Black History Month is kicking off in Hamilton by celebrating sixteen Black Hamiltonians who have made significant contributions to the city.
We Are Hamilton – Black History Remembered is a collaboration between local Black-led organizations and the City of Hamilton. It launched with a ceremony at city hall on Monday.
The sixteen Black Hamiltonians who are being celebrated this year range from Reverend John Christie Holland, who was the first African Canadian to be named Hamilton’s distinguished Citizen of the Year in 1953, to Eleanor Rodney, a local educator and founder of the African Caribbean Cultural Potpourri Inc. (ACCPI) who went on to receive the first John C. Holland Award for Community Service.
Rodney’s daughter Michelle said she and her family are honoured that she’s being recognized for her contributions to the community.
“For her, it was extremely important, especially for Black youth, to know their history, because that history really impacted their future and spoke to the excellence and joy that we had growing up,” said Rodney.
Black youth was represented at Monday’s ceremony by 13-year-old Ainara Alleyne, a local elementary school student who is also host of Ainara’s Bookshelf – a project that began on Instagram before becoming a YouTube show, and has now spun off into a television show that is set to air on TVO Kids on Feb. 2.
Alleyne told those gathered in council chambers that she initially felt overwhelmed by the idea of thinking about how young people can help shape Black history.
“When thinking about Black history and Black futures at the same time, I realized what the trailblazers of the past and the people carrying the torch in the future have in common: the now. The Black now. The present. They didn’t think about their place in history. They just did in the now. I believe that’s what got these 16 great Hamiltonians that we’re honouring today here as well.”
She also highlighted the need to support Black youth, who often face challenges and obstacles that stand in the way of their ability to help shape the future.
“This is a time to celebrate the contributions of the past, but it’s also a time to look forward and take action to support the young leaders of tomorrow,” she said.
Dr. Gary Warner, a recipient of the Order of Canada and prominent member of the Black community in Hamilton, said it’s important to remember that there was a “vibrant, resilient Black presence” in Hamilton before it was even incorporated as a city.
“When we say Black history remembered, Black history is not the past only. We stand on the shoulders of the past, but we are the present and we are the future. And it was very encouraging to hear the youth voice because the youth are the ones who will continue that history.”
A number of Black-owned businesses set up shop on the second floor next to council chambers, including Rose Senat, the owner of Take Up Space.
“The whole concept behind this is Black women taking up space, not minimizing our voice, our joy, ourselves,” said Senat. “Because that is something we’re expected to do and we’ve done for so many years.”
The profiles of the 16 Black Hamiltonians who are being celebrated through the Black History Remembered project will be on display throughout the city this February, with banners on James Street and on display in some recreation centres, Hamilton Public Library branches and municipal service centres.
Twelve HSR buses will also have the Black History Remembered imagery on display and will be in circulation for the next sixteen weeks.