1st Black History Month event held at Manitoba legislature since Black MLAs elected in 2019

More than 100 people gathered at the Manitoba legislature on Monday to mark Black History Month and take part in history in the making.

Teens who spearheaded own Black History Month events attended Manitoba NDP-hosted event

A number of people stand around tables in the background in front of a sign marked with the Manitoba NDP logo that says "Celebrating Black History Month"
Monday's event was the first Black History Month event in the legislature since the province's first Black MLAs were elected. (Travis Golby/CBC)

More than 100 people gathered at the Manitoba legislature on Monday to mark Black History Month and take part in history in the making.

Manitoba's NDP hosted the first celebration of its kind in the building since the province's first Black MLAs were elected more than three years ago.

Although the event aimed to welcome members of the Black community into the legislature and celebrate their achievements in the province, St. Vital MLA Jamie Moses said there were elements of education and inspiration to it.

"I would like to see that all Manitobans really delve into Black history because it is Manitoba's history, it is Canadian history and really understand the struggles and also the victories that the Black community has had and recognize the important role that we play in building our society," Moses said in an interview after the event.

Leaders in the Black community and high school students were invited to participate in the event.

A Black teen with his hair in braids smiles at the camera. He's wearing black-framed glasses, and a colourful suit jacket with a black button-down and red tie.
Sean-Robert Slusher is one of a group of students at Steinbach Regional Secondary School who spearheaded a number of events related to Black History Month at his school. (Travis Golby/CBC)

A number of teens from Steinbach, Man., stood in the halls of the legislature on Monday after having successfully advocated for the first celebration and educational initiatives at Steinbach Regional Secondary School this year.

Sean-Robert Slusher says he wrote a letter to the administration at the school last year about how he was saddened there were no events to mark the month. Now he and some friends are spearheading an educational and cultural experience for fellow students and staff.

"This year, since it's just the first year, we have a board up, we also have some slides that we're putting on the school TVs, we had an announcement today and then on March 3 we're doing a meal in the cafeteria," Slusher said.

He says celebrations like the ones at his school and at the legislature mean a lot, especially because he's one of very few Black students at his high school.

"It's amazing to come in here, and especially to see a whole bunch of people around my age and my and my ethnicity. To see us all come together and have a lovely celebration, that's beautiful," Slusher said.

Two Black teenagers smile for the camera in a marble room. The girl on the left is wearing a black jacket, while the girl on the right is wearing a black and white plaid jacket, a white top, and clear-framed glasses.
Steinbach Regional Secondary School students Tesfanesh Derksen (left) and Joanne Hamilton (right) attended a Black History Month celebration at the Manitoba legislature on Monday, after helping to organize events at their school in Steinbach. (Travis Golby/CBC)

Fellow student Joanne Hamilton said she feels like the Black community's contributions to Manitoba and Canada are finally reflected at events like these.

"Just recently we're all starting to gather together to celebrate Black History Month. When we were younger it's mainly white history that we're learning in school and that's amazing but [it's important] to hear about my own history about my ancestors and how they made an impact on Canada," she said.

Steinbach high school student Tesfanesh Derksen said it's inspiring to see other young people at Monday's event who are spearheading similar Black History Month celebrations at their schools.

"I think just seeing other schools and other students and seeing that they're participating as well and they have their own projects going as well too, just makes it feel ... like we're making some history here," Derksen said.

People are pictured in a marble atrium at a bird's eye view.
More than 100 people attended the Black History Month event at the Manitoba legislature on Monday. (Travis Golby/CBC)

Uzoma Asagwara, the NDP MLA for Union Station, echoed those sentiments and expressed admiration for the young people standing up for the Black community and organizing events of their own.

"They are activists in their schools. They're organizing in their communities. They recognize the inherent value they bring to every space and place," Asagwara said at the presentation.

In December, the Black History Month Act passed into law in Manitoba. Slusher hopes that the celebrations next year will surpass this year's.

"I'm hoping that we can actually see something like nice and big, maybe a bigger festival or something, something to really educate everyone."

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.

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With files from Nampande Londe