Black Lives Matter Sudbury is honouring heritage and Black History Month in two ways for 2021: one will last a weekend, the other will last all year.
Running Feb. 27 and Feb. 28 from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. each day, HERE TO STAY BABY: A Northern Intersectional Conference will be hosted by the group and offered free of charge to those who register. The conference is all online.
Each day will feature eight panel discussions, approximately an hour and 15 minutes long, with a moderator guiding the panel and the question-and-answer period to follow. There will be sign language interpreting available, and questions can be asked and answers translated in French.
Each panel is a different view of the specific Sudbury and Northern Ontario experience for those in marginalized communities, says Isak Vaillancourt, director of communications for Black Lives Matter Sudbury.
“In the early phases of planning, we realized there is a severe lack of discourse from a Northern Ontario lens,” said Vaillancourt. “Often these issues are looked at from a national or even American perspective. Living in rural and remote Northern Communities has its own challenges and it is important to create spaces for these unique discussions.”
The discussions will centre around the issues facing several different communities with Sudbury. Saturday will offer: Defund, Decolonize, Dismantle: Policing Marginalized Communities; Racism-Free by 2023: Anti- Racism Activism in the North; Let Me Be Perfectly Queer: The Northern Queer Experience; and Naadmaadwin: Black and Indigenous Solidarity.
Sunday will see discussions surrounding topics like: Neo-Fascism: The Rise of Modern Fascism in Northern Communities; “Parce qu’on vient de loin”: Panel Francophone Sur L’Immigration; and Blackademia: Surviving in Higher Education. The conference will close with Here to Stay: The Birth of Black Lives Matter Sudbury.
Not only were regional considerations a factor, but intersection ones as well, says Ra’anaa Brown, co-president and chair.
“As Black Lives Matter as a movement was founded by queer Black women,” said Brown, “we knew it was imperative to create a space in which marginalized folks from across numerous communities would be given a safe space and platform to share their lived experiences.”
“Never before has there been a collective online space for Northern voices,” said Vaillancourt. “And we are thrilled to be offering this platform to scholars, educators, artists, activists, and more.”
But while this weekend marks the end of Black History Month, the group hopes knowledge, understanding and empathy will continue throughout 2021, no matter how the pandemic fairs. That’s why they created the Virtual Museum of Black History, presented by Black Lives Matter Sudbury and found at VMBlackHistory.ca.
“The idea arose out of necessity in late 2020 as we started to consider how we could properly celebrate Black History Month 2021 while remaining safe,” said Ruthie Nkut, Communications Assistant and Co-Creator along with Vaillancourt. “We wanted to do something that would be online but would be a little different and more interactive than Zoom.”
Nkut and Vaillancourt, along with the “web expertise from Willem Deisinger and Michael Boyce” said Nkut, created the Virtual Museum of Black History, which is a real-feel museum experience, allowing you to navigate to different wings and exhibits.
“Through the use of virtual tour guides, multimedia artifacts, a virtual map and even incorporating your typical ‘museum sounds’ as background audio, users can explore and roam as they would in any museum,” said Nkut.
It’s a museum you can roam as long as you like, free of charge.
Visitors will have the chance to learn what the museum creators feel is missing from current school teachings. “Black Canadians have made significant contributions to Canada’s culture and legacy, in so many fields,” said Vaillancourt. “Unfortunately, due to the fact that cultural diversity has yet to be fully integrated into Ontario’s school curriculums, most students are not taught or exposed to the rich tapestry of Black Canadian History.”
And specifically, Canadian history.
“It’s important for Canadians to know about Viola Desmond, a civil rights activist and businesswoman of Black Nova Scotia who challenged racial segregation,” said Vaillancourt. “Or about the story of Africville, a small community of predominantly Black Canadians which was demolished as an act of racism. It’s equally as important to learn about Black liberation and what is being done today to dismantle all forms of anti-black racism.”
The hope is that learning will lead to understanding and will continue long past February.
“With this museum, we hope to offer visitors a deeper understanding of Black Canadian History,” said Vaillancourt. “The Virtual Museum of Black History will be available to view all year-long and we intend on making further additions in the upcoming months. Although February is Black History Month, it’s important to learn and engage year-long.”
You can register for the events of HERE TO STAY BABY: A Northern Intersectional Conference by visiting the BLMSudbury.ca, and you can enjoy a virtual museum experience at VMBlackHistory.ca.
Jenny Lamothe is a Local Journalism Reporter at Sudbury.com, covering issues in the Black, immigrant and Francophone communities. She is also a freelance writer and voice actor.