In My Opinion: ‘Black history is 365’: BGC National Youth Of The Year Shahadda Jack shares her thoughts on Black History Month

Poet Shahaddah Jack, 18, is the BGC Canada (formerly known as the Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada) National Youth of the Year for 2022. She shares her thoughts on Black History Month with Beach Metro Community News readers in her In My Opinion column. Photo by Matthew Tavares.

By SHAHADDA JACK

I often ask, “How can you fit crucial conversations of Black history and joy-filled celebrations of Black culture into only 28 days?” The answer is quite clear; you can’t.

I grew up in a household where I was raised by a hardworking single Black mother and a resilient Caribbean immigrant grandmother. Within our four walls, it was instilled in me that the identity of being a Black woman is a beautiful reality and that it is a privilege to have a culture as rich as ours.

I was taught to allow my identity to shine and thrive in every space I entered. Whether it was school, home, or work, my mother showed me the importance of always being bold and told me to “Never be afraid to take up space.”

If you couldn’t tell by now, my mother is my superhero. My mom, Laurette Jack, has worked at BGC Canada, formerly known as Boys & Girls Clubs of Canada, for 30 years. She has the superhuman ability to curate community and work within a profoundly empathetic lens.

For the past 18 years of my life, I’ve witnessed her efforts along with her amazing staff team, and the work that BGC communities continuously expand upon to create life-changing opportunities for their participants, especially their Black youth.

Through providing youth experiences such as attending live concerts of their favourite artists, national conferences to address diversity and inclusion, professional development, and speaking with parliament members on our generation’s needs, BGC is breaking down barriers to the success of Black youth across Canada.

At my local club, BGC Eastview, located at Eastview Neighbourhood Community Centre, celebrating and exploring identity is instilled in the roots of programming. Over the years, this centre has become more than just a recreational facility for young people but, instead, is now respected as a safe space for racialized youth to thrive.

Club staff Anthony Fagan, who has been working at the centre for over 25 years, prioritizes youth voice as the centre of the work done to address Anti-Black Racism in today’s society.
Fagan has been coordinating the Eastview Black History Month Event for 28 years. Each year since its birth, this event has been organized and led by the community’s youth. This year’s theme, ‘Black Heritage In Motion’, was chosen by the Black Empowerment Youth group to recognize the ever-changing and evolving Black experience in society.

“It is important that we celebrate all aspects of Black culture. It is important that youth are involved in their history … It is a generational process. They must be a part of it, or (history) will die with them,” said Fagan.

The Eastview Neighbourhood Community Centre and BGC Eastview ‘Black Heritage In Motion’ event is happening on Feb. 26 at 86 Blake St.

These past few years, I have been able to host and perform my spoken word at the event.

This particular opportunity, along with many others, has allowed me, as a Black youth, to feel validated in my experiences and confident in my existence of being Black in Canada, which can be challenging.

The hardest part about being a Black youth in Canada is the significant underrepresentation of Black faces, stories, and voices in Canadian mainstream media. This limited representation has an impact on our realities and communities.

It is often implied that anti-Black racism doesn’t exist in Canada compared to our counterparts south of the border. This misconception can be damaging to Black communities due to how suffocating it is to constantly have to prove and educate others on your lived experience.

Although 28 days is not enough time to unpack centuries of history, Black History Month is still necessary to serve as a reminder to celebrate Black communities and highlight Black joy. This month should not only be acknowledged as a mark on a calendar but more importantly, as a moment in time that calls for us to push for change.

For many of us, our Blackness is celebrated every single day of our lives.

This month is for everyone to realize that Black history is all of our histories. It is a time for Black people to rejoice and heal. It is a time for non-Black folks to challenge their knowledge and capacities to embrace diversity.

This Black History Month, I am challenging educators to include Black stories in their classrooms beyond February. I am challenging movie writers to increase the representation of Black joy. I am challenging music lovers to support more Black artists. I am challenging the world to see that Black history is 365.

— East Toronto resident and poet Shahaddah Jack, 18, is the BGC Canada (formerly known as the Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada) National Youth of the Year for 2022.


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