BIRCHTOWN, SHELBURNE COUNTY, N.S. – The launch of African Heritage Month at the Black Loyalist Heritage Center in Birchtown on Feb. 2 was an ‘inspirational celebration’ that brought together municipal leaders, provincial and federal politicians, top ranking RCMP officers, school children and members of the community at large.
With the names of the Black Loyalist settlers as sentinel throughout the building, the setting couldn’t have been more appropriate.
Spirituals were sung by the Lockeport Elementary School Choir, a skit was performed by Black Loyalist Heritage Society member Louise Delisle, and words were spoken proclaiming and supporting the 2018 African Heritage Month theme to “Educate, Unite, Celebrate Community,” as well as the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024).
South Shore-St. Margaret’s MP Bernadette Jordan called the Black Loyalist Heritage Center “a place of reference and remembrance,” encouraging people to “recognize that our diversity adds to our strength.”
Queens-Shelburne MLA Kim Masland called the Municipal Proclamation Launch for African Heritage Month an “inspirational celebration” that united Shelburne County’s five municipal units, the province, federal representatives and the community. The theme, Educate, Unite, Celebrate Community “instils in us the desire to be members of a society that embraces all people and celebrates diversity,” she said.
Tony Ince, Minister of African Nova Scotia Affairs and the Public Service Commission, was also on hand. “My main message for all of us is to be educated and learn about the contributions African Nova Scotians have made, not only in Nova Scotia, but all of Canada,” said Ince in an interview. “In Nova Scotia we have so many firsts that have gone from here right across the country nationally and internationally that have had an impact on society.”
He said as an educator, “It is so important that we really listen to the youth. They have a voice. They have so much to share with us and they are more in tune with things in the world today than we all often believe that they are, so we need to sit and listen to them but also ask them to hold us as adults accountable to ensure and pressure us to ensure they get the true story, the complete story and not just segments of the story – the story of the Aboriginals, the First Nations, the Acadians and the African Nova Scotian in this province.”
Ince said as Minister of the Public Service Commission, “it’s incumbent upon me to try to ensure that government services “are little more reflective of the society that we represent.”
African Nova Scotian Affairs partners with organizations from throughout the province to form the African Heritage Month Information Network. More than 100 events have been organized across the Nova Scotia to celebrate African Heritage Month.
At the Black Loyalist Heritage Centre, an African Heritage Month celebration luncheon is being held on Friday, Feb. 16 from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Lunch will include pineapple curry chicken, black eyed peas and rice, biscuits, Ethiopian punch and dessert. Cost to dine-in is $15 per person which includes the showing of the Carrie M. Best: Champion for Human Rights vignette. Take out orders will be $10/plate.
On Tuesday, Feb. 13, Black Loyalist Heritage Society’s Programming and Outreach Coordinator Vanessa Fells will be speaking at Government House in celebration of African Heritage Month. The event begins at 7 p.m. (doors open at 6:30pm). In order to attend, guests must register by calling 902-424-7001 or by visiting the website at: https://lt.gov.ns.ca/news-events/evenings-government-house
The 2018 African Heritage Month theme to Educate, Unite, Celebrate Community “will honour and pay homage to African Nova Scotians and their long legacy of uniting a passion that has provided a base to educate and celebrate an important part of Nova Scotia’s culture and Heritage,” states the proclamation. “The theme embraces education and encourages all Nova Scotians with the desire to educate oneself about African Nova Scotian history. Together, we can unite and ignite the culture and heritage we share as a community as we observe the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent from 2015-2024. This observation focuses on three pillars: Recognition, Justice, and Development.
“The province of Nova Scotia has over 50 historic African Nova Scotian communities, dating back over 400 years. These communities have a unique and rich legacy of resistance, resilience and triumph that needs to be shared with all of Nova Scotia. It is for this reason we must Educate, Unite and Celebrate African Heritage Month.”
AFRICAN HERITAGE MONTH ORIGINS
The commemoration of African Heritage Month in Canada can be traced to 1926 when Harvard-educated black historian Carter G. Woodson founded Negro History Week to recognize the achievements of African Americans. Woodson purposefully chose February for the birthdays of Frederick Douglas and Abraham Lincoln, both key figures in the emancipation of enslaved blacks: In 1976, as part of the American Bicentennial celebrations, Negro History Week was expanded to Black History Month.
In Canada, the House of Commons officially recognized February as Black History Month in December, 1995, following a motion by the first Black Canadian MP Jean Augustine. In February 2008, now retired Nova Scotia Senator Donald Oliver QC who was the first Black man appointed to the Senate, introduced a motion to have the Senate declare February as Black History Month. It received unanimous approval and was the final parliamentary procedure needed for Canada’s permanent recognition of Black History Month.