Blog No. 6: One-Year Later…Where Are Things Now? What Really Started ÉZÈ STUDIO

ÉZÈ Studio will have its one year anniversary this August. This comes right after the events this summer in Charlottesville, VA. With this realization, I am left wondering what has changed in the past year, if anything at all?

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A recent glance at the calendar made me realize ÉZÈ Studio will have its one-year anniversary this August. This comes right after the events this summer in Charlottesville, VA with neo-nazis and white supremacists taking to the streets; torches lit. With this realization, I am left wondering what has changed in the past year, if anything at all? I thought back to when I picked up my first DSLR and created a website dedicated to uplifting people in my community. In the short year, I have done a lot of work within Winnipeg’s black community. But I leave myself wondering, what did it amount to?

What was I able to change?

Did anyone find any resolve or comfort in the events and content I helped create?

Was I being naive to think I could somehow make a difference?

I say this because recently, an old friend saw some of my photos and asked me what made me start doing photography. They also asked why I focused on images of black artists and imagery that’s Afrocentric. To be honest, I hadn’t shared the reason with almost anyone because it was a depressing one. I also felt, due to being a self-taught photographer, that I tend to be insecure about the quality of my work.

Initially, I thought I would just share a different/ safer story I’ve shared before about how ÉZÈ STUDIO began. It was a story about a series of conversations I had with my co-founder, Niasha. When we first met in early 2016, the two of us shared stories of our upbringing and connection to our culture. That became the foundation for us wanting to start something like ÉZÈ STUDIO. The reality was that after these conversations, we hadn’t planned much of anything. It wasn’t until we got further into 2016 that we realized we had to do something.

A low point for me was during the week of the shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. During that week, I felt this type of sadness and grief that distinctly felt helpless and I mostly kept it to myself. This was a sense of crushing dread I couldn’t express to anyone at my work or nor among many of my friends.

Over time, the repeated stories of the police shootings and racial injustice took its toll on me. To some extent, I had started to become numb to what I was seeing because it had become so frequent and the justice that followed was seldom resolving.

This was a problem and it had to stop. I had to refuse to let myself become complacent in what I was seeing.

In the song ELEMENT. by Kendrick Lamar, he touches on the different elements of life that have shaped him into the person he’s become. When I think back to my upbringing, I think back to how I grew up in a proud Nigerian household. My home contained many elements of music, food, art, education, and values tied to spirituality and morality. Seldom were any of these elements reflected in the mainstream media coverage or in the open discussions of what was going on.

The aspect of a human life once loved and now lost seemed erased in much of the media coverage and this was not isolated to just the United States. Within Canada’s borders, there have been numerous cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women while celebrations like Canada 150 still take place. These celebrations stand as a reminder to the colonial destruction that still affects Indigenous communities today.

At times, when outlets wish to cover topics of racial inequality, they can be equally informative as they are dismissive of the impact had on those connected to it. With each headline of another death, I would be left to wonder what the stories of the victims were;

What were their hopes for the future?

What loved ones did they leave behind?

What memories did they share with their loved ones?

These elements are what compose each of their lives and connect each of us to our family and friends. It is through their names we see ourselves. That’s what makes what happened in Charlottesville so painful – after everything so far, this was still no surprise.

That the year of 2016, my friend Alexa Potashnik had formed an organization called Black Space Winnipeg. Alexa was an activist, blogger, radio host and Racialised Student Commissioner with the Canadian Federation of Students – MB. Through Black Space Winnipeg, she organized a vigil that summer at the Manitoba Legislative Building. The vigil was attended by hundred across the city and included a line-up of several speakers from local leaders in our community. Alexa invited me to be one of the speakers for the evening and it was a powerful experience – surrounded by other black leaders and families from across the city.

