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18.03.2006 Diaspora News

Lessons from Black History

By Joe Kingsley Eyiah, Teacher, Brookview Middle School, Toronto

Lessons are meant to be learnt. History always has its own lessons. The lessons in Black History are simple but very encouraging. Self-confidence, determination, perseverance, hard work, hope and victory! They remind me of the meaning behind the lyrics of one patriotic song of Ghana written by the late renowned Ghanaian teacher, preacher, philosopher and song-writer cum composer, Dr.Ephraim Amu. The words of the song written in Akan language go: Yen ara asase ni. Eye abooden nen ma yen. Mogya nana nom gui nya de to ho ma yen. Adu me ne woso so se ye be ye bi atoa so….

which refer to the struggles of our forefathers in building a heritage for us and the need for us to continue from where they left off so that our future generation would also benefit from what we strive to accomplish today. Africa has its own rich history. That coupled with the history of early African Canadian as in the stories of the Underground Railway, Afriville Village and others encourage in us self-confidence to succeed as Black people. “Say it loud, I'm black and proud!” to borrow the words of the celebrated Black singer, James Brown.

I couldn't therefore agree the more with the celebrated former African Canadian Member of Parliament, Jean Augustine in her assertion that, young people should not fall victim to pressures and distractions because they are standing on the shoulders of historical giants such as Matthew DeCosta, and Mary Ann Shadd, to add to her list, Yaa Asantewaa, Steve Bikoe, and Nelson Mandela. Jean Augustine was addressing the Adventist Youth (AY) at the Bethel Seventh-day Adventist (S.D.A.) Church in Etobicoke during an activity organized by the church to commence Black History Month in Toronto four years ago. The wisdom in Jean's assertion, to me, is still relevant.

Not Just a Ritual:

I hope the celebration of the Black History Month has not become just an annual ritual. That it brings us through the year the awareness of our ancestral heritage and gives the opportunity, at least every February, for Blacks to receive the positive reaffirmation that is necessary to help the community flourish as presented in the message of Jean Augustine to the AY of the Bethel S.D.A. Church. History won't forgive us if we fail to make Black History meaningful to society!

The celebration of February each year as Black History Month in America since the 1920s has become a huge national affair. And in the Ontario Province of Canada, an official item on the calendar since 1978 when the Ontario Black History Society successfully pushed for its formal recognition by the City of Toronto.

Black men and women of old like Sundiata, Mansa Musa of the ancient Songhai and Ghana empires of West Africa; Yaa Asantewaa of the ancient Ashanti Kingdom; Rosa Park and Martin Luther King Junior of the United States; Elijah McCoy and Rose Fortune of Canada; Halie Saliesa of Ethiopia, Lumumba of Congo, Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Steve Biko of South Africa and many others of our ancestral heritage remind us of the struggles of the past. What role(s) are we playing in the struggles of today – freedom from ignorance, economic exploitation, neo-colonialization and racial segregation?

Black History Month provides us the opportunity to feel affirmed and the pathways to arrive at an understanding of ourselves as Black people in the most comprehensive socio-historical context that we can produce. It is a clarion call to all nations and cultures, especially those of America and Canada, to acknowledge the contributions of people of African descent in their nation building. Black History empowers us as a distinct group to achieve social, economic and political feats.

To quote the President of Ontario Black History Society, Rosemary Sadlier, “Black history provides the binary opposite to all traditional histories. One needs traditional history to engender a common culture; one needs Black history to engender a clearer and more complete culture.”

United We Stand, Divided We Fall:

A story is told of a successful slave-master in the Caribbean who was invited to America during the era of slaves' rebellion in America to advise his colleagues on how to control their slaves. He told his colleagues in America of a plan he employed to put a lid on his slaves. His plan was that of sowing seeds of mistrust and division among his slaves so that they could not unite in purpose to rebel against him.

The greatest lesson to be learnt here is that of unity. As long as we unite as Black people we would achieve a lot for our communities. Black History should be made to bring all people of African descent together wherever they are to combat the forces which militate against our advancement as “a nation of Black people”.

Encouraging Black Youth for High Achievements: I see great potential in our youth to succeed where we have failed if only they will learn from history. If only we will educate them about the rich history of our ancestors. Our forefathers were wise, resilient and dedicated to the struggles against ignorance, oppression and immorality. African heritage has a lot to inspire us to take cultural ownership and encourage our young people to achieve success spiritually, socially and economic.

We should encourage black youth to take their education seriously. For, education is one of keys to success. We need to have role models to guard our young ones to understand the social forces which have shaped and influenced their community and their identities as a way of feeling connected to their experiences as people of African descent.

We should aid our young people in their struggles along the road to becoming victors in their individual fields of endeavor. History won't forgive us if we fail to learn its lessons of unity, hard work, perseverance, self-confidence, sacrifice, responsibility, hope and victory!

Joe Kingsley Eyiah (Ph. D. Candidate)

Email: [email protected]

[email protected]