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‘We are here, we have a voice’ Black History Month in London Ont.

Guest speaker Aaron Francis, Creator and Curator of Vintage Black Canada showcases pictures from him exhibit at Black History Month London celebration. Screenshot via Zoom

The London Black History Coordinating Committee kicked off Black History month with an online celebration of the Black community in Southwestern Ontario on Saturday.

This year’s theme was celebrating the strength and resilience of the Black community in Southwestern Ontario and was the first of several events that will be taking place through February.

The online event featured performances from local artists, highlighting Black-owned businesses, and a presentation from the creator and curator of Vintage Black Canada.

“This past year has been very trying for the Black community and how resilient we are as a community despite what’s called the elements of life that we confront, whether its race, racism, or cultural misunderstandings,” said Leroy Hibbert, a member of the BHCC and Multicultural Outreach Program Coordinator LUSO Community Services.

“It’s to celebrate us as a community going through some of those difficulties and still rising to the occasion to be of service to a larger community.”

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When talking about Black History Month, Hibbert said it’s important to remember the black community is very diverse and made up of many different cultures, with unique beliefs and ideas.

“We are not just one people.”

“We are diverse in our strengths, we are diverse in our abilities, we are diverse, in our interests, In how we see things in life, and it’s good to celebrate things like that,” he said.

Hibbert spoke about the origins of Black History month, which started as a week and was formally adopted by the City of Toronto, then the province of Ontario before becoming nationally recognized in 1995.

It was Jean Augustine, the first Black female MP and cabinet minister who presented the motion before parliament, where it was unanimously passed, proclaiming February Black History Month in Canada.

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Performances during the opening celebration on Saturday included 519 School of Hip Hop, and songs by 10-year-old Shanelle Twumasi, and Juno award nominee Helen Hibbert.

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The guest speaker for the event was Aaron Francis, creator and curator of Vintage Black Canada. Francis talked about the exhibit, showcasing pictures of his own family and other families within southwestern Ontario.

The exhibit, which can now be viewed on Instagram, includes photography by his grandfather as well as others his grandfather collected from other families.

“These photos show and tell stories of black Canadian families as they are not as others assume them to be,” Francis said about his exhibit and archive.

“There is something about seeing one’s self or one’s community reflected in others that has a resonance, and I wanted to tap into that.”

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Hibbert said people don’t have to be a member of the Black community to participate and is encouraging everyone to check out the events happening this month.

A number of events, most virtual, will take place throughout February to honour and celebrate the diversity in the black community within southwestern Ontario.

“This is a time for celebration but also a time for reflection,” London Mayor Ed Holder said.

“I encourage all Londoners to take part in activities and events over this month and beyond to gather and share in cultural celebrations and expressions, to learn more about neighbours and friends to braked down barriers and stereotypes that sadly still exist.”

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A full list can be found on the London Public Library’s website.

Museum London also has several projects involving Black Lives Matter London in honour of Black History Month that can be viewed on its website.

“We are here, we have a voice, we need to understand we are a very diverse people and we are very interesting, we are intelligent, and we contribute vastly to the success of this country and around the world.”

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