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Celebration of culture

Ezra Kwizera performs a mix of reggae, soca, pop and African styles during a concert in support of Black  History Month. - Photo contributed
Ezra Kwizera performs a mix of reggae, soca, pop and African styles during a concert in support of Black History Month.
— image credit: Photo contributed

For many people, the path we’re headed on is greatly enlightened and enriched by knowing who we are, and where we came from.

That’s why every February during Black History Month, the Nanaimo African Heritage Society infuses a taste of culture into the community, and 2013 is proving to be no different.

A host of past and upcoming community events are commemorating and celebrating black pioneers in the Harbour City and beyond, dating back as far as the 1800s, said society president and founder Shalema Gantt.

“A lot of times people don’t equate black history with Canada, but there’s an enormous amount of history here,” she said.

One such example is Emily Stark, the first teacher at North Cedar School and the first black teacher in B.C.

Stark’s family was among 600 expatriates who came to Canada from San Francisco in 1860. Louis and Sylvia Stark, Emily’s parents, first settled on 80 hectares on Salt Spring Island before establishing a farm in Chase River in the 1870s.

The Nanaimo African Heritage Society continues to educate and promote African heritage in the community through events and efforts like the Stark Monument in Chase River, which was a partnership with the Chase River Neighbourhood Association, with assistance from Nanaimo’s parks and rec, and heritage commission. The society also produces a program book every year – this year’s theme is ‘civil rights.’

“All of us have our heroes, or pioneers and it helps us to strengthen who we are, it helps the black children to grow up and know they paid contribution to our world and our country,” Gantt said. “It makes everybody feel good and inclusive when we know we have contributed and continue to contribute.

“I want the children to grow up and be proud of where they are and who they are and not feel like they have to be somebody else.”

Black History Month kicked off Feb. 1 with a special opening at the Nanaimo Museum, where a special display put together by the Nanaimo African Heritage Society was unveiled and will be available for viewing until the end of the month.

Following that, a gospel concert featuring Candus Churchill and Tom Pickett and the Chance Lovett Quartet took place Feb. 10 at Brechin United Church.

The best is yet to come Feb. 24 as the society prepares to host its Grande Finale concert at Bowen Park Complex.

Tickets are still available for $25 ($20 for society members).

“Every year it sells out and we’ve been pretty blessed,” Gantt said.

The finale is open to all members of the community and all are welcome, Gantt said. There will be a multi-ethnic buffet featuring African cuisine and flavours of the Carribean, as well as a variety show to keep spectators entertained into the evening. Doors open at 3:30 p.m., with dinner served at 4 p.m.

Featured is Rwandan musician and songwriter Ezra Kwizera, whose music is a mix of reggae, soca, pop and African styles.

Kwizera was born in Uganda to refugee parents but returned to Rwanda after the genocide of 1994, where many of his relatives had been killed. His musical style is influenced greatly by his experiences of war, poverty and hardship.

Storyteller Angie A. Riley will be at the Harbourfront library Thursday (Feb. 21) in the morning, and a black history film will be screened later in the evening. Call the branch for more details. For tickets to the finale, please call 250-729-9332.  And for more information on the society, please visit the website at www.nanaimoafricanheritagesociety.com.

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