‘Our stories matter’: Black History Month goes far beyond February

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“I’m hopeful and I think there was a time when I almost gave up hope,” says Shelley Skinner, Founder and President of UPlift Black.

For the past 27 years, February has marked Black History Month in Canada, where Canadians are invited to participate in events and educational opportunities that honor the heritage of Black Canadians and their communities.

The 2022 theme for Black History Month is “February and Forever: Celebrating Black History Today and Everyday,” which focuses on recognizing the daily contributions Black Canadians make to the Canada.

Two well-known advocates for the local BIPOC community (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) hope Barrie residents and all Canadians will look beyond this month to continue learning and educating themselves about the important role Black Canadians have played in building the community in which we live.

“We exist 365 days a year and our stories matter. Our visibility and our existence matter today. For so long, it didn’t matter,” says Shelly Skinner, President and Founder of UPlift Black. “It’s not about telling our stories just one month out of the year, it’s about acknowledging that we exist here today and are part of your community.

“We have contributed so much to what we see today…of building (communities) and how we have contributed to society through many different spheres of existence. Black history does not don’t stop there,” Skinner said. BarrieToday.

Skinner says February should serve to highlight the contributions Black Canadians have made throughout history, but added that it’s also important to reflect on what is being done to continue the conversation beyond these 28 days. as well as to discuss what is currently being done.

“(We need to) make sure that our spaces are not only diverse, because diversity is a fact, but that they are inclusive and equitable. That’s really what we’re working towards,” says Skinner, who arrived in Barrie nearly 10 years ago.

Skinner admits that when she first informed friends and family that she was moving to the area, she was greeted with trepidation.

“It had been said in our community how racist Barrie was. I came here and I was really worried about it…and threw myself into the community as much as I could,” she says. “But there was a lot of blatant racism at that time.

This was ultimately one of the main driving forces why Skinner wanted to become more visible in her new community and why she wanted to start making changes.

Skinner admits trying to create positive change in the city has been far from an easy road to travel, adding that she was close to giving up last summer before Black Lives Matter rallies downtown from Barrie.

“At that time, I was very disappointed with the community. I was in a place where I just wanted to give up the fight and felt like we were never going to make any real change,” she says. “After that day when I saw how the community came together, and with the work that UPlift Black, Making Change, RiseUp Barrie (and other local organizations) all stepped in realizing we all need to do better .

“People said, you know what, it’s time for us to take our power and that was so important to me because I was exhausted trying to make this change without the support of the community. was a lot of control and people who didn’t want to admit the truth.

Since that day, however, Skinner admits she began to feel the tides changing. even just a little.

“I’m hopeful and I think there was a time when I almost gave up hope. It just shows (how important it is) to keep moving forward and recognizing that the work you do is important and that it has an impact…because ultimately it does,” she says.

With multiple events planned across the county, Skinner urges residents to ‘show up’ both at the February events and beyond.

“It is not enough to share a publication on social networks. It’s about sharing the post and showing that you signed up for the event,” she says. “We organize all these events and the truth is that we really do it for our allies in order to inform them. If they don’t even show up for the event, then it’s like why did we do all this work? We know our stories, we know our existence and we know the truth.

Michele Newton, Co-Founder and Acting President of Making Change Simcoe Countysays that while partnering with several local organizations this month, including Georgian College and the Wasaga Beach Public Library, in addition to many corporate clients, Making Change is busy year-round working on initiatives to help people learn or unlearn and grow.

“The idea is to recognize that the world we live in right now, even if we didn’t build it to be as it is, we can build a different world in the future by learning what is fundamental: why is there anti-blackness? and anti-black racism in our world individually, systemically and institutionally,” says Newton BarrieToday.

“We all have the opportunity to say that we are going to be part of the change that is moving forward. For me, this trip lasts the whole year and I love that February gives everyone this chance to remember its importance.

Newton hopes people will take the month and not only realize there are more places they can explore and discover that celebrate Black history locally, but also embark on a journey of lifelong learning. the life. Whether it’s participating in local educational events or doing your own research, Newton says it’s important to know that becoming an ally is a journey that will last a lifetime.

“There is an unlearning that we all need to take away from this society that raised and nurtured us in this (way of) thinking. For me, the starting point is to educate yourself,” she says, adding that the start of this journey should begin as soon as possible.

And it also takes humility, says Newton.

“No one wanted to be here, in this place. We find ourselves here, with this opportunity to take the reins and… to become more aware, more active and to actually take the actions necessary to begin to change this world.”

Newton also suggests parents talk to their children, even as young as kindergartners.

“They’re going to help change the world because they’re going to grow up knowing that the stereotypes around them are wrong and don’t represent black people or black communities,” she says. “They’re going to learn that diversity is a fact, but inclusion is an act. If you can learn that as an adult or teach it to your kids the sooner the better we’ll come to a better place.

“This is where every covenant begins… self-education, reflecting on the things you learned that were wrong or the things you were able to do that were wrong, and giving yourself forgiveness that you can change in the future.”

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