Patricia Watson teaches others about Black history through a variety of artistic expressions.
This blog post and video interview are part of our series for Black History Month 2021.
There is a plethora of information associated with Black History month. In Canada, Black History Month was first observed in 1996. Each province and territory offer Black History events during the month of February. The hope is to engage people in learning about the history of Black people in Canada and North America. For the majority of people, however, this month is just a snapshot of Black history in the country. Overlooked in this are the diverse local and global societies that shape how we view and learn about the countless historical contributions of Black people locally, nationally, and globally. These provide an opportunity to share and learn about the experiences, contributions, and achievements of peoples of African ancestry.
An area that I personally have tried to influence has been in educating the next generation by volunteering my time at several elementary and middle schools in Canada and the United States. From early 2011 until March of 2020, with the cooperation of several dynamic educators, I introduced Grade 2 students in Sahuarita, Arizona, and Lunenburg and New Ross, in Nova Scotia, to the meaning of Kwanzaa through books and videos. I also read books to them about Black history. One of my favourite projects was helping the children identify their heritage. When I asked the question, “Where did your grandparents or parents come from?” most of the children identified themselves as Canadians or Americans. I wanted them to get a sense of who they were and to be proud of their heritage. I introduced them to a book called The Quilt of Belonging: Stitching Together the Stores of a Nation by Janice Weaver. I also showed them videos about people from different cultures.
Using the cognitive pedagogy and analogy of the “quilt of belonging,” I emphasized how both local and global societies are made of the fabric of us all. Not that one strand or thread is more important than another, but that we are all intertwined together and symbiotically significant. All must be acknowledged and respected. If you pull on one thread, or try to disrupt, marginalize, erode, or destroy one thread, you will ultimately damage and destroy the whole quilt—and our global society as a whole. I used this to help the students identify their own family history, heritage, and roots. As an example, I used my own personal family heritage, which traces back to Nigeria, Sierra Leone, and Kenya. I spent time helping them go back and identify their roots. I emphasized the importance of the individual threads in making up the whole quilt because it took me a long time to be proud of who I am as a Black woman. I wanted to instill a sense of pride, so these students would grow up proud of themselves and their heritage. Their homework was to interview their grandparents and parents about where they came from before immigrating to Canada or America. We then put together a flag of nations with each child represented as part of their classroom heritage.
Another significant contribution to the legacy of Black history that has given me joy has been the wonderful opportunities to be a guest soloist at different concerts and churches during Black History month celebrations. Music is universal It has the ability to touch the core of who we are, as well as the unequivocal necessity for us to experience a relationship with God and with one another.
The United Church of Canada could take Black History month beyond February by implementing a curriculum for churches to follow throughout the year. This is a way to celebrate the legacies of Black Canadians who have made an impact on our country’s history. For example, January, could be "An introduction to Black history in your province (or region)." From February to December, your church could do a 365 Black Canadian Curriculum.
While there are many ways to continue educating our congregations about Black history in Canada, it also takes a desire to learn more about Black Canadians. A couple of suggestions to go about doing so are: 1) identify local people in your own community to highlight and celebrate, and 2) develop a sub-committee to brainstorm and implement different activities that celebrate Black Canadians throughout the year.
I think it would be great for our churches to also learn more about the different cultures that make up Canada (First Nations, Islamic, Asian, etc.). On this Black History Month, though, I hope we are all reminded to consider to practice being inclusive to our Black neighbours even as we practice being an all-inclusive congregation. As we say in worship at Bedford United Church, “All are welcome, all the time.” This reflects a spiritual community that embraces everyone. Let’s really put this into practice as we learn and grow together as a loving Christian family.
—Patricia Watson is a member of Bedford United Church, Bedford, Nova Scotia. She is a Practitioner (Spiritual Coach) and professional singer. She is a member of the Bridgewater Anti-Racism Task Force.
The views contained within these blogs are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of The United Church of Canada.