The 30th anniversary edition of Montreal Black History Month (BHM) is now underway until February 28. This year’s theme is “30 Years of Success”, and will celebrate rebirth and spotlight on the current state of race relations through a series of virtual shows, exhibitions, conferences and screenings.
The TD Series of events for this year’s BHM includes the Monnaie Money talent contest (February 7); a series of four panel discussions dealing with the idea of self-empowerment and self-care through health and wellness (February 7, 14, 21 and 28); a poetry jam hosted by the Black Theatre Workshop (February 12); the 13th annual Massimadi festival that celebrates Afro LGBTQ+ film and arts (February 12 – March 12); a concert presented by the Nuits d’Afrique Festival (February 26); and the 5th Gala Dynastie, which will honour members of the Black community who have made a difference through social involvement and empowerment (March 6).
Other Montreal Black History Month highlights include Les midis de Memoire d’encrier, a literary dinner-talk featuring some of the brightest names in Black Francophone literature (every Wednesday in February); the WICA book launch of Can You Hear Me Now? By Celina Caesar-Chavennes (February 12); the annual Hema-Quebec blood drive (throughout February by appointment only; call 1-800-343-7264 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to book an appointment); and a talk dealing with how you can use your net worth towards impacting your lifestyle called “Calculating Your Net Worth” (February 21).
This year’s English language spokesman for Montreal Black History Month is Michael Farkas. A passionate voice on Black history in Montreal, and a long time community activist, especially within the Little Burgundy community, Mr. Farkas also serves as the president of the Round Table on Black History Month, a non-profit organization that is dedicated to promote various activities that relate to different aspects of the history of Black communities.
“I have always felt that I have been a spokesman for Black History Month with my years on the board. I am happy to serve as this year’s spokesman, because it does serve an important purpose towards the mission of Black History Month,” said Mr. Farkas during a recent phone interview.
As well, his open and frank opinions on issues and concerns that deal with Black communities everywhere have grown even stronger over the past year, especially with the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the many Black Lives Matter protests that erupted as a result of it.
“I didn’t need to see video footage of eight minutes to prove to me that it made things happen around the world with different minorities,” he said. “Blacks and First Nations people have been slaughtered since the days of slavery, so it’s nothing new to me. George Floyd became a symbol for thousands of Black men and women, but I didn’t wake up to the realities with George Floyd.”
“As for Black Lives Matter, I didn’t find it to be a grass roots organization. They did not serve as a wake up call for me, either. No doubt it’s an important matter; but to me not only Black lives and all lives matter, but all species matter,” he added.
One incident over the past 30 years that stood out for Mr. Farkas was the protests that erupted over the Robert Lepage shows Slav and Kanata, which met with a great deal of controversy over its “cultural appropriation” approach of its portrayal of two tragic aspects of Canadian history. “The controversy that surrounded those two shows were moments of conscience that really broke the glass ceiling,” he said. “Shows of that nature had to be done in good taste and involve the right people. It really shook the foundations of how to do things.”
Since its establishment in the U.S. in 1926 and its introduction to Montreal 30 years ago, Mr. Farkas strongly believes that Black History Month is on a solid foundation as it enters its fourth decade here. But he adds there is still a lot of work to be done and a lot left to unearth.
“There is a sense of urgency to pass on the ideas that Black History Month promotes to the next generation,” he said. “And it’s up to the youth to follow through and up to today’s society to believe that there is a great deal of value to it.”
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