By Christian Henry and Mireya Poon Young
Black History Month is always a special time at Notre Dame (ND). It is a time of education, self-expression and, most importantly, celebration. This year, for obvious reasons, had to look a little different but our students and staff leaders prevailed in their efforts to make this Black History Month the best one that ND has seen so far. The month was celebrated with daily profiles of extraordinary Black Canadians, guest speakers and so much more.
A large part of the month’s celebrations was highlighting “Black Role Models in History” and in our community. Every day over the announcements, students learned about Black leaders who excelled in their respective fields, ranging from politics all the way to athletics and everything in between.
As Black History Month is usually a time of festivity, it was also important for us as a school to acknowledge the transitional time we are living in, with the recent surge in the Black Lives Matter movement. This year called for white educators and non-racialized students to reflect deeply on the role that they play in education, and in their personal lives, in regards to systemic barriers and systemic racism — something that has been long overdue.
Notre Dame was ecstatic to welcome (virtually, of course) four wonderful guest speakers throughout the month. Mindfulness coach Meghan Wills led students in a mindfulness session, allowing us to experience mindfulness, an experience most students haven’t had yet. Next, Aliyah Poon Young gave an informative talk to students and staff. She called upon white educators to step up, do their part and educate themselves. She also gave Black students a valuable message about the importance of community and support.
In the second half of the month, Jimmy Sebulime told students a bit about African history in addition to sharing his life story and experiences. He spoke about what immigrating to Canada in 1990 meant to him. He also spoke about his experiences at the Boys & Girls Club here in Ottawa, and how it inspired him to start the Agnes Zabali Boys and Girls Club in his hometown of Kamengo, Uganda. The school is raising funds for the Agnes Zabali Boys and Girls Club in their Lenten project over the next month through Black Lives Matter T-shirt sales. Finally, Adrian Harewood, CBC news anchor, journalist and professor, spoke to students about his childhood, growing up Black and joining the news scene. We were lucky to have four community role models of various backgrounds and interests present to our staff and students.
The month will culminate with a virtual assembly celebrating ND’s rich diversity. The annual Black History Month assembly gives students a chance to showcase their talents through music, spoken word poetry, dances and more. It is also a chance for students to share their cultures with their fellow schoolmates through our cultural fashion show, where students show off the hottest fashions from their home countries. This assembly is always a fun and powerful experience for students, staff and parents to enjoy the diversity of the school. It makes participants and viewers alike realize the potential inside all of us — we all possess the power to spark change in ourselves, our communities and even the world. All of which are equally essential for societal progression.
Notre Dame strives every year to create an even more memorable month, but the ultimate goal is for our students to feel represented, heard and celebrated. We, as students, are part of Black history in the making. Black Lives Matter.