Thank You Ms. Rosemary by Sade Alexis - from 2021 Vancouver Mural Fest

What You Can Do to Celebrate Black History Month as an Ally

Tuesday, January 31, 2023 by YWCA Metro Vancouver Racial Equity Committee

Black History Month 2023: Black Resistance 

Banner image: Thank You, Ms. Rosemary - Mural artwork by Sade Alexis from the 2021 Vancouver Mural Fest


The month of February has been celebrated as Black History Month since its inception in the 1970s United States, to recognize the countless milestones, rich cultural heritage and achievements made by Black people in North America, and around the world.  

Originally starting as a week-long event in the early 1920s, it fell in February to align with the birthdays of two key figures that contributed to African American liberation and civil rights; African American abolitionist, author, and orator Frederick Douglass (born February 14) and U.S. President Abraham Lincoln (born February 12), who issued the Emancipation Proclamation. With the growing awareness of Black Identity, the celebration was then observed for the entire month of February. 

Black History Month is a time to recognize and celebrate the many achievements of Black Canadians within our community, as well the rest of the world. The history of Black communities in Canada is often underrepresented, leaving the achievements of Black Canadians unrecognized and ignored in the telling of Canadian history. 

Celebrate Black Resistance 

Every year a new theme is chosen for Black History Month, which focuses on relevant topics impacting Black communities. This year’s theme is ‘Black Resistance’. It looks to address historic and ongoing oppression of Black people in all forms, including colonialism past and present and police and governmental maltreatment.  

In recent history, previously colonized countries have been throwing off the yoke of colonialism, which has remained in place, supporting an outdated and racist imperial system for far too long. This month we will be observing these cases and how this political and social change is empowering the people of the relevant countries. 

Learn About Decolonization  

In the simplest definition, decolonization can be described as the process by which a country that was previously a colony, becomes politically independent. However, decolonizing is much more complex and nuanced and involves the dismantling of the oppressive and exploitative systems and structures that form our societies and that were built to perpetuate white supremacy. These systems of oppression exist today even if a nation has gained independence from its colonizer. 

As the first country in West Africa to gain independence in 1957, Ghana paved the way for further decolonization efforts in other parts of the continent. Through peaceful methods such as protests and strikes, the resistance was led by Kwame Nkrumah, who had studied in both Britain and the United States, led the movement and became the first prime minister of Ghana. The resistance movement led by Kwame Nkrumah, used strikes and peaceful protests to effectively distrupt colonial power structures, culminating in the independence of Ghana.

On November 30, 2021, the Caribbean Island of Barbados became a republic, removing Queen Elizabeth II of England from her position as ceremonial head of state. Having previously declared independence from England on November 30, 1966, this final act cast aside the last trappings of British colonialism that saw the island claimed as one of England’s first slave colonies almost 400 years earlier. 

Other commonwealth nations such as Antigua and Barbuda set plans to hold referendums in the coming years to decide on their country leaving the commonwealth and become a republic. Jamaica, which is the largest of the commonwealth realms in the Caribbean, has also publicly announced its intentions to remove the monarch as its head of state and it has the support of its people in this move. 

While the British monarch’s role as head of state in these commonwealth realms is largely ceremonial, the connection is nonetheless illustrative of a past filled with violence, oppression, subjugation and lasting colonial impacts. The momentum, awareness and anti-colonial sentiment globally, continues to spur these movements in formerly colonized countries and is a notable example of Black resistance.  

Join the Rallying Cry  

The struggle for decolonization and racial justice also continues in various parts of Africa through protests in support of the Black Lives Movement in America, which puts pressure on the ruling political elite whose use of police brutality and other forms of punishment and oppression represent extant power structures of 19th century colonialism. Both abroad and at home, Africans are subjected to discrimination, with structural racism, internalized racism, and xenophobia resulting in the appropriation of Black labour, land resources, bodies, and culture. This exploitation is further strengthened through neocolonial policies, which are largely enforced through global economic systems that can have crippling effects on African nations and their citizens. Beyond just solidarity, Black Lives Matter protests in Africa have been a rallying cry to renew antiracism efforts at home, such as through highlighting colonial legacies in street-naming practices in Uganda, the removal of pro-slavery statues and monuments in South Africa and the island nation of Cape Verde, and increased work in decolonizing education at the University of Cape Town, South Africa. With the disruption and division of African nations and people wrought by colonialism, Black Lives Matter is helping spark new possibilities for ways of living and being for Africans both on their home streets and in community with Black people all around the world. We can show our support and join this rallying cry by following an organization that is doing this heavy-lifting work in our city.  

