Origins, resources and events
Ayla Maxwell (she/her) // Contributor
Black History Month takes place every February and is a time to celebrate the achievements of the Black community, educate ourselves, and think inwardly about what we as individuals can do to help achieve an anti-racist society.
The origins of Black History Month can be traced back to 1926 when Carter G. Woodson created a week to honour and learn about Black people in the United States. The week was celebrated in February to honour the birthdays of two important people in the history of the rights of freedom for African-American people: Abraham Lincon, the president who declared the “Emancipation Proclamation,” which freed all enslaved people in 1863, and Frederick Douglass, who was an activist for civil and women’s rights as well as was a huge advocate for the women’s suffrage movement. He felt that “Right is of no sex, truth is of no colour.” Douglass was an enslaved person during the 1800s. It wasn’t until 1977 that Black History Month became officially recognized across the United States.
Canada, however, took much longer to recognize the month. Many attribute the spread of knowledge about the month to Black porters, or employees, of the railways that crossed the American-Canadian border. It is believed that this group of African-Americans told Canadians about the celebration, which is how it came to be recognized in Canada. Although these stories of porters date back to the 1930s, it wasn’t until 1995 that the Canadian federal government instated February as Black History Month.
Now, in the year 2024, Black History Month is celebrated by dozens of countries all over the world. Each year, an overarching theme is chosen for the month. It varies from place to place, but in Vancouver, it was recently announced that the theme will be “Black Excellence: A Heritage to Celebrate; Future to Build.” It is to be expected that this theme will cover the history of the Black community in Vancouver and where it is going.
Kicking the events off, on February 1, the Surrey Arts Center is putting on a dinner and performance titled “Black In BC: Celebrating Black Excellence 2024.” Performances are set to include African dance, music, and a buffet. As well as a fashion show by Vancouver Community College and a panel where speakers will discuss the night’s topic: “Beyond Boundaries.” Tickets are free to anyone who reserves a spot.
On February 4, a market is opening in Richmond called the “Black History Month Pop-Up Shop.” As the title suggests, this market will host various vendors selling art pieces, food, and handmade accessories, all created by Black artists and business owners. An amazing way to show your support is by engaging with small bipoc run local businesses, so don’t miss out on this event.
Finally, on February 22, a concert to celebrate Black History Month is taking place on Commercial Drive. Tickets are $30 each and tend to sell out fast, so it is recommended to book in advance.
Another resource in Vancouver is the Black Vancouver Library, run by five young people of colour. The space is located in what used to be Hogan’s Alley, historically home to much of Vancouver’s Black community from 1923 to 1967, until roads and a viaduct were constructed through it, erasing the history of Hogan’s Alley, before it became a historical landmark. Today, Hogan’s Alley is made up of a border of Union Street, Prior Street, Main Street and Jackson Avenue on Vancouver’s East Side. As stated in their GoFundMe, the Black Vancouver Library is a “space to not only to sign out books for free, [it is] intended to be used as a study space, a chill space, a safe space.” This new library is incredibly exciting because it is so vital for people of colour to feel like they have a safe space where they feel seen and represented, this is an especially incredible resource for youth. Noted in their GoFundMe, since the destruction of Hogan’s Alley, it has been hard for people of colour in Vancouver to feel like they belong in a community; the opening of this library lends the opportunity for these people to feel as though they have a space that was created especially for them in mind.
Not only is the Black Vancouver Library a great place to read and hang out, they also hold events like open mic nights, or ‘couch jams’ as they call them, which highlight talented BIPOC musicians in the community, these are said to be a space for R&B music mainly, but anything is welcome. They also host a book club, which anyone can drop in on. In the past, they have also hosted markets and cookouts. All of the information about their events can be found on their Instagram: @Vanblacklibrary, or on their website, which is coming soon.
Canada has come quite far in recognizing Black History Month, but much more needs to be done. It is so important that we all educate ourselves, attend events and amplify the voices of the Black community; if we do not, nothing will ever change. This Black History Month, be sure to make your voice and support heard.