On February 21, 2019, 230 students took part in Western Canada High School’s second annual Black History Month event. Trying to find a way to express the value and relevance of this month to students of such diverse backgrounds always poses a challenge. As the sense of integrity in our society continually shifts and develops, where respectful and authentic representation of culture is at the forefront of these cultural moments, Western Canada High School invited several local performers to present their voice and their experiences to the students. With no focus other than spreading the understanding of a shared culture, three spoken word poets and one musician graced the stage and shared reflections on their changing identities in the Canadian landscape, the pain of loss, journeys of self-reflection, and passion for sharing their culture with others.
Hosted by Western Canada’s own Courtney W., the performers, Priscille Bukasa, Amanda Okafor, Zaire Sealy, and Patrick Clifton were warmly welcomed by the students who clapped, cheered, and snapped throughout the performances. The experience of spoken word requires some form of interaction, and the initial hesitance from the crowd to interact slowly dissipated as the students sank into the voices and stories of the artists. Twice Patrick Clifton greeted the students on the microphone with two songs that explored the strength of music as a cathartic outlet. Amanda Okafor explored her identity as part of the African Diaspora. She warmly explored the pain of not feeling welcomed in a society that is still grappling with the nature of Canadian identity. Zaire Sealy approached the stage with a warmth of voice and presence where he challenged the audience to filter through complex stories of finding his own faith and its relation to how he views his place in the world. Priscille Bukasa stood on stage explaining to the crowd the nerves that surged through her in that moment. However, when she performed and the power of her voice reverberated across the audience, the students witnessed confidence in one of its most pure forms in her piece “16 Shots.” Each of these artists used the stage to present as authentic an image of self as they were able. The strength of this experience is not in the transmission of black history, but rather in the complex nature of these performances and the performers conveying the depth of their understanding of their own culture and identity.
Marked by a theme of shared culture, the Black History Month event built around the concept of the intersectionality of Blackness throughout the Canadian Landscape. Rather than trying to isolate the accomplishments of some great people, this particular event sought to bridge a gap in understanding between groups of people that are often separated physically, ideologically, and culturally. While other aspects of this month focused on the unspoken stories of amazing Black Canadians, this particular event attempted to build on the idea that regardless of differences, an empathetic understanding of others is necessary to bridge a cultural gap that was once so widespread in an effort to make it just that much smaller.
Special thanks to all who participated and made this event possible: Jenin Ahmad, Katherina Davenport, Maddis Loo, Aideen Reynolds, Martin Poirier, Christopher LeVann, Caitlyn Gallichan-Lowe, Courtney Walcott, and Nancy Prentice.
To the people who really made the show, we thank you: Zaire Sealy, Priscille Bukasa, Amanda Okafor, and Patrick Clifton.