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Why black history matters to us all
By Paul Berton
They came 150 years ago along the Underground Railroad from the United States. They were among the first black Canadians, escaping slavery to the relative safety of such communities as Buxton, near Chatham, Canada's first black settlement, or London, Lucan and Dresden.
But as Michelle Edwards, chairperson of the Black History Month committee points out, they might have come from anywhere at anytime. They might have come yesterday from Kenya, or five years ago from Rwanda, or from Somalia, Botswana, Nigeria, Jamaica, Ethiopia or dozens of other countries.
Part of the challenge of Black History Month, which began last week, is to raise the profile of the black community within the broader community -- and to unite it.
For a visible minority whose origins in this area date back to the 1830s, the black community still has a relatively low profile, something Edwards and others want to increase.
To do that, she wants to bring together the various groups from various countries with vastly different histories and challenges. Despite that, says Edwards, the black community also has a common origin. "We need to celebrate out basic ancestry, too."
If it is the challenge of the black community to increase its profile, the challenge for the rest of us is to learn more about it and its rich history.
That's pretty easily done in this area, where there are lots of resources and people to help us, including: the committee members; the Cross Cultural Learner Centre in London (which can guide you to local Black History Month events); the North American Black Historical Museum and the Fort Malden National Historic Site in Amherstburg; Uncle Tom's Cabin Historical Site in Dresden; the Mary Ann Shadd Cary plaque in Chatham, which talks about the first black woman to edit a North American newspaper; the John Freeman Walls Historic Site in Essex; the Chatham-Kent Black Historical Society; the Underground Railroad Monument in Windsor . . .
For more recent history, we need only open our eyes in each of our communities and explore what these newcomers bring to us in terms of professional experience, an outlook on life, world experience, music, art, food, culture . . .