Black community group launches in Fort Saskatchewan

Fort Saskatchewan Coun. Jibs Abitoye wants to connect and empower Black residents through a new community group.

Fort Black Community has several initiatives planned for February

Fort Saskatchewan officially proclaimed February to be Black History Month on Monday. (Submitted by Jibs Abitoye)

A Fort Saskatchewan city councillor wants to connect and empower Black residents through a new community group.

Fort Black Community is still crafting its official registration papers but already has a Facebook page and big plans for Black History Month and beyond. Movie nights, interviews, and a Black business directory are just a few of the initiatives on the docket.

"This is a great opportunity to just gather all the Black community and people in our community together," Coun. Jibs Abitoye said in an interview with CBC's Radio Active.

The idea came from roundtable discussions this fall with the local  RCMP.

Abitoye and Gloria Brathwaite, executive director of the Fort Saskatchewan Restorative Justice program and the only other Black person involved in the discussions, noticed many other communities had local organizations but Black residents did not.

"We decided to reach out to the Black people in the community," Abitoye said, starting off by collecting phone numbers and signatures from people they encountered during day-to-day business.

The group had a meeting in December to decide what kind of organization it wanted to be, coming up with three main missions.

"The first one is we want to share and preserve our African heritage — not just for ourselves but for our children," Abitoye said. "Because we realize that lots of kids are born here, they don't really know their culture."

The group also aims to give back to the community through volunteerism as well as create a support system created for Black residents by Black residents.

"We started really close to Black History Month and we realize that it's important for us to really create some awareness around our group and just some awareness around Black culture," Abitoye said.

"It's also focusing on the present and the future, how can we collectively fight against injustices and break down the barriers causing systemic discrimination."

Black History Month was first proclaimed in Fort Saskatchewan in 2017. The city released a video to proclaim it for 2021 at the start of this month.

Fort Black Community has several initiatives planned throughout February, focusing on education, entertainment, and showcasing local businesses. 

"Get people really involved, not just have one big event at the end of the month and let people come and dance," Abitoye said.

Coun. Jibs Abitoye was first elected to Fort Saskatchewan city council in 2017. (Submitted by Jibs Abitoye)

A business randomly selected from a new Black-owned business directory will be profiled each week: Scheila's Kitchen, Casilda Beauty Supplies, Dr. O Medical Professional Corporation and Comfort Midwives 

A Did You Know series about Black history in Canada is also running out on social media.

Abitoye said in the future the group plans to screen Black films followed up by discussion panels. Interviews with politicians and anti-racism experts will also offer a venue to create a discussion around issues like systemic racism.

Creating awareness in smaller cities

When Nigerian-born Abitoye first moved to Fort Saskatchewan nine years ago, she says Black residents "probably all just knew each other."

"The Black people in this community, it's really growing," she said. "And so we just really need to form a group and just be there for each other."

Abitoye said Black communities are often recognized in cities like Vancouver, Toronto or Calgary but overlooked in smaller places like Fort Saskatchewan, which has a population of around 27,000.

"There is a need to showcase all this information from smaller communities," she said. Rural communities typically lack diversity, Abitoye said, meaning it's important to amplify their voices.

A calendar of events and membership form is available through the Fort Black Community Facebook page. Another form is available for prospective allies.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

A banner of upturned fists, with the words 'Being Black in Canada'.

With files from Julia Lipscombe