In February 2017, Niasha and I decided to put on our own event for Black History Month. Typically an event about black history would focus on past activists, thought leaders and icons that help progress civil rights for the community. Our event took a different approach. Our event was called BLT: Black Leaders of Tomorrow, an evening dedicated to local black leaders in Winnipeg who we celebrate today as they become part of Canada’s black history in the future. The event was held an art gallery filled with Afrocentric artwork and performances all by local black artists. Throughout the night, we interviewed black leaders of different industries and disciplines.

Click Here for the BLT Winnipeg 2017 Booklet

BLTWinnipeg_Booklet_2017

Our interviewees included our friend Alexa but we also interviewed my sister Uzoma Chioma, Founder of QPOC Winnipeg. QPOC Winnipeg is a group initiative based in Winnipeg, Manitoba which aims to increase the visibility of and create safer spaces for queer and trans people of colour. Uzoma is also an entrepreneur, Registered Psych. Nurse and former Team Canada Basketball player. Next was Adeline Bird, an author, social worker and podcast host.

Adeline is part African and Obijway from Rolling River First Nations, Manitoba. Her podcast, Soul Unexpected and book, “Be Unapologetically You: A Self-love Guide for Women of Colour” are resources she has created to share knowledge, inspire and create awareness for her viewers on her experiences and wisdom.

Following Adeline was Prince Osamede Arhunmwunde, an international bestselling author, TEDx speaker, publisher, and marketing consultant. Born in Benin City, Nigeria he moved to Winnipeg in 2006 to pursue his post-secondary education. He now is the Creative Director for Couronne Publishing.

Lastly was Wilfred Sam-King Jr., elite student-athlete, and University of Manitoba Student Union leader. Wilfred has competed at the national level for track and field and is a passionate entrepreneur who believes in the importance of ethical business practices.

Putting on an event like that reminded me of the gatherings and park outings my parents took me to when I was young. We would meet and spend time with other Nigerian families in Winnipeg and sometimes in the United States. They always made an effort to make sure my siblings and I had an understanding of who we are and the homeland we’re a part of. That we belong. That we matter.

Going back to 2016, I felt I had to do something but, at first, did not know what approach to take. I never saw myself as a political activist like Alexa, or as influential as my sister but I knew I could do something different. My goal was not to take a particular political stance or directly tackle an institution of racism. This instead was about taking care of oneself – a celebration of self. A reminder to go back to self-care, self-love and connecting with one another as proud black people.

Within a few weeks after the death of Alton and Philando, I went to a local Best Buy where I bought my first DSLR. I had no clue what I was doing, but I decided to teach myself to take photos. For my own sanity, I needed to personally change the images I saw around me. Images that showed the people doing incredible things in my life within my community. We have these conversations around police brutality and a rise in racial tension, but it often is from a politic stance or a social issue needing to be discussed from all sides. It, of course, is important to take into account the social and politic dynamics of these topics. However, these issues do take a disproportionate toll on people of colour, we repeatedly see these headlines that repeat a cycle of the injustice. It goes beyond political, it goes into our lives.

For me, this had to change.

I took that camera with me, first shooting and recording the things my family and friends in Winnipeg who had made a positive impact. From artists and musicians; entrepreneurs and community leaders. I wanted people to see what I saw in the people I loved and the community I proudly identify with.

As I posted my photos online, I had been approached for other opportunities. I had worked with Spur Festival, local art galleries, movie theatres, held live events, sat on panel discussions and more. Many of these opportunities were Afrocentric and were run by black people and POC that I otherwise may have never had a chance to work with.

I say all this to go back to the beginning of this post when I asked myself what was the point of everything I had done when things like Charlottesville continue to happen? I soon learned to stop asking myself those types of questions after that friend asked about my photography. I shared with them the real reason I went and got my first DSLR, created a website and what this past year has meant to me. They were very supportive, said they could see the emotion behind the images and encouraged me to continue.

After a panel discussion, we hosted in June, a black woman came up to Niasha and I thanking us for putting on these types of events. She explained she had seen us in the Metro newspaper just a half-hour before the panel discussion began and was elated that such an event was even taking place in Winnipeg. She recalled stories of what it was like for her growing up – never having a platform to share her thoughts and ideas. Near the end of our conversation, she became emotional and encouraged us to continue to support black leaders and our community.

