African food, fashion, music and some inspirational guest speakers will honour Black History Month in the capital city with a public event Feb. 22
A AST. JOHN’S, N.L. —
The details are simple: experience a taste of Africa, witness the beauty of African culture and dance ‘til you drop.
This is what organizers of a Black History Month celebration have in mind for Saturday at the Royal Canadian Legion in St. John’s.
“You can feel that the black community is growing in this city and it’s our part to do something to share our culture for the Newfoundland people,” says Navel Sarr, one of six organizers of the event.
“You can feel that the black community is growing in this city and it’s our part to do something to share our culture for the Newfoundland people.” — Navel Sarr
The black community has long been a part of Canada, Sarr says, though its members are often thought of as immigrants.
“In the history of Canada, the black people were here after the French people and the British people. The first immigration were black people from the United States running from slavery who came to Canada to find freedom,” Sarr says. “You can find black Canadians for generations and generations and generations. But the first question people ask a black man is, ‘Where are you from?’ His grandfather might have been born in Halifax.
“We are a part of the culture and have contributed to Canada in many ways for centuries. Why do we have to be immigrants forever?”
Last August, Sarr was the man behind SARFest, the capital city’s first-ever African music festival. A free event, Sarr’s goal was to introduce African music and storytelling to Newfoundlanders who may not have had the opportunity to experience it previously. It was a success, and served as a connection between Sarr and Nuna Toweh, who approached him during the festival and introduced herself.
Toweh, too, was looking for a way to celebrate her African heritage locally.
“Growing up here, I didn’t really feel there was anything that taught me about my heritage, no group where you could get together and learn about black people or their cultures, or the cultures of other African countries or even of the Caribbean countries,” Toweh says. “Most people who are black who come here are usually university students. There’s a very small amount of refuges that come here, but they end up not liking the place and leaving. They don’t see their culture here, so they tend to go to bigger cities to find that.”
Sarr, Toweh and other people they knew with similar ideas began meeting to build on the success of SARFest. They decided February – Black History Month in the United States, but recognized in major cities all over — would be perfect for a main event.
The celebration, limited to those 19 and older, will include a cocktail hour, a fashion show, a three-course meal, live music, dancers, singers and some guest speakers. Among them: Lloydetta Quaicoe, who, through her organization Sharing Our Cultures, has been since 1999 promoting the value of multiculturalism and engaging high school students from diverse cultures to build healthy friendships as well as sociocultural and other skills; and Jevaughn Coley, who, last year, was appointed one the two first black police officers in the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary’s nearly 300-year history.
The event will end with a dance party, Toweh says, and organizers are hoping everyone – not just members of the black community – will come, similar to the participants of SARFest last year.
“This is the New Newfoundland.”
Tickets for the Black History Month celebration are $55, and the profit will ensure this summer’s SARFest is free for the public again.
“Everyone is welcomed,” Sarr says, adding he believes there are many similarities between traditional African and Newfoundland cultures, including a love of music and, for many, the ocean.
“We want to share our culture with the community. We are all one community,” he says. “This is the New Newfoundland.”