February is Black History Month

February is Black History Month

Years of working with underrepresented communities, and belonging to one himself, has taught Ambe Chenemu the value of one word: empowerment. Going on three years now, Chenemu has been the president and founder of the Black Advocacy Coalition, also known as BACupNorth. The coalition advocates for issues relevant to Black people in the North and supports the socio-economic development of the Black community. 

Community support is key 

As the coalition is a small, volunteer-based organization, community involvement is important. Thankfully, the community of Yellowknife has embraced BACupNorth, and community members have come together to volunteer services and ideas. Chenemu credits the support of the Black community for the organization's continued success, especially when faced with COVID challenges in its initial years. 

Within the last three years, the organization has launched a Facebook campaign highlighting important Black Canadians and Black-owned businesses in the north, hosted town halls and business seminars, met with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and worked with the Government of Northwest Territories (GNWT). 

“The organization's achievements [speaks] to our resilience and the importance of the work that we do, and that we will continue to do,” Chenemu said. 

 “People within the community are starting to feel like we can do something different. And it helps us because everything doesn't rest on the coalition’s shoulders. People come up with great ideas, they reach out to us, and we find ways to support them.” Among other accomplishments, the coalition has supported member-led initiatives such as Afro-Caribbean nights, an idea created by a group of strong and proactive women within the Black community.

Socio-cultural initiatives that amplify and empower diverse voices are what BACupNorth wants most for the community. 

“Every year, we’re growing, we’re being impactful and doing things that bring change and meaning, and that’s the idea as we continue to move forward.” 

Reading as a path to empathy and understanding 

BACupNorth has achieved many feats. However, Chenemu’s proudest moment was a book distribution in 2022. The coalition, with the support of the GNWT, bought books written by Black authors and distributed them to schools within the territory. Each grade received an age-appropriate book. 

“I think that was a profound moment for me,” Chenemu recalled. “A kid in grade three, who may not know why some of us have afros or broad noses, can begin to understand. And even if they don’t, it’s a great place to start the conversation. The initiative didn’t make the news, it wasn’t a big thing, but for me, it was a private victory.” 

The initiative had such a profound impact on Chenemu that the BACupNorth team plans to do it again in February 2023, but this time welcoming support from other interested organizations. 

Revelation of vulnerability, strength and joy

Within the Black community, there’s an array of cultures, religions, perspectives and other diverse characteristics. Each person moves through the world with a lived experience that shapes their identity. For the coalition, serving all voices within the Black diaspora presents its challenges, but also opportunities for greater connection. 

“Even though we all identify as Black there are many nuances. We’re all different, with differences in culture, identity, and experiences. So, one of the challenges is finding a way to serve everybody equally and equitably and to ensure people feel represented. That is a conversation we’re having and will continue to have,” said Chemenu. 

As important as advocacy is to the coalition, it also prides itself on celebrating moments of joy amongst the heaviness experienced by Black people. 

When asked what joy looks like to him, Chenemu recalls a sporadic moment when a Zimbabwean woman asks Cameroon-born Chenemu if he’s from Zimbabwe. The question then led to a beautiful exchange where he learnt about Zimbabwe and the lady’s brother — who she said he resembles. 

“The experience felt like home. It’s acknowledging, ‘I see you; you are there. I may not know who you are but we’re here’,” Chenemu exclaimed. 

Everyone can get involved in Black History Month 

“Black History Month isn’t only for Black people. If you’re not Black, Black History Month is for you too. The activities we’re hosting in February are for you to learn about Black history, make new friends, and enjoy yourself. All the events are free and open for everyone to enjoy,” Chenemu shared. “If you’re a Black person, be visible, identify, put your hand up. Every month is Black History Month but February is the time to celebrate, reclaim and take up space.” 

Fun, free events to celebrate 

In celebration of Black History Month, BACupNorth has organized free events and activities in Yellowknife for everyone to enjoy. All events require registration and are free, except the gala on February 25th. 

  • Guest blog by Nichelle Roberts, member of BACupNorth

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