It’s these kinds of conversations made me realize then that what I was doing was not for those white supremacist standing outside a college campus with tiki torches. It was for my community and the people I am able to form a connection with through my work. My work was a letter to self, and other people of colour (POC), affected by repeatedly being on the receiving end of systemic racism. A reminder that our worth is not tied to what we are subjected to but what we create for ourselves.

Much love,

Kelechi.

ezestudio.com

Blog No. 5 Representation Matters: A Week of Black Thought

For much of the first week of May, there was something going on almost every day or every evening to check out…Looking back, much of the week revolved around the importance of black thought in varies industries. In order to evolve, our stories, and our voices must be heard; that’s definitely happened this week.

During the first week of May, there was something going on almost every day or every evening to check out. For those that may not have been around, there’s a lot that you missed out on. But it’s all good, ’cause I’m here to fill you in. From films, panel discussions, and festivals, the spring season appears to be off to a good start.

On the evening of May 1st, the month was kicked off with a film at Winnipeg Cinematheque put on by Black Space Winnipeg for the documentary, Free Angela: and all Political Prisoners. On May 4th-7th, the Spur Festival took place in Winnipeg which I was asked to be a part of as one of the volunteer photographers. Then, Saturday, May 6th, the week was finished off big as both Black Space Winnipeg and QPOC Winnipeg helped to sponsor an event with Dr. Angela Davis speaking here in Winnipeg at Knox United Church.  Looking back, much of the week revolved around the importance of black thought in varies industries. In order to evolve, our stories, and our voices must be heard; that’s definitely happened this week.

On Monday, May 1st, the month started off with a special double-screening of the new documentary film, Free Angela: and All Political Prisoners. The double-screening, sponsored by Black Space Winnipeg and hosted at the Winnipeg Cinematheque, was about the famous scholar, writer and political activist Dr. Angela Davis. The film covers the series of events in the 1970’s during Dr. Davis’ career as a professor at UCLA, followed by the social revolution she inspired during her imprisonment and trial. In-between the two screenings, a panel discussion took place about the importance of social activism in black and racial identity.

The panel featured the founder and host of Soul Unexpected Adeline Bird, two University of Winnipeg professors Dr. Jenny H. Willis and Dr. Paul Lawrie and myself. Our discussion, hosted by Black Space Winnipeg founder Alexa Potashnik, revolved around the importance of awareness regarding social issues, what it means to be engaged and in what ways have things either changed or remained the same since the events of Angela Davis’ trial. It was an enriching and important conversation that I was thankful to be a part of. Sharing the panel with academic scholars and enlighten minds fuels my energy; it reminds me how much we can achieve working together.

Much of what we discussed touched on the importance of visibility in our communities as POC. Some of the questions from panel host Alexa are included in the following audio,

Panel Discussion Audio (Click Here)

Unfortunately, the audio cuts out near the end when I give my thoughts on the importance of allyship. We mainly discussed allyship between marginalized groups but I also wanted to address allyship with those who hold forms of privilege. With my take on the subject, I wanted to address some of its shortcomings that may not always be talked about.

I should preface this by saying that I think it’s important we all do what we can to reach out to others. We can learn and grow from those we don’t always identify with and we can be supportive allies when and where possible. Also, privilege is not something only held by those who are white. Myself as a heterosexual, cisgendered and able-bodied male hold levels of privilege in society even while being a POC. The issue becomes when we as allies become oblivious to our own privilege and put ourselves in a position that takes up space in ways that harm the cause we claim to support. We take up room on a platform that could have been occupied by someone within that community. The power of a movement is in its voice and those who speak need to be champions of that community from its community.