Support Repatriation of Cultural Heritage 

Another example of Black resistance and decolonization efforts can be seen through the repatriation of stolen artifacts from their countries of origin that have long been displayed in many western museums. This extractive practice is harmful to the nations these artifacts were stolen from, as it robs younger generations of the opportunity to learn and take pride in their tangible cultural heritage. It also sets a precedent that only certain cultures are able to care for and enjoy rich cultural experiences, perpetuating a harmful stigma.  

Recently, France returned 26 culturally significant artifacts back to Benin, a former French colony that borders Nigeria. As first reported in the New York Times, the French stole these artifacts in 1892 from what is current-day Benin and their return has been deeply impactful for the people of Benin. As expressed by Benin President, Patrice Talon, this first step in restitution is “a symbolic, moving and historic moment...This is our soul”.  

Many western museums and governments continue to grapple with the increased pressure to return a significant number of stolen artifacts to their countries of origin. Though some notable museums such as the British Museum, The Louvre, the Met and the Humboldt Forum have so far ignored demands to return stolen artifacts, there is a growing effort by African nations to reclaim their cultural heritage and is a significant step toward taking back their identity and rightful control of their history and culture.  

Support for more equitable models of governance for nations impacted by colonization will be needed from all levels of society around the world. We can see this happening, from King Charles accepting the invitation to watch the ceremony removing the Queen as head of State in Barbados and admitting to Britain’s past, to the repatriation of cultural items and the removal of statues representing oppressive figures, the work is beginning. However, we still have more to do and all of us have a role to play in creating a better post-colonial world. 

Decolonization is not restricted to larger scaled efforts; there are things we can do as individuals to engage in this effort such as being actively mindful of which voices, narratives and perspectives are missing from the discourse of our communities and creating space for those stories. In your own spheres of influence, be bold and demand that Black, Indigenous and other racialized perspectives are sought and counted. Below are some resources and events to get involved and remain informed on how you can make a positive difference and understand the challenges racialized communities face. The responsibility is on each of us to learn.  

Show Up for these Lower Mainland Black History Month events: 

  • February 25: Black Futures: Saul Williams / Moor Mother / Irreversible Entanglements: The Chan Centre presents an exhilarating exploration into Black Futures through the visionary work of revolutionary artists Saul Williams, Moor Mother, and Irreversible Entanglements. At the outer limits of hip-hop, free jazz, blues, noise, and poetry, this special EXP concert brings together dynamic visionaries to perform a collaborative concert that interweaves Afrofuturist currents within a stunning continuum of Black music.   

  • National Film Board of Canada “Creating to Express Yourself” - curated in-person and online activities to honour the country’s diverse Black communities 

  • This online hosted by UBC presents the status of Black women in nursing, the entry of Black students to UBC Nursing and racism in nursing education and practice in Canada today

  • This artistic workshop aims to create a safe and supportive gathering for participants to engage with one another and collectively dream up and reflect on what ‘liberation’ means in the context of ongoing systemic racism.

  • The first annual Black in BC event to celebrate Black excellence in Surrey and Metro Vancouver. The empowering event will connect Black professionals, entrepreneurs, leaders and youth, along with individual and organizational allies

  • Talk/panel UBC Decolonial Dialogues: Cultivating Solidarity Among Indigenous, Black and People of Colour Students 

  • Free screening of Beyoncé's Lemonade 

  • Rewind & Play reworks a 1969 French television interview with jazz icon Thelonious Monk, exposing the casual racism at work in French television production at the time.

  • In recognition of Black History Month, Green College and French, Hispanic and Italian Studies are pleased to host a live concert by Afro-Italian hip-hop artist and activist Amir Issaa. 

  • The Gallery for Portal to the Afrofuture presents an evening of music and dance in celebration of Kemi Craig’s Blueprints For the Afrofuture series! 

  • A screening of Rewind and Play for Black History Month, and will be followed by a discussion/Q&A of the film, led by local experts and scholars from UBC

  • The African Arts and Culture Community Contributor Society is hosting a symposium on the milestones and progress made within the community over the last few years. 

  • A hybrid panel hosted by UBC, 'Black Canadian history and Applied Science: Understanding and reconciling the history of our professions.'

  • Performance: Honouring Black History Through Jazz 

  • Black History Month Church Service at Central Saanich United Church

  • Free Community Event/Museum: Black History and Heritage Day 

  • An evening with Pink Ladies - We will be celebrating the month of love with the celebration of Black sisterhood and the community we have built together.

  • Talk /Panel (virtual): Fireside Chat: Issa Rae and Nate Burleson in a Conversation about Courage

  • Community event: AFAM African Fashion Week Vancouver 

Learn More with these Resources and Further Reading:  

BBC documentary - Britain's Forgotten Slave Owners (2015) 


Banner image: Thank You, Ms. Rosemary - Mural artwork by Sade Alexis from the 2021 Vancouver Mural Fest