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Black History Month in Review: Celebrating Black Joy

As Black History Month 2024 draws to a close, we find ourselves reflecting on the significant dichotomy of such a commemoration. Of course, the historical context is undeniable; the tapestry of Black history itself is deeply enmeshed with injustice, oppression, and generational trauma. Yet, it would be reductive to singularly equate Black lives with tragedy – to perpetuate and affirm the misguided notion that Blackness is synonymous with pain. Rather, we would argue that celebrating Black joy holds equal importance in the context of this month.

 

Black joy is, in and of itself, a protest.


This defiant delight can be found and felt in communities, neighbourhoods, and cultural spaces the world over; Black joy's very essence lies in its rejection of a society which wishes to view its triumphs and hardships through a narrow lens of loss and subjugation. By reframing our perception of Black lives, we acknowledge that Black excellence exists in tandem with injustice, not simply despite it. It is a matter of thriving, not just surviving.

 

There is an innate strength fostered through community and connection; Black folks have always shaped spaces for themselves, forged opportunities, nurtured bonds, and fostered innovation. Consequently, Black communities have historically had their hands on the pulse of culture, revolution, art, politics, and so much more. The historical and ongoing influence of Black voices on the foundation of society as a whole cannot be understated. There are no shortage of digital resources exploring this very subject, for example, in 2023 the Art Canada Institute spotlighted "7 Black Artists to Watch", showcasing how Black creatives are singlehandedly changing the game. CBC's 2024 #BlackMusicMatters Challenge celebrates Canadian hop-hop by encouraging students to engage with and enjoy the work of Black Canadian musicians. Of course, outside of artistic spaces, the legacy of Black Canadians is far reaching; the History Channel highlighted "29 Canadian Black History Facts You Should Know". We urge you to learn their names, honour their work, and give ample credit where credit is due.

 

Throughout the month of February, we have heard a wealth of inspiring stories, echoing the sentiment that Black brilliance is not merely a component of Black History Month, but its raison d'être. Federally, across Canada, the theme for Black History Month 2024 was 'Black Excellence: A Heritage to Celebrate; a Future to Build' and we find that fitting. It is imperative to make time for listening and learning well-beyond the confines of this month. After all, Black history does not exist in a vacuum – it's all around us, a living history that deserves to be heard, cherished, and celebrated to the fullest extent.

 

We all hold a collective responsibility to build a more equitable future – one where the wellness, safety, and prosperity of Black lives are held sacrosanct. Violent ideology and racism pose a very real threat and we personally promise to disrupt oppression whenever and wherever possible. But we also hope that, by rejoicing in and magnifying Black joy, we may honour the legacy of those who have walked this path, those who are currently traversing it, and those who will follow. To all of the trailblazers, artists, activists, and the everyday citizens who have paved the way and set the bar: We see you. We salute you. We promise to follow your lead. Happy Black History Month.


"At the core or center of Black culture, Black identity, Black art, Black ideology, and Black community is joy, (…) Black joy is the heartbeat and pulse of our survival, our resiliency, our perseverance, our health and wellbeing. (…) Joy has been our weapon and superpower in the face of injustice and structural racism." -- Anita Dashiell-Sparks

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