What Martin Luther King Day and Black History month means to Black Canadians

Published On January 20, 2020 | By Sydnee Walcott | News
Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial is seen in Washington. (REUTERS/Yuri Gripas)
Sydnee Walcott

With Monday being Martin Luther King Day and with Black History Month being around the corner, people all across the United States and Canada, are celebrating King’s achievements.

The day celebrates King’s birthday and his legacy as a leader of nonviolent activism during the Civil Rights Movement, with successful protests against racial discrimination.

Though it may not be a public holiday here in Canada, a petition was created on Change.org for the day to be recognized by the federal government in Canada, six years ago.

“I think that the values that Martin stood for and tried to reflect throughout his life were fairly universal,” said Michael Williams, a journalist with Cashbox Magazine.

Williams is not only a broadcast music journalist, he also does lectures for various high schools and post-secondary schools, produces music and is a freelance television commentator.

He said that in America celebrating Martin Luther King’s accomplishments is a big deal as prior to MLK Day, there had never been any holidays celebrating African-Americans.

Williams said that creating a day to celebrate accomplishments of Black Canadians has been difficult, noting the struggle that it took to get Jan 21. officially dedicated in memory of Lincoln Alexander, the first Black Canadian to become a member of Parliament.

Willy Mahailet, the Founder of Afro Biz, a directory of black-owned business and black entrepreneurs across Canada, said Martin Luther King Day should be acknowledged here in Canada.

Mahailet said it’s important to celebrate King’s accomplishments as he was fighting for everyone, no matter what colour they were, to receive human rights.

A documentary by TIME about The March on Washington in August 28, 1963, and how it began.

The day was first observed in 1986 by some states, three years after President Ronald Reagan signed the holiday into law in 1983, and was officially observed in 50 states for the first time in 2000.

Martin Luther King Day isn’t the only opportunity to celebrate Black history as the following month is Black History Month.

Black History Month dates back to 1926, when Carter G. Woodson, an African-American historian and Harvard graduate, proposed that time be set aside to honour the accomplishments of African-Americans and to heighten awareness of Black history in the United States. Not too long afterwards, Negro History Week was created that same year, with Canada celebrating Black history shortly afterwards.

For 50 years, Negro History was celebrated for just one week, until 1976 when it turned into Black History Month.

The Canadian House of Commons officially recognized February as Black History Month in December 1995, after a motion was introduced by the first Black Canadian woman elected to Parliament, the Honourable Jean Augustine.

“It’s great that Black History Month is celebrated but I don’t like that it’s celebrated for just one month,” Mahailet said.

Even though he enjoys seeing black people being celebrated, Mahailet feels as if their accomplishments should be celebrated all year long, and he also wants to see Black history being taught in the education system.

As a way of celebrating Black History Month, Afro Biz likes to celebrate the month by connecting people across the GTA, who hold events to celebrate the month.

They also like to share articles on their site around the time, which are about Black history.

“Black History Month to me is a time for us to share our history and culture with people who aren’t black,” Williams said.

For Williams, Black history was always celebrated as a value at home as his mother and grandparents would him a piece of information form the past that he hasn’t heard about from before.

Though he isn’t actually a part of the Ontario Black History Society (OBHS), a non-profit charity dedicated to the study, preservation and promotion of Black heritage. He said the OBHS helps with giving people a feeling of pride by analyzing and critiquing the past and present which gives fuel for the future.

To kick off the start of Black History Month, the OBSH will be holding their annual Black History Month Kick-Off Brunch this Sunday, to celebrate the achievements of Black Canadians. The event will be filled with a brunch, a shopper’s market and entertainment.

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