By Safa Gangat
Contrary to what some history textbooks might lead us to believe, people of African descent have undoubtedly played a significantly bigger role in making Canada as we know it today. Slavery was abolished in Ontario (then Upper Canada) in 1793 as well as throughout the British Empire in 1883. These major changes throughout should not be restrained to mere classrooms lest we forget the consequences that have affected the outlook of the overall black culture.
As proud Canadians who believe in our diverse culture and demography, we might forget that racial biases and issues surrounding black communities still exist in our country. Black youth, for example to date face the same issues here that they would in our neighbour’s backyard. And we could look at how they are targets of biases by the police or that their problems might not be addressed adequately in the current child welfare system. And as a consequence, we might see violence among Black youths yet we do not recognize why and how to bring about a change.
Black history, is widely celebrated in Canada through the official recognition of February as Black History Month (BHM) since 1995, solidifying the country’s stance in parliament when first black senator, Senator Donald Oliver introduced a motion in February 2008. Toronto has been observing BHM since 1979. The city hosts film festivals, art exhibitions, discussions, lectures, workshops and more. On a national level, the Canadian government is finally releasing the $10 banknotes featuring Viola Desmond, an icon of Black rights and freedom in Canada. The 2018 theme for Government of Canada’s BHM campaign is: Black Canadian Women: Stories of Strength, Courage and Vision.
Rhoan Flowers, an Ottawa based independent author, is doing his part in highlighting people of African descent in the books he has written that surround Black communities and stories. He has taken his outlet to focus on Black youth saying he wants to use his books as a tool to show Black youths that they need to study their history beyond slavery and better understand the importance of African people and their culture but more so, wants to help them.
“I think organizations associated with helping youths, people in poverty or immigrants are already doing a good job. We have that help and support and I hope black youths use it to their advantage,” Flowers tells VIBE105.
With all the celebrations of Black people and efforts to end discrimination, disadvantages and struggles still remain and individuals, organizations, and provincial governments are attempting to continue their work in this respect. Ontario’s Black Youth Action Plan, announced last year, is a four-year $47 million fund targeting Black youth and their families in the GTA, Hamilton, Ottawa, and Windsor. One of the focus points of the multi-year strategy is other than helping black youths in various ways is mentorship as well as reducing youth violence.
On January 23 2017, Children and Youth Minister Michael Coteau announced that $1 million is pledged to three organizations; Urban Rez Solutions, Innovate Inclusion/ La Passerelle-I.D.É. and Empowered Squared to create public awareness campaigns to push the cause.
With the Ontario government trying to do their part in helping Black youths, empowering individuals like Flowers, has also taken it upon himself to focus on conflict resolution among them with a personal initiative called the Squash It Program
Flowers says: “It’s a personal program in Ottawa directed towards youth who find themselves in conflict with each other other and we try to get them to reach out to us and help them hash it out without reaching a violent stage.”
Flowers elaborates on his program saying he’s trying to get Black youths to unite. “It’s towards more social issues within Black youth communities and getting them to respect their counterparts and remember that they’re in the same boat.”
Individual initiatives such as that of Flowers show a passion to help youth in trouble or just a general desire to help underprivileged youth recognize their place in society. The commemoration of Black History Month in Canada will continue to encourage and promote the lives of past and current black Canadians.
Read more about Rhoan Flowers’ work on his website here.