Black History Month can easily go forgotten in Edmonton. On the surface, the Black experience isn’t as prevalent in our culture as it in in the United States. But Edmonton is no stranger to the influence and celebrations from our Black communities. Just ask anyone who’s been to the Cariwest Festival or explored the excellent vendors at Black Owned Market (BOM) YEG.;
Though Black History Month is rooted in the American Black experience and celebrating the achievements of Black folks despite the history of slavery and continued systemic racism, there is a lot of Black experience here in Edmonton absolutely worth celebrating. And though the stories look different on the surface, the underlying themes remain very consistent.
Viewpoint from a Sociologist
Samuel Enyon is a Family Support worker with Bissell Centre, who earned his master’s degree when he was studying in Madrid. Originally from Uganda, Samuel looks at his own and his family and community members’ journeys to Canada and relates very closely to what’s being expressed with Black History Month.
He explains that a lot of the context that people from African and Caribbean countries bring when they arrive in Edmonton does tend to be white-centric. In addition, further barriers to Black success can play a devastating role for Black families looking to settle and find a better life.
Bissell Centre Helps Bridge the Gap
Oftentimes, foreign credentials aren’t recognized in Canada, making employment difficult for a lot of new Canadians. This is one of the biggest barriers faced by new Canadians. Samuel himself sees families come by the community space, fully prepared to sleep on the streets.
Samuel once worked with an immigrant family that came from an African country, and all they could speak was Portuguese. The father managed to string a few English words together, just enough to have them referred to Bissell Centre Family support. When they arrived, the father broke down in tears. The family had spent three years getting to Edmonton. They passed through Central America, slept in wetlands, and one of the children nearly drowned.
“Who knows if the family understands the amount of trauma they went through?” Samuel recounts. “I was so fortunate that my team was able to put some things aside to further help this family with whatever resources they could find.”
With no options available within the formal system to keep this family from sleeping on the streets, the lead looked to Samuel for ideas. He suggested calling their country association in Edmonton. It wasn’t long before the family found sponsors to host them, and they quickly moved into their own permanent housing.
In his own words, Samuel says, “it was the first time I had seen an organization put so much into helping a Black family.”
Blended stories and shared fates for Edmontonians
As Samuel recounts the story of the family, he points to the similarities, systemic barriers, and opportunities that all new Canadians may encounter.
“To me, Black History Month is a celebration of a lot of different cultures who’ve struggled and overcome,” says Samuel. “The stories are different. But the similarities are very close, and this is a coming together to empower the most vulnerable in our societies.”
Considering himself lucky and well-positioned as a family support worker at Bissell Centre, Samuel meets families from all races, cultural backgrounds, and nations. To him, expressing the need for us as humanity to reach across the table and seize every opportunity to treat each other as humanely as possible drives his work at Bissell Centre.
Samuel stresses that Black history month needs to be celebrated every day of our lives. “Each and every one of us should find it in our hearts to practice kindness, empathy, and love,” says Samuel. “We can come together to ask the inconvenient questions and seek a better understanding of each other and not be so quick to classify each other.”