News / Edmonton

Black History Month gets formal recognition in Alberta

This is the first year Edmonton is officially recognizing the month with the political involvement of Edmonton-Centre MLA David Shepherd.

Brnesh Berhe says Black History Month is becoming more focused on the local in Edmonton.

Kevin Tuong/For Metro

Brnesh Berhe says Black History Month is becoming more focused on the local in Edmonton.

When Brnesh Berhe was in school black history wasn't a major part of the curriculum, leaving her to learn about key bits of the province's black history through word of mouth.

Indeed, Berhe said she didn't know about the Ku Klux Klan's recent past in Edmonton—they printed a newspaper, The Liberator, out of a downtown building in the 1930s—until someone tweeted a historian's work on the story.

But Berhe, a local writer whose parents immigrated to Canada from Eritrea, said this gap in local knowledge is changing, thanks to historians who are unearthing new information. And that's why she thinks Black History Month in Edmonton, which runs this February and which Alberta proclaimed for the first time ever Tuesday, will focus more firmly on the local. 

"I think some people in Edmonton, when they see these events they ask, 'What's the need for it?,'" she said. "That history is right there, and if we're going to fix the s--- that's going down we need to know the history."

Indeed, the event comes in the wake of several anti-black incidents in Edmonton in 2016 — several people being called the violent 'N-word' caught on film or otherwise, which Metro has reported on.

Somewhat fittingly, this year will be the first time Edmonton officially recognizes the month with political involvement at the highest level, thanks to Edmonton-Centre MLA David Shepherd's push. 

While in the past, Berhe said Black History month could often look to the United States' black history — civil rights, Martin Luther King — during the festivities, this year things are a bit different. 

"I think locally there's a lot of push to talk about what's happened in Edmonton and Alberta," Berhe said. "There's a lot of people that don't know about that history, even other black people."

The provincial government's first official recognition of Black History Month will be marked with a ceremony on Thursday at 6 p.m. at the Legislature.

Shepherd, who has also created a petition calling for an African-Canadian Heritage Day in Alberta, said it's time to go bigger with the event. 

"Our province needs to seek opportunities to recognize and share about the history and experience of Albertans of African descent," he said, on a page devoted to the event.

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