On Jan. 30 and 31, the Caribbean Canadian Association of Waterloo Region (CCAWR) hosted the Black History Month launch event.
The event, which kicked off Black History Month in the Waterloo Region, had the theme “celebrate, educate, advocate.”
While last year’s launch event was a one-day event, CCAWR president Lannois Carroll-Woolery said the decision to turn it into a two-day event followed after the events brought forward in 2020.
Carroll-Woolery noted the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the Black Lives Matter protests that followed incidents of police brutality, as some of the difficulties that arose in 2020 for the Black community.
“We recognized that we had to do something differently, we had to do something more. So, when we put our heads together again and we said, ‘this event is going to be so meaningful,’ we want it to be very impactful,” Carroll-Woolery said.
Day one of the launch event featured various celebratory performances and speeches, such as a steel drum performance of O Canada, singing performances from local musicians Rufus John and Tichaona eKhaya, spoken word poems from Graham Edwards and Jaleel Debs and more.
Day one also featured the “Hymn to Freedom project,” created by former CCAWR president Lauris DaCosta, which featured visuals of over 500 years of Black history in Canada.
Day two featured presentations, workshops and resources for matters such as mental health, physical health, financial literacy, legal support, entrepreneurship and education.
“The idea was that we still want to have some celebratory aspects to the Black History Month launch … but we realized that the Black community needed something more, something extra, and so we added an advocacy piece to it,” Carroll-Woolery said.
Carroll-Woolery said that the presentations of day two were curated to resonate with Black community members and to provide them with local resources.
“…We’re trying to give them the tools and the techniques and the knowledge that they need to bring about positive change in their own lives,” he said.
“On day two, we’re essentially saying, ‘let’s pool our resources, let’s get some experts in the field, and let’s talk to Black families about how they can better cope with the challenges of homeschooling, how they can better cope with the financial issues that they’re going through, how they can better cope with systemic racism and so on.”
Carroll-Woolery explained what ‘protect, empower and guide’ means for the Black community, and how it helped guide the event.
“One is, you want to protect them from those who would do them harm … And in the case of the Black community, you want to protect [them] against those who are actively racist.”
“On the empowerment side, …what we’re looking for is we’re trying to give them the tools and the techniques and the knowledge that they need to bring about positive change in their own lives.”
The launch event included yoga sessions, as well as mental health and wellness resources to help people relax and, bring them some peace., and strengthen them mentally.
The guidance portion of the programming included a seminar on financial health and another on entrepreneurship.
The keynote speaker for the event was Kitchener Centre MPP Laura Mae Lindo.
In her keynote speech, Lindo called on the audience to fight against the impacts of systemic racism.
“I’m hoping all of you will join me in this advocacy,” Lindo said during her speech on day one. “Show up for Black communities, do more than just celebrate.”
Lindo called for attendees to write to her office and share that they want systemic injustices to be addressed.
CCAWR also created an online calendar that anyone in the region can use to become informed about Black History Month events from various organizations.
Carroll-Woolery is optimistic the event will spark progress for the whole community.
“What I’m hoping people will take away from this is [how to] ‘protect, empower, guide’ their Black neighbours and their Black co-workers … there’s something there for everyone in the region.”