February is the month of love, and not just because of its fourteenth day. All throughout the month of February, many people across Canada show love and celebration of Black History Month to honour the contributions to society made by black Canadians through time. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau issued the following statement about Black History Month: “Throughout our history, black Canadians have played a key role in building and shaping the diverse, compassionate, and prosperous country that we are all so proud to call home… On behalf of the Government of Canada, Sophie and I encourage all Canadians to participate in the many events that will take place across the country throughout February”. The City of Peterborough has already begun to take part in the action, with various events taking place towards Black History Month.
On the night of February 8th, members of the community came together at The Spill Café on George Street to celebrate Black History Month in an artsy way. Celebrating Black Arts was an artist showcase and open mic event organized by Black Lives Matter Nogojiwangong and the Community and Race Relations Committee of Peterborough (CRRC), with main organizers including Niambi Leigh, Charmaine Magumbe and Caitlin Currie.
Black Lives Matter (BLM) is an international movement that began in the United States with aims to to rebuild the black liberation movement. The movement was created by Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi and Patrisse Cullors after 17 year-old Trayvon Martin was murdered, and then placed on trial for his own murder while the killer, George Zimmerman, was not held accountable for his crime. The movement was a response to the actions are that are unfortunately enabled by our society; it’s a movement meant to give black lives a voice and to highlight the ongoing racism that still exists in a society that claims to be trying to dissolve it. Black Lives Matter stands for all black lives on the gender spectrum, aiming to bring equality and human rights to black women, trans, queer, disabled and all members that were discriminated because of their skin colour and beliefs. What began on social media was carried by these women to reality, hosting conferences, projects and opportunities that serve towards achieving the BLM agenda.
Black Lives Matter Nogojiwangong and the CRRC of Peterborough are taking a local approach at the matter, aiming to decrease and eventually end the hate crimes and actions of racism in Peterborough as a city. Charmaine Magumbe, one of the event organizers and chairperson of the CRRC in Peterborough, aims at spreading diversity in Peterborough, educating people about racism, and breaking negative stereotypes about people of colour and Indigenous peoples. It is part of the CRRC’s agenda to advocate for people against incidents of hate and racism in the city.
Of course, a beautiful part of any movement is the art that it inspires, and Celebrating Black Arts was certainly a celebration. The event was a beautiful collective work of art that came together to powerfully and creatively express the ideologies of the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as celebrating black art during Black History Month. Everyone was welcome to attend the event, and performers were people of colour from various backgrounds who took the stage to share their stories. Event organizers Magumbe and Leigh fabulously hosted for the night and made performances of their own. Charmaine presented during the first half of the performance, courageously coming out to the audience as a closet comedian, and the audience did not hold back their laughter. Particularly impressive since she improvised the majority of her performance after bringing the wrong notebook!
The night continued with performers of great talent, it was an outstanding opportunity to listen to people of colour express their thoughts, emotions and reaction to the world around them, from political issues to day to day life, it was about them and experiencing life from their perspective. Performances included a kickass slam poetry from Angela, of indigenous background, who shared poetry about her trip to Standing Rock and on being the lesbian she wants to be. Mikeela, an international student from Anguilla, shared her emotional journey using beautifully constructed metaphors of an ocean. The show also included dancing performances from Micheala Palmer and Francinin Brice, international students from Jamaica and St. Lucia respectively. The girls celebrated the art of Caribbean dancing, and the performance also served as a sneak-peek to their soakasize classes available at the Trent Athletic Centre. Samantha Banton, an international student from Jamaica as well, and Ropa Mungwari from Zimbabwe filled the room with their robust voices celebrating the songs of black singers worldwide. Banton also shared poetry about the race we are all running on the track of life, to get listeners to pay attention to the race that matters: the human race.
Powerful performances carried on through the night, such as poetry from Trent student and Arthur writer Shanese Steele, who spoke on her mixed heritage and the inspirational black women that came before her. Community member Elizabeth Jenkins shared her outstanding slam poetry about her heart being broken and tackled issues on racism with her piece “Dear White Privilege”. Finally Leigh, one of the event organizers, wrapped up the celebration with vivid, emotional poetry of her own, and definitely touched the audience.
Other artists and local citizens signed up last minute and got a chance to express themselves. The event was greatly successful in creating an inclusive and humorous environment, while creating a space that allows for people to artistically share about issues that impact our lives so immensely. The diversity in the performers was a reflection to the diverse spectrum of people that BLM and the CRRC are representing, and thus the growing diversity in the community. Although the city of Peterborough still has some way to go, the event represents the blooming diversity in the city. Leigh proudly mentioned that in the four years of performing and going to The Spill, she had never seen so many people of colour in the crowd. The event is part of the growing art movement in Peterborough, and is a step towards art that discusses racism, and unites those who wish to celebrate diversity and humanity. Celebrating Black Arts was definitely a place where we could celebrate our similarities more than what differentiates us, and sheds light on a hopefully bright future where all events can hold that same energy of acceptance and love.