News | Black History Month begins at McGill

Black History Month opening ceremony begins month-long programming around the theme of Resistance

The opening ceremony of Black History Month (BHM) took place on Thursday February 1, kicking off a month-long series of events celebrating Black history and identities. BHM 2018 is co-organised by the Black Students’ Network (BSN) and the Social Equity and Diversity Education office (SEDE) in partnership with the McGill administration. Last year’s BHM centered around the theme of Black excellence, marking the first institutionalised BHM at McGill. This year’s BHM, featuring twelve events throughout the month, is aimed to honour the theme of Resistance.

“Resistance, to the BSN, represents the ongoing efforts taken by Black people while living in oppressive spaces,” said Christelle Tessono, V.P. Political Coordinator of BSN, in an interview with The Daily.

“Resistance is powerful and present in the daily lives of Black students, faculty, and staff here on campus. Resistance can be practiced in a wide range of diverse ways, from […] speaking up in class when a Professor or a fellow student is saying something oppressive, [to] teaching a whole class on the legacies of colonialism here on campus to name a few.”

“Resistance is powerful and present in the daily lives of Black students, faculty, and staff here on campus. Resistance can be practiced in a wide range of diverse ways.”

The keynote address at the opening ceremony was delivered by Black activist and post-doctoral scholar Rachel Zellars. Zellars is a course lecturer for the Faculty of Education at McGill, and a prominent member of the activist community. Zellars’ speech revolved around the relationships between Black history, anti-Blackness, enslavement, and disability. She discussed the historical experiences of enslaved Black people who also had disabilities. Her speech was followed by a question period, and a performance by the dance group UpLift.

Over the course of the month of February, a variety of events will take place across the University. The programming includes, but is not limited to, art shows and open mics, discussion panels and public lectures, and the highly anticipated early screening of Marvel’s Black Panther, set to release February 16. The diversity in programming has been curated to reflect the multifaceted ways in which Black history is understood and celebrated by Black communities at McGill.

“During this specific time, it’s about creating and taking up space, to honour and to center and to question and to celebrate Blackness. To me, the subjectiveness is that you can do those things in so many different ways,” said Shanice Yarde, SEDE’s Equity Educational Advisor (Anti-Racism & Cultural Diversity). Yarde, along with many other Black women in the McGill community, is one of the central organisers of BHM.

“During this specific time, it’s about creating and taking up space, to honour and to center and to question and to celebrate Blackness.”

Yarde emphasised, in her conversation with The Daily, that BHM had been celebrated at McGill for years before being officially recognised by the institution. BHM has historically been spearheaded on campus by the mobilisation of student associations, and continues to grow in scope.

“Blackness is expansive: people often have a very monolithic view of what Blackness is, or what Black people are, even what Black history is. We don’t have enough time, let alone one month, to really explore that. So to me, resistance is also about resisting this idea of what Blackness is supposed to be,” Yarde adds. “What’s important to me is that Black people are centered in this celebration.”

“What’s important to me is that Black people are centered in this celebration.”