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African Events in Ottawa – National Black Canadians Summit

Hey the tribe, welcome (back) to my blog, hope y’all are having an amazing one! Happy Valentine’s Day remembering that you’re your only lover after all #LoveYourself 😉 In my previous article, I promised to share with you throughout the Black History Month a review of some events organized by members of the Black Canadian communities, essentially of African-descent.

For those who might not know, I’ve been living in Ottawa for almost eighteen months, and since then, I get more and more overwhelmed by how well-established the Black Canadian communities actually are. There is indeed this strong will from the Black diaspora in the nation to shine and stand out, and you can’t imagine how glad and excited I was to learn that, on the first weekend of the month, the second edition of the National Black Canadians Summit would be held in my region.

About the National Black Canadians Summit

The NBCS is about enabling Black communities in the nation to raise awareness on the major issues they face and open a national conversation on ways to enhance social cohesion, in order to reach an inclusive, equitable & sustainable society. The idea, born in 2017 comes from an initiative first developed a few years earlier by the Michaëlle Jean Foundation (FMJF) that involved letting citizens from all walks of life to express themselves through arts, share ideas and develop innovative solutions for the betterment of their living conditions and revitalization of their communities.

It’s in Toronto that the FJMF held the first edition of this summit gathering Black-owned organizations and businesses, Black political and public figures, as well as various Black Canadian communities Canada-wide, with its second edition in my awesome town Ottawa!

What was on the menu?

The NBCS extended on 4 days and 4 nights, starting on Friday, February 1st with the Connecting The Dots film premiere, organized by a Black-owned non-profit organization of the same name, and a vigil for Abdirahman, a young Canadian-Somali who died in an incident with the Ottawa Police Service in 2016.

Were held, throughout the following weekend, plenary sessions featuring political figures, as well as breakout sessions during which various issues were discussed, such as media representation, mental and physical wealth, as well as access to justice and community safety. For the latter, you had the opportunity to attend the one-s you found the most relevant; as of me, I attended a 75-minute breakout session on Sunday afternoon about the creation of Black ownership and generating Black wealth, given by Thierry Lindor, Luc Thermonville and Kerlande Mibel. If you’re interested in knowing more about the content given during those sessions, you may find it here on the strategic plan that summarizes all the important points brought at that time.

To close this event, the Black communities were invited on the Parliament Hill on Monday morning to meet the country’s politicians accompanied by Black important figures, such as The Right Honorable Michaëlle Jean, former Governor General of Canada. Later that day, Black Excellence on the Hill an event held in partnership with the Royal Bank of Canada, invited Black people to rub shoulders with business leaders, dignitaries, ministers, political figures, lawyers, activists, academics, community organizers, ordinary Black Canadians and allies from all over the country.

The yee and the nay of the event

The yee

There were things I loved seeing on this event and some others, of course, I liked least. For the things I loved seeing during the NBCS, I would first say that the rich information provided during the breakout session I attended was a huge plus to this event. I’m indeed very grateful for having been able to interact with successful Black people who took their time to come bring and explain ideas on how to build wealth in our community.

Second thing I liked was the presence of Black Canadian public and political figures, that demonstrated me how much they care about their community and the fact that they keep identifying themselves as part of us.

Third thing I enjoyed was–if you know, you know–the FREE FOOD!! There were coffee, tea, fruits, pasta, salad, soup, delicious cakes and deserts,  YOU NAME IT! I mean it was great, I really didn’t expect that from a free event, and it did make my weekend and the things I liked the least a LOT more bearable.

Fourth thing I admired was the promotion of resources for Black people across the country, put in place by Black people. There was this spot where you could find a bunch of them, such as the Black Business Initiative, based in Halifax, and Connecting The Dots/Black History Ottawa, based in Ottawa but soon expanding nationwide.

Fifth thing I appreciated was the location. The venue, the National Arts Centre, in downtown Ottawa, was wisely chosen, close to public transportation, and with a view on the Parliament Hill or the Rideau Canal, which are tbh the best view you can get in town.

Last but not least was the unity of the Black people promoted and applied throughout the event. During the summit, everybody was interacting with each other, open to networking, making new friends, regardless of their origins, something I struggle to see in the various events I attend where Black people are honoured. I could feel the warmth and love of the people. Those are precious moments where I can be proud to call myself a Black Canadian.

The nay

When I was doing my retrospect of the event, I could only think of two downsides, which were, I think, not completely under their control, because, first and foremost, I don’t know whose idea it was to declare February the Black History Month, but woooow what a bad one…for real! Especially for us, inhabitants of Canada, we have the worst climate in February and on that specific weekend, it showed.

All of this unnecessary complaint to bring the first downside, which is obviously not anyone’s fault in the organization committee of the NBCS, but the weather was sh*tty. There were snowstorms back-to-back, it wasn’t nice at all. For those from outside the city who may have found nice hotel deals, W to you, but for us who live here, just ugh.

The second downside, which may be a consequence of the first one, is that the activities didn’t start on time. For example, there were two sessions on generating Black wealth I wanted to attend; one on Day 2, and the other on Day 3. The first one was canceled, and alike the other sessions that day, the second one started an hour and a half late.

What I would like to see in the next summit

If there is something I deeply believe in is criticism, preferably constructive, must always come along with at least an advice to improve the criticized aspect. Here are a few things that could be put in place in the next summit for a more powerful Black society, something I believe the NBCS’ organizers might find very important. Sorry not sorry if it seems like I’m asking too much.

  • More concrete support to Black businesses: If we could support more our Black entrepreneurs, it would be a great plus. For example, call a Black-owned catering company for the food provided during the event
  • Closely related to the first one, more advertising for Black-owned businesses: by making a call to potential sponsors, you give them the opportunity to gain more visibility among the Black community in the country. I heard about some events that had partnerships with airlines, and made draws for free tickets to any destination in Africa
  • Longer breakout sessions, more networking: Too much time was allocated to plenary sessions and less time for breakout sessions and networking. It may have been something the organizers were aware of, but I think giving more time to participants to know more about the issues touching them are more important for the fulfillment of the NBCS’ goals than political speeches.
  • Create local groups and more follow-up: Awesome ideas were brought during the breakout sessions, and to avoid them to just stay on paper, and people forgetting them, what can be done is to create local groups in each city or region of the country, and follow up on what was achieved on a given period, and on a longer term, improve the issues that touch us. That would definitely help us build a strong sense of community

Conclusion

The National Black Canadians Summit was 4 days and 4 nights of mobilization, networking, planning and face-to-face meetings with elected officials from all political parties. I’m very grateful for having part of this amazing event, symbolic both in time and space, happening in Ottawa a few months before the election, at the beginning of the Black History Month.

I’m looking forward for other events like this gathering Black communities across the country, so we can empower ourselves and each other. I also take advantage of this moment to raise the importance on bringing more children to this type of event, and having sessions directed to them, to show them that there are role models that look like them, that they can relate to.

Do you think a summit of this magnitude is still relevant for Black people in 2019? If such an event were to be organized in your city, would you attend it? Let me know in the comments, I will be pleased to hear from you! Also, shoot your questions, if any come through your mind. Gang.

Steve Rutikara

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