It’s BLACK HISTORY MONTH, so among the conversations about ‘history and blackness’ is that perennial one about building an economically vibrant Black community. Some conversations are uplifting, others are rife with hopelessness… nourished by the absence of tangible evidence to suggest that the community is finally on an upward trajectory, which only nourishes that sense of hopelessness. So at this time of year especially, people are wondering if this community will ever exit what seems to be a permanent socio-economic morass.
Sure the community is economically comatose, not a personal opinion, but a general view of the state of our community affairs. And it has been so for a long time.
Many will take umbrage with that bleak assessment, justifiably. Who can blame them? There’s nothing that comes to mind to excite, encourage interest and hope in a community where words (about building, acquiring wealth, etc.) are propitious and bountiful, but nothing ever materializes to show that talk is being translated into the tangible…
Reflecting on a lengthy conversation a couple weeks ago with my friend, SOUL Sista, and given her specific (professional) area of expertise when she was in the labour market, she provided various reasons why the community is where it is: stagnant… And there was no take-away from her musings that better days are coming to a community that many maintain has for too long been in the doldrums. And she’s not a pessimist, just a pragmatist.
Three decades or so in the professional sphere and the expertise she acquired along the way have served her well.
So from the safe confines and comfort of her retirement nest some place out of (but not too far from) Montreal, she’s still able observe and gauge what she refers to as the “community’s (lethargic) state of affairs.”
She reflects, with bittersweet emotions, as Black History Month recognition events continue, and what our community could’ve been.
As many Black people are saying these days too much of our time is being spent on that historic subject, racism and its deleterious impact it has had on us, and on any desire we may even harbour to collectively focus on that oft-touted “economic development, wealth acquisition” and so on.
A few years into retirement from a public institution, she refuses to come back to town to participate in anything BHM, having expended much of her professional life (energy and expertise) in doing as much as she possibly could to ensure that various community organizations, some of which she was loosely affiliated, and various initiatives she was involved with, became economically and otherwise sound organizations that could’ve foundational elements of a vibrant, progressive community.
Many came, but for various reasons had a short life span.
As SOUL Sista says there was a period – the 1980s into the beginning of the new millennium – the community, through various government connections and para public agencies had access to financial, human and other resources, requisite elements for viable community building, but selfish interests often trumped community. Many still mourn the fact that Montreal’s Black community, over various periods of time possessed all those requisite elements for real community building, but…
Given her professional background and multiple contacts she was able to make over the years, SOUL Sista was able to make use of connections with people outside the community. She was driven by a selfless desire to help, using those with whom she interacted to discuss community interests.
I know this; she would speak to me about her travels to various parts of the province, including the provincial capital, to meet with people who could be of service to the Black community’s initiatives – educational, business, etc.
She was driven by her altruism and was never one to attract (any sort of media) attention. For her, doing for the community has always been her way of contributing to the greater good, the community and its potential.
So as the world unfolds it would be fair to say that Black History (without the ‘Month’) has not yet been fully embraced by Canadian academia, notwithstanding the fact that it’s history after all, everyone’s history, just the way [we, [Black people] were all inculcated with European history, which was at the core of [our] education in our formative years. That said the Black history subject/discussion has been incrementally gaining traction.
And so, it’s the season; BHM season, all talk of Black History Month all the time. But not everyone is on board; those who have not [yet] become jaded remain committed to doing their part individually and collectively to ensure that for all that its worth Black History Month is front-and-center in the media.
As our conversation continued SOUL Sista’s was becoming a little angry; her disappointment with the state of the community was palpable. Especially because over the years so many honest, committed Black people have become disenchanted with the workings of individuals in various organizations whose interests were less than community-focused.
SOUL Sista and I agreed: the hell with racism (all the while engaging in a multi-pronged attack…) much of our energy must be directed at that proverbial “economic development.”
Observing the community from her vantage point, retirement, she reminisces about certain people with whom she interacted some of whom were in positions to put the community on a positive trajectory. “Black people have moved backwards… Are a bunch of people who are out for individual fame and glory… Black people who are graduating (from post-secondary institutions) are not doing anything with regards to the development of the community…”
One more thing SOUL Sista recounted an anecdote when a group of people who care about history, especially ours, was successful in having a Black History course introduced into a particular school. Problem was the course didn’t take off. So the principal, with whom she had a good relationship, told her “the students are not interested…” It was discontinued. The expressed his frustration with “the lack of interest of Black students for such a course….” It was terminated.
Reflecting on our Black community in 2019, there’s so much that we individually and collectively always hope for, things that could’ve and should’ve been achieved given our various eras here, if only… That reality becomes increasingly heightened the duration of Black History Month when people who are genuinely interested in our collective place… take time out for serious reflection, not just with regards to the narrow community space we occupy here, but on the bigger ancestral territory (and Diaspora) from which we all come.
It’s where my friend Soul Sista’s and others of her [harambe] ilk and ideology come from.