The way Carla Beauvais sees it, Black History Month comes as a reminder for us as a community to get our act together: to reflect and figure out ways to build for the future.
“I see it as a platform for us to take a moment to think creatively, and maybe organize ourselves for the rest of the year,” says Beauvais who has been the coordinator of the Round Table on Black History Month for the last 12 years.
She says every time February rolls around, it should remind us of how much work Black people still have to do if we’re to stake out our place in this society as a group.
But faced with widespread apathy and lingering questions about the validity of the month, Beauvais is herself reminded of our community’s fractious relationship with a celebration that initially was meant to shine a spotlight on contributions that “were overlooked, ignored, and even suppressed by the writers of history textbooks and the teachers who use them,” in the words of Carter G. Woodson, the American historian credited with laying the groundwork for Black History Month.
In spite of the challenges, Beauvais, a lifelong advocate of Black empowerment, sees BHM as a platform upon which our community can draw closer together and an opportunity to chart a path forward for our youth.
She acknowledges that there’s work to be done even with the construct of the organizing body, the Round Table on Black History Month, which she says falters because of the lack of participation and involvement by members of the English-speaking sector of our community.
“It’s too bad that as a community English-speaking and French-speaking Blacks can’t find a way to work together to make Black History Month (a source of empowerment).”
Beauvais laments “I understand the challenges faced by English-speaking Blacks because of their double minority status, but we all face the same barriers in this society, such as lack of employment, racial profiling and issues in housing and education.
At the end of the day, we don’t have the luxury to be divided.”
However, Beauvais says she’s heartened by the involvement of youth in this observance of BHM this year, saying it represents many of the ideals of Black History Month by working together and participating in many events and activities that are being staged across Montreal throughout February.
Beauvais says it’s a lot easier for the youth to come together, because for the most part they speak both English and French and are able to communicate better. “So I guess we’ll see changes in the social, economic and political dynamics of our community in the next generation.”
These days her biggest concern about the organization and celebration of Black History Month hinges on the inability to have proper support and participation by politicians and corporations, many of whom are always eager to offer lip service without showing true commitment to our community.
“Over the years, much of what I’ve been seeing has been political statements to our community on Black History Month, but no political action to accompany the talk,” she says. “We can’t continue to give them that platform.”
Tireless in aspirations to organize and lift others around her, Beauvais established Gala Dynastie, now in its 4th year, “as a space where Blacks can celebrate themselves.”
“Over the years it has been frustrating for me to see us always making demands on society for us to exist. And so, Gala Dynastie is a response to that for us to do something to celebrate ourselves.”
The event, which follows Black History Month (this year it will take place on March 1, at Théâtre Maisonneuve – Place Des Arts 175 Sainte-Catherine W) celebrates Black excellence in literature, media, music and dance.
“Although we hand out awards, it’s really not about that; those awards are just a pretext to showcase the best in our community.”
Beauvais says she is thrilled about the response that the event has been getting since it was launched in 2018.
“It has been garnering more support and getting better over the years. It’s not yet perfect, but it’s for us, by us, and shows that we don’t need anyone’s approval to showcase our contributions and our achievements.”