Black History Month on the Prairies

African-Canadian organizations share insights into what it means for them and how Saskatchewan businesses can participate.

The Government of Saskatchewan officially proclaimed February as African-Canadian/Black History Month to recognize and honour the legacy of Black Canadians and Canadians of African descent across the country.
This month-long observance in the U.S. and Canada is an occasion to commemorate the achievements and contributions made by people of African heritage and to celebrate the organizations creating change.

The Truly Alive Youth and Family Foundation Inc. (TAYFFI) is a registered charity providing tailored programs and support services to individuals, youth, and families from visible minority communities in the Saskatoon area. In addition to supporting ethnic minority communities and building allyships with Indigenous peoples, Anthony Olusola, executive director of TAYFFI says the organization is also Black-led as it serves as a conduit for the Saskatoon Black Alliance Network.

“Our organization is all-inclusive, serving people across racial and ethnic backgrounds, however, we recognize the age-old discrepancies in service delivery for Black Canadians, so it became imperative to create a platform and community space for Black people where they not only feel at home but a place where they can be served within the context of their unique needs and cultural nuances,” Olusola says. “Within the Saskatoon metropolitan area we have an array of Black communities and it’s important to recognize the uniqueness of each community but also work towards building unity in diversity.”

Last year, TAYFFI’s Black History Month celebrations were hosted online in consideration of the COVID-19 Pandemic, but Olusola loved the virtual format because it facilitated a pan-Canadian component “recognizing that the issues we’re facing in Saskatoon are no different from the issues being faced in other parts of Canada.”

Therefore, he is excited for TAYFFI’s 2022 virtual events that started on Feb. 5 and include panel discussions with speakers from across Canada on Black family health, a youth-led virtual forum, and a pan-Canadian symposium on Black women in Canadian politics.

These topics correspond with the 2022 Black History Month theme “Black Health and Wellness,” as well as TAYFFI’s local theme “Stronger Together.” Olusola says they’ll be having conversations to debunk myths and stereotypes associated with mental health in Black communities while encouraging healthy lifestyles.

Olusola believes there are many meaningful ways non-Black Canadians in the workplace can celebrate Black History Month, but the most important thing they can do is participate from a place of “intentionality.” Meaning, we don’t have to wait until February to honour African/Black heritage and businesses should “look introspectively” at their institutional structures.

“The way workplaces can first celebrate Black History Month is to recognize their implicit bias, and begin to look at changing processes, from hiring to retaining those they have hired, to begin to look at workplaces not only from a place of diversity but inclusion,” Olusola says. “It’s not enough to have diverse groups of people if they don’t really feel included, right?”

This is why TAYFFI offers tailored support for internationally trained professionals, pre-employment programs for immigrant and non-immigrant job seekers, as well as its youth mental health, family support, and community connections so people can learn how to share their views and perspectives for the betterment of the individual, community, and business.

The African Canadian Resource Network Saskatchewan (ACRN) is another action-oriented, Black-led organization based in Regina that’s dedicated to supporting the capacity development of the community in the province in areas such as business and public leadership while providing a platform for enhancing social connections.

Incorporated in 2014 as the result of two years of community-based consultation, Abdi Gure, the board chair of ACRN, says they identified a need for an umbrella organization to support a diverse, growing, and dynamic African Canadian community in Saskatchewan. ACRN initially started with 10 community-based organizations but has grown to include 18 diverse cultural member organizations.

“There was a need to mobilize the community, to support newcomers, to help families and youth, and there was a need to bring a united front of all the Black and African communities voices, rather than having individual community organizations advocating for themselves,” Gure says. “We felt the need that with more people coming to the province and struggling to make ends meet and struggling to navigate the system, those of us who are here long enough, we’re able to create various community-based organizations to support the newcomers and provide services such as immigration and settlement programs, employment and empowerment of women as well as capacity building and professional development.”

While ACRN is running its regular services throughout February, the executive board also plans to engage elected officials to send a strong message of hope and recognition for Saskatchewan’s of African descent. Gure also highlighted that some of ACRN’s member organizations have their own Black History Month programming, like the Saskatchewan African Canadian Heritage Museum which is offering free virtual events.
ACRN recently completed the Inter-Action Project (IAP), which was a three-year interprovincial research project aimed at addressing the mental health, social and economic cost of discrimination based on race, gender and religious differences experienced by Canadians of African descent.

In addition to informing ACRN’s programming, Gure says that this research is important because businesses and the public sector need to acknowledge the relationship between a person’s experience within society and their health and mental well-being.

“We had to listen to stories of young people in our school system where they experienced harassment, discrimination, and all of the name-calling, as well as being visible and different from the majority of students in a particular school,” Gure says. “These are very horrific experiences within our communities, especially with young people and it’s easy to see how that can translate into a mental health issue. So we’re trying to reach out to as many public and business leaders in this province as possible to bring these issues to light and to advocate for diversity and inclusion.”

He agrees with Olusola that we don’t need to wait for each February to commemorate Black history and ACRN wants to “make sure that people are celebrated every day of their life, especially those of us who are so vulnerable to racism and discrimination.”

“We realized through our research project that when we look at the intersection between different aspects of discrimination and racism, and a lack of inclusion within a given society, the outcome was it’s not only the victims that are losing but society at large is losing,” Gure says.

“Because when you have a very talented, useful human being, a very skilled person that can contribute to the well being of society and we end up excluding that person, at the end of the day, it’s not only that person that’s losing but the community as a whole, economically, financially, and socially, we all lose.”

By Noah Callaghan, Industry West Magazine

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