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Reflections on Black History Month from Coast to Coast

Published on 28/02/2023 by Raine Liliefeldt, Interim CEO, Director of Member Services & Development, YWCA Canada

As Black History Month draws to a close, I am wrapping up a cross country journey that has taken me from metaphorically and musically from Nova Scotia to British Columbia.  

Like many Black folks, I have had a love/cringe relationship with Black History Month for many years. Why do we get 28 days, why are we forgotten the rest of the year, how do we have real conversations about the harms that Black folks experience, why do we get the coldest month of the year.  I love the concept of Black Futures much more.  

As a young artist, trying to show my work in galleries in Toronto, I would get turned down until January and February when a gallery or a show wanted “Black Art.” Then I would get all the calls.    

The first stop on my journey was Halifax—metaphorically with a beautiful performance of Joe Sealy’s Africville Stories in Toronto. Africville is an incredibly important story in Canadian history that has always resonated with me. A beautiful, vibrant community of African Nova Scotians who were forcibly removed from their homes much like my family was in Newlands, Cape Town South Africa. This was an experience that my father and his family never got over. It was brutal and painful.  

The music and the stories of this performance blended together so beautifully. I remembered back to 2018, when my colleague Miia Suokonautio, the CEO of YWCA Halifax and I walked through the community. I have learned so much about the Black folks in this community through my colleagues who are staff and volunteers whose family histories are grounded in the North Preston community. I think about how the YWCA supported community then but also how the organization is serving African Nova Scotians now.  

I stopped in Winnipeg, to attend the YMCA-YWCA Winnipeg’s AGM. I met a father and son from the Democratic Republic of Congo who shared their coming to Canada story.  The young man is a student who received a scholarship from the YMCA- YWCA Winnipeg. They spoke about how the father wanted his three children to learn to swim, and that the son is now teaching children to swim. His son and I talked about his desire to help members of the Black community to feel more comfortable around water. This felt like one of those aha and history in the making moments.  

Then off to YWCA Prince Albert, where I had a wonderful tour of the programs. At a stop at the YWCA’s Settlement program I was sad to miss some delicious Eritrean food. The community was sharing meals and raising money for the Coldest Night of the Year Fundraiser. It certainly was a cold day, but it was a wonderful warm and welcoming space.  

I am wrapping up my tour in Victoria, BC at YMCA-YWCA Vancouver Island where I have just been reading about the Black Families who settled on Salt Spring Island.  

What resonates with me is the continuum of stories, our presence in communities that history is being made by community members all the time.  


Painting by Raine Liliefeldt

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