Black History Month Montreal 2023

How Montreal is marking Black History Month 2023

We spoke to festival coordinator Nadia Rousseau and spokesperson Tristan D. Lalla about what’s happening in the city for BHM.

February brings Black History Month, and with it, a massive schedule of events, panels and workshops happening in Montreal and across Quebec. 

With the theme “Out of the darkness, into the light,” the festival’s organizers are reminding us of how Black history has for so long been kept in the dark, but also how the shadow of the pandemic loomed over us since the last completely in-person Black History Month back in 2020.

“We’re looking ahead with serenity, but also with a lot of joy, because we think that being together is part of Black History Month,” says Nadia Rousseau, coordinator of this year’s festival. “We’re really happy that we’re going to have an edition that is in person.”

Spokesperson Tristan D. Lalla highlights how the constraints imposed by COVID took a toll on us all, so it’s a special opportunity to be able to come together again this year. “The social aspect is such a huge part of how we fellowship and how we get together — it’s highly welcome.”

“Let’s get on with life. Let’s go back into the world,” he continues. “There’s a sense of rejuvenation that’s imbued into 2023 already.”

Montrealers can look forward to dozens of low-cost, accessible events taking place all over the city, spilling over into March and culminating with the Dynastie awards ceremonies honouring Black excellence in the media and arts, March 30 and April 1.

Programming highlights include the premiere of Le mythe de la femme noire, a documentary by Ayana O’Shun, with English subtitles (screening at Cinéma Beaubien on Feb. 10). The film blends interviews and archival footage to deconstruct stereotypes and how they continue to be experienced by Afro-descendent women today.

“It’s really a movie that is totally Montreal because the people that are interviewed are French speakers, English speakers,” Rousseau explains. “It’s like a jambalaya, a nice representation of how Black women in Montreal or around Quebec feel about their situation.”

Afrodisiaque is a one-woman play written and acted by Maryline Chery and directed by Lydie Dubuisson. Through monologue, song, rap and protest, the play explores how society perceives Black women’s hair texture, literally giving a voice to the young main character’s hair. The play will be performed twice, on Feb. 8 at Maison de la culture Claude-Léveillée and on Feb. 17 at Maison culturelle et communautaire de Montréal-Nord.

Staying true to the theme, Rousseau highlighted a conference by Martiniquaise historian Monique Milia Marie-Luce that will present the little-known story of Guadeloupean women who passed through Ellis Island to be hired as servants in Quebec over a century ago. The conference “Out of the Darkness Into the Light: The Untold Story of Guadeloupean Domestics in Quebec” will be a bilingual presentation on Feb. 23 at the Écomusée du fier monde.

One event Rousseau particularly wanted to highlight was the yearly blood drive for sickle cell disease, an inherited disorder affecting the red blood cells that disproportionately affects Black communities. As a result of the pandemic, Héma-Québec has imposed a by-appointment event instead of the walk-in event that was organized as part of Black History Month in previous years. 

“I would have liked it to be walk-in like it used to be,” Rousseau comments, as she’s worried the different set-up will have an impact on the event’s performance. “We’re still having the impacts of COVID that are a daily thing that we are living through, so I feel a bit sad.”

The Round Table on Black History Month also chooses 12 laureates that are honoured, one for every month during the next year, beginning with this month’s laureate: Carla Beauvais, a columnist, social entrepreneur and cofounder of Fondation Dynastie. 

“Black history has been in the dark for a long time, and in February the media shines a spotlight on Black History Month, but all year the Round Table schedules events uplifting the Black communities,” says Rousseau. Outside of February, there is a particular focus on community-based events, to continue the important work of uplifting. 

“It’s rejuvenating because the message is so clear for me; people are so involved,” says Rousseau about planning this year’s festival. “We’re looking forward to opening for the public all we have to showcase.”

Lalla echoes that excitement for what Black History Month will bring for Montrealers and Quebecers, and the call to prioritize community-building in February and all year round. 

“We got to remember Carter Woodson and those who started the education about why it was so important to highlight the efforts and accomplishments of Black women and men so that it’s not forgotten,” he says. 

“It’s about passing the torch and making sure we’re not just doing lip service for a month so that we can pat ourselves on the back, but that we’re actually feeding the community so that everybody can thrive.” ■

For more information about this year’s Black History Month programming in Montreal, please visit the Mois de l’histoire des noirs website.

How Montreal is marking Black History Month 2023

This article was originally published in the February 2023 issue of Cult MTL.

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