus on ‘Blackness’ to February each year,” says Anita Jack-Davies, Assistant Dean, Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Indigeneity.

“Although I am Canadian born and identify as a Black Canadian of Trinidadian descent, I did not learn about Black history or the contributions of Black Canadians in elementary school. In fact, my first Black ‘teacher’ was during my Masters of Education degree. For me, several questions come to the fore: why do we know so little about the contributions and histories of Black Canadians, why is the curriculum so devoid of Black history that predates enslavement and how are elementary teachers being supported to teach this subject matter in ways that honour students, especially Black students who may find the subject matter upsetting?”

In examining the past, we learn of Robert Sutherland Prize Winner Tka Pinnock (BAH ‘07) who built an impressive resume during her time at Queen’s University. While earning her Bachelor of Arts, Honours, Pinnock was involved in various student organizations, including Chair of the Committee Against Race & Ethic Discrimination, Director of Ontario Public Interest Research Group, Kingston and Chair of Black History Month Kingston. Pinnock was also on the Senate Committee on Non-Academic Discipline and the AMS Judicial Committee.

“I recall having a conversation with Barrington Walker, now former History Professor, who said to me that as a Black student at Queen's I needed to feel a sense of ownership of the university,” she says. “That for me was a turning point because while I had found and belonged to several communities at Queen's, I often negotiated spaces tentatively.  Dr. Walker sparked the idea in me that I am of Queen's, and was entitled to participate in the life of Queen's on my own terms. In practice that meant asserting myself in institutional and community life - and contributing to continued efforts to build diversity and inclusion at the university.”

In 2007, she was the recipient of the Queen's University Robert Sutherland Prize awarded annually by the Alma Mater Society to a self-defined student of colour who has shown leadership and initiative at Queen's in the areas of anti-racism and anti-oppression in the aim of creating a more inclusive campus environment.

“As a Black person, I exist outside of and beyond Black History Month, so I yearn for that future time when the Black Canadian experience will simply be recognized as part of the Canadian experience,” adds Pinnock. “Until such time, however, Black History Month provides an opportunity to bring focus to the lived experiences - past and present - of Black Canadians, as well as an opportunity to explore the complexities and contradictions of even having a Black History Month”

Pinnock currently sits as a Councillor on Queen’s University Council.

Looking at the present and peering into the future, Queen’s University Professor Katherine McKittrick (Gender Studies) teaches Gender Studies and Black Studies at Queen's. Her research explores how black theorists and artists practice liberation by rewriting and reimagining prevailing geographic and methodological norms. She is an honourary international member of the American Academy of Arts and Science and a former editor of Antipode: A Radical Journal of Geography. 

Dr. McKittrick is also one of the driving forces behind the Minor in Black Studies, an interdisciplinary field, emphasizing the political, creative, and intellectual lives of global black diasporic communities, launching in the fall of 2021.

“With several seminars speaking directly to the field of Black Studies, as well as multiple courses that attend to studies of race, colonialism, resistance, and anti-racism, scholars, students, and staff will be thinking through questions of liberation and social change,” says Dr. McKittrick.

She discussed the mechanics and administering of the Minor on CFRC in last term.

Also a published author, Dr. McKittrick’s new book, Dear Science and Other Stories, explores black methodologies, interdisciplinarity, and black storytelling, and focuses on how liberation and anticolonialism are expressed, practiced, theorized in and beyond Black Studies. Dr. McKittrick discussed the book in an interview with physicist Chanda Prescod-Weinstein in Public Books in January.

“Equity, diversity, and inclusion, including anti-racism, decolonization, and Indigenous resurgence, is a guiding principle for our Faculty, as outlined in our Strategic Plan 2019-2024,” says Dean Barbara Crow. “Remembering and celebrating the 20th anniversary of Black History Month, and re-examining our history and the work being done today and for the future, reflects our vision of being a thriving, equitable, culturally diverse, and inclusive scholarly community. Our goal is to inspire curiosity and one of our priorities is to enrich the student experience by offering programs that engage intellectual curiosity beyond Western knowledge frameworks, as well as broaden perspectives and facilitate interdisciplinary thinking.”