By Cheryl Foggo
My focus on the past is rooted in my care for people, specifically for present and future generations. I frequently write and lecture about Calgary and Alberta’s Black history and I’ve met countless young Black residents of this city and province who have told me they had never heard these vital, compelling stories before. The awareness that we have been present for more than 140 years has been a balm for wounds they didn’t have words to describe. Many have shared sorrow that they were denied access to this history when they were growing up. Others have expressed how the knowledge of ancestors building and creating hearth for those of us who have followed has helped them feel more rooted. Knowing Black history promotes a feeling of belonging. Of course, Alberta is not the only place in Canada that has neglected to preserve and widely disseminate the complete and accurate story of its Black history. The chasm in African-Canadian history awareness exists nationwide. This erasure is detrimental to Black Canadians, certainly, but the harm inherent in suppressing history infects us all.
Most people would acknowledge that every detail in our day-to-day lives springs from something that happened in the past. The reason we talk about history is to answer the question, “How did we get here? How did we collectively find ourselves in this circumstance and space we occupy?” If we’re trying to answer that question with gaps in our understanding of what happened yesterday, we have no hope of figuring out how to navigate today or create a just future.
In a better world, we wouldn’t need to set aside time in February to talk about the victories, struggles, and existence of people of African descent. Black history is not a list of names, dates, events, and accomplishments floating in a bubble on its own. Our history should be recognized as an integral, interwoven part of a whole. I embrace and celebrate Black History Month because we haven’t yet found our way to that world where Black history is just history.
Cheryl Foggo is an author, screenwriter and playwright. She has a particular interest in the history of Black pioneers on the prairies and has written extensively on that subject, most significantly in Pourin' Down Rain: A Black Woman Claims Her Place in the Canadian West. Her young adult novels, One Thing That's True and I Have Been in Danger were finalists for the Governor General's Award and the Silver Birch Award respectively. Her most recent films are John Ware Reclaimed and Kicking Up A Fuss: The Charles Daniels Story. She lives in Calgary.
"Calgarian Cheryl Foggo's impressive writing credentials foretold the jewel of Dear Baobab, her first children's picture book, a sympathetic but hopeful portrayal of finding a way to fit it."
—CanLit for Little Canadians