By MURPHY BROWNE
A poll conducted by TD Canada Financial Group which was released on January 24, 2010 showed that only 32 per cent of people across Canada and only 43 per cent of people across Ontario know that February is Black History Month.
It is unfortunate that even though the acknowledgement of the existence of African history and culture is mostly relegated to this one month that most Canadians do not even know of its significance. That is why it is important that we continue to advocate for the inclusion of African history in the school curriculum at all levels from elementary through to post secondary education.
Because of the lack of knowledge by the wider community and the absence from the education system, it is important that we know our history.
The Adinkra symbol, Sankofa, from Ghana, West Africa symbolizes that we need to know where we come from to get to where we need to go. From the W. E. B. DuBois Learning Centre: “Sankofa teaches us that we must go back to our roots in order to move forward. That is, we should reach back and gather the best of what our past has to teach us, so that we can achieve our full potential as we move forward. Whatever we have lost, forgotten, forgone or been stripped of, can be reclaimed, revived, preserved and perpetuated.”
The Honourable Marcus Mosiah Garvey said: “A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.”
As part of an essay entitled “Why Africana History”, published in January 1987 by Dr. John Henrik Clarke, an African-American historian (January 1, 1915 – July 16, 1998) wrote: “History, I have often said, is a clock that people use to tell their political time of day. It is also a compass that people use to find themselves on the map of human geography. History tells a people where they are and what they are. Most importantly, history tells a people where they still must go and what they still must be.”
Sometimes it is painful to look back but it is imperative that we know our history. Like Mona, the main character in the Haile Gerima movie Sankofa, some of us Africans in the Diaspora do not know that we are African. Mona learned that she was African after she had her Sankofa experience: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wvIb6bY0kzI.
The history of the struggles of our ancestors can serve as inspiration to the generations to come, but only if they know about those struggles. Unfortunately, many of our children do not know their history because it is not taught in the schools and many parents who were educated in the public education system and even the Catholic education system do not know the history of their ancestors. Our children need to know about the achievements and contributions of those who went before them so that they may apply the lessons learned to achieve their goals.
In his essay, “Why Africana History,” Dr. Clarke counsels us that: “The role and importance of ethnic history is in how well it teaches a people to use their own talents, take pride in their own history and love their own memories. In order to fulfill themselves completely, in all of their honourable endeavours it is important that the teacher of history of the Black race find a definition of the subject, and a frame of reference that can be understood by students who have no prior knowledge of the subject.”
Some of the history of our ancestors survived in many places in the Diaspora and was told to successive generations. The culture and even fragments of languages were retained in several communities by our griots. After the abolition of chattel slavery this history was documented by Africans in the Diaspora.
In his January 1987 essay, Dr. Clarke reminds us that: “Slavery and colonialism strained, but did not completely break, the cultural umbilical cord between the Africans in Africa and those who, by forced migration, now live in what is called the Western World. A small group of African American and Caribbean writers, teachers and preachers, collectively developed the basis of what would be an African-consciousness movement over 100 years ago. Their concern was with Africa, in general, Egypt and Ethiopia, and what we now call the Nile Valley.”
We need to continue educating ourselves about our history and sharing that information with our youth, the next generation. There is usually a flurry of activities to acknowledge African history and culture during February and then nothing until next February.
As we come to the end of February it is important that we heed the words of Dr. Clarke when he tells us that: “Africana or Black History should be taught every day, not only in the schools, but also in the home. African History Month should be every month. We need to learn about all the African people of the world, including those who live in Asia and the islands of the Pacific.
“In the 21st Century there will be over one billion African people in the world. We are tomorrow’s people. But, of course, we were yesterday’s people too. With an understanding of our new importance we can change the world, if first we change ourselves.”