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New West aims to better promote Black History Month

City taking a broader look at celebrations and events
Black History Month
An NWSS student art project featured prominent Black figures from Canadian history and contemporary society. The city wants to take action to better highlight Black History Month in New Westminster.

A member of the city’s multiculturalism advisory committee thinks New Westminster needs to do a better job recognizing and promoting Black History Month – and city council couldn’t agree more.

At its February meeting, Rachel Matembe requested that the committee have a more active role in the recognition and promotion of Black History Month. This would include things such as an exhibit of Black history in New Westminster, song and dance workshops for families and other events and/or exhibits to expand Black history education.

The committee recommended council direct staff to create a working group to explore various ways to recognize and promote Black History Month. At its June 21 meeting, council approved a motion to refer the issue to the city’s reconciliation, social inclusion and engagement task force to get direction on the proposed working group and to have a larger discussion about intercultural engagement, awareness and empowerment.

Coun. Chinu Das, who chairs the multiculturalism advisory committee, thanked Matembe for bringing this issue to the forefront.  She said it’s sad that it not only took this long, but took having a Black committee member, for this to be raised as an issue.

Although the latest census data isn’t yet available, Das said nearly 50% of the city’s population is visible minorities. She said it’s time the city starts looking at its diversity, and a starting point could be as simple as developing a calendar that outlines all the celebrations of various communities in B.C.

Council’s discussion about Black History Month followed a discussion about the city’s plans for Canada Day 2021. During that discussion, council approved a motion by Coun. Mary Trentadue to have staff review all city events and recognized holidays and report back to council with options for decolonizing city events, and including more diverse and cultural holidays to be recognized and celebrated in the city.

Trentadue said she was struck by Das’s comments that’s it’s taken so long for the committee to bring forward a recommendation about Black History Month, and that it took a person of colour to say, ‘Hey, why aren’t you doing this?’

“I just want to acknowledge that that is absolutely the reason why we need more diverse committees, why we need more diverse residents or community members or whatever sitting on our committees,” she said. “Because everyone brings a different frame of reference that somehow we miss. I think that’s so crucial. For every committee that we fight for better representation on, I want to remind people that this is why.

Trentadue acknowledged Matembe for bringing this issue forward, and hopes this work with be integrated with work outlined in her motion.

Coun. Nadine Nakagawa said the City of New Westminster hasn’t done enough for Black History Month.

“I really welcome the opportunity to better recognize Black History Month, especially in light of considerations of the anti-black racism that exists in our community,” he said. “This is well overdue.”

Nakagawa said there are many wonderful celebrations in the city that the community has an opportunity to learn about and better understand. She’s looking forward to celebrating Black History Month in New Westminster in February 2022.

“It is amazing timing. It is actually the International Decade for People of African Descent; and has been for some time – 2015 to 2024. It was proclaimed by the UN’s General Assembly in a resolution in 2013. The theme is people of African descent, recognition, justice and development,” she said. “It seems so fitting that this work should be happening during this decade.”

Trentadue’s motion stated the staff review of celebrations should consider history, diversity, cultural implications and inclusion. This review will consider city events, holidays, greetings and communication, programming and activities.

Mayor Jonathan Cote supports the city reviewing and reflecting on celebrations hosted by the city, including those that have “been centred in the past and what has been hidden in the past” to find a better past that reflects not only the city’s history and pre-colonial history, but the diverse community it is today.

“That will actually be some really rewarding work that we can engage in as a city, and ultimately at a council level, that can have some meaningful impacts on how we come together and how we celebrate as a community,” he said.


Follow Theresa McManus on Twitter @TheresaMcManus
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