The light shone brightly through the expansive windows at the Ken Seiling Waterloo Region Museum in Kitchener, on February 1, 2020 as members of the community came together to launch Black History Month. A number of representatives from the Waterloo Region District School Board (WRDSB) participated, including Human Rights and Equity Advisor Deepa Ahluwalia.
The event, hosted by the Caribbean Canadian Association of Waterloo Region (CCAWR), offered the opportunity for organizations that support the African, Caribbean and Black community to showcase what they do, and who they are. More importantly, it invited members of the community to come out and engage with these organizations.
For Ahluwalia, as an organization that serves the public, it’s vital for the WRDSB to have a presence at this event. The value of being part of this event was clear to see, with Ahluwalia and other members of the WRDSB, as well as members of the WRDSB Black Brilliance Advisory Committee, chatting and connecting with countless members of the public.
“It’s so important that we, as a school board, are present at community events,” said Ahluwalia. “If we are serving students and families, we need to be building relationships.”
Lannois Carroll-Woolery is the president of the CCAWR, and echoed Ahluwalia’s message, and explained that the core purpose of the event is to bring all these organizations and members of the community together under one roof, with the aim of fostering relationships and connections. Attendees had a chance to hear from local dignitaries, including Minister of Diversity and Inclusion and Youth and MP for Waterloo Bardish Chagger, MP for Kitchener-Conestoga Tim Louis, and MPP for Kitchener Centre Laura Mae Lindo.
“Not everyone knows everyone else,” said Carroll-Woolery. “We’re connecting the professionals with the university students, we’re connecting the university students with the MPs and MPPs.”
Black History Month, celebrated in Canada every February since 1996, encourages all Canadians to celebrate Black history and culture, Carroll-Woolery explained. Southwestern Ontario, in particular, offers a particularly rich historical learning opportunity as it was part of the Underground Railroad. The Ken Seiling Waterloo Region Museum also hosted a special exhibit focusing on Nelson Mandela, which opened on February 7, 2020, coinciding with Black History Month.
The Black History Month launch event featured a rich learning opportunity for attendees, thanks to an exhibit from the Canadian Multicultural Inventors Museum (CMIM). The exhibit, Carroll-Woolery explained, showcases inventors of African descent and highlighted their innovative contributions, many of which are used every day.
Francis Jeffers is the founder and executive director of CMIM, and explained his goal is to encourage young Canadians to see themselves in science, technology and engineering. He hopes what they learn will inspire them to follow the path of innovation.
“There’s somebody who looks like you, who encompasses you who’s been an innovator, so you can too,” said Jeffers. “The whole idea is to celebrate diversity and innovation.”
For Carroll-Woolery, this perfectly sums up his hopes for the event, as an opportunity to spark a broader conversation, and create the chance for members of the community to work together in interesting and exciting ways.
“We can become stronger as a community when we work together,” said Carroll-Woolery.