Conversations about elevating the Black community are endless. Some are uplifting… others rife with hopelessness; absence of tangible evidence to the contrary only nourishes that sense of hopelessness. So each year at this time, many look in the rearview mirror and ponder…
From her enviable vantage point, a place far outside Montreal called retirement, which she has been occupying now for a couple or three years, my dear friend of over four decades and counting can’t help thinking of a Black community she was born and raised in that begs the question: what could’ve been if…?
So whenever Black History Month comes around, like other Black people who are still community-minded she (I’ll call her Soul Sista) has a heightened sense of our history – particularly from a community standpoint, our place in this city and how we’re faring.
In her mind we could’ve… should’ve been way ahead of where we currently are had all the forces of community development and progress been aligned, on the right side of ‘right’ so to speak.
Anyone who has been living in this community long enough would be familiar with a community that at a certain point in time one could truly describe it as vibrant: various small businesses, a handful of functioning viable organizations with committed people at the helm and on the frontlines that provided various and vital services (social, legal, etc.). And there were others, serving as cultural/entertainment havens. All this once existed in the community, but with time unfortunately disappeared. Like a mirage, one minute they were here then gradually began to disappear.
“Out of sight out of mind…” as the adage goes. It’s as if we never had anything which tells/speak of Montreal’s Black history.
As they gradually disappeared over the years, I concluded that like certain products Montreal’s Black community establishments have a limited to short lifespan.
In this community we have become accustomed to talking… reminiscing about things/places) that used to be. Out of sight, out of mind. It’s how the Black community is, and reality becomes more pronounced at this time of year when some people – those truly committed to, and interested in, the well-being of the community reflect on our place and in time – this time – and how we’re doing… in relation to other communities being built by new communities.
So, each year at this time of year the community talk is all about Black History Month the duration of the 28 or 29 days. And so it has been since the inception of the annual month of recognition that Black people didn’t just come out of nowhere – like one of the planets for example. We, too, have a glorious history that is second to none; it’s just not featured in Canadian… Quebec… history books or in the academic curricula…
Black History Month celebrations was seeded in Montreal back in 1993, and gained momentum in subsequent years.
Its precursor was 1926, in the United States, when historian Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History announced the second week of February to be “Negro History Week.” In ensuing years it was re-coined Black History Month.
I for one made a point of collecting all the calendars (and pamphlets) for the next several years… But in subsequent years the historic content lost me, but I never lost interest.
So when Soul Sista called me a week ago and asked if I’m doing anything for BHM, I told her I wasn’t sure. When I asked her what she was doing, if anything she went off.
She said she gave up on BHM events years ago for multiple reasons, especially the lack of recognizable historical figures in the calendars and other material she would have access to at the academic institution where she worked for many years.
Being in that environment Soul Sista used her position and expertise as a springboard to “do my part, whatever I can for my community.”
And over our years of conversations she would tell me of things she had done, was planning to do for the community, especially the youth. She completely embraced the “Each one teach one” adage and philosophy and was committed to doing everything possible to ensure that Montreal’s Black community would be vibrant, develop and flourish.
But, we Black people have a way of using, stepping on, sabotaging one another. She provided multiple examples in our decades of conversations as evidence…
That’s one part of Black history that needs to be sanitized.
More next time.