The way I see it, allyship isn’t when you get up on stage and speak into the microphone. Allyship is when you’re willing to help set up the sound equipment. It’s about being useful where you’re needed the most and not where you’ll be seen the most – the platform is there for the people you’re claiming to support – not you.

Allyship isn’t when you get up on stage and speak into the microphone. Allyship is when you’re willing to help set up the sound equipment.

As for the film, Free Angela, it highlights the prosecution of Angela Davis’ and the way the system of white supremacy was built to silence her despite being a renowned scholar. Her academic teachings, criticisms of the US capitalist system and work as a social activist all helped to be one of the biggest inspirations for modern day identity politics. However, it was also what feed a fuel of hatred towards Angela that went all the way to The White House during the Reagan administration. Now, in the modern world of social media, grassroots activism is more connected and able to form real dialogue around identity politics. It’s during this new digital age that some ask what responsibility does this young generation play in furthering the conversation around identity politics?

What has become apparent is that as minority groups become more active in forming their voice for equality and representation as a people, there comes a growing concern around freedom of speech. Those opposed to identity politics have created this notion that marginalized groups that are using the internet to confront systemic oppression, are now dampening the first amendment and right to free speech. The conversations around many of theses social issues have now been turned into whether or not young people have become overly sensitive to their surroundings and just needs to toughen up.

This rhetorical narrative occurs even in the midsts of widespread outrage around instances of racialized discrimination. Recent instances such as the police shooting of unarmed black teen, Jordan Edwards in the US, along with the funding of an Appropriation Prize via twitter by some of Canada’s most established journalist and editors. It’s where instances such as these that the black, indigenous, POC communities and allies must come together to combat the ignorance and racism sadly still prevalent today.

…theses important social issues have now been turned into whether or not young people have become overly sensitive to their surroundings and just needs to toughen up.

The spring and summer seasons are when the annual Spur Festival takes place across Canada. This national festival is held across several major cities in the country with the Winnipeg Spur Festival going from May 4th-7th this year. With the Winnipeg Spur Festival, it showcases scholars, artists, live music and discussions around a broad range of topics focused on a central theme. This year’s theme was RISK – the risk in various industries such as artistry, journalism, and politics. Scholars were invited to the events to attend and ask questions to the guest speakers. I was thrilled to see so many from Winnipeg’s black community actively involved in a number of events.

Many black artists, musicians, and scholars contributed to the festival this year including young talented singer/ songwriter CISHA, published writer and scholar, Chimwemwe Undi, and scholar Milan Orridge.  I was also involved as part of the Winnipeg Spur Festival photography team.

 

On Thursday, May 4th, Spurs’ first day of the festival featured the documentary Giants of Africa. The documentary film covers an NBA inspired basketball program by the same name that takes in a select 50-60 young men to enhance their skills in the sport. The program takes place across several countries in the continent including Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, and Rwanda. The screening was held in the Muriel Richardson Auditorium at the Winnipeg Art Gallery and was introduced by QPOC Winnipeg founder and former Team Canada women’s basketball player, Uzoma Chioma along with associate producer for CBC Indigenous, Lenard Monkman.

Black Space Winnipeg hosted a panel on Friday for the Spur Festival – Risk, Race & Afro-Canadian Cultural Production. The discussion revolved around the struggles and significance of black artistry in mainstream media production, writing and film.

Saturday morning, Spur Festival also held Living With(in) Risk. Living With(in) Risk was a live discussion at the downtown Manitoba Hydro building. The discussion was with Manitoba immigration lawyer Bashir Khan, writer and lawyer Tom Denton, and refugee claimant Asha Ahmed. The group spoke to the audience and CBC moderator Karen Pauls, about the issues, and the myths, around the refugee crisis and its impact on Canada.

With events like these, it’s clear that efforts to be visibly represented and engage in authentic diversity continue to spread across numerous platforms. Despite ongoing discrimination, we have profound leaders. However, there is still lots of work to be done for making our voices heard; building our own platforms to speak from and tables to sit at.

 

However, it was Black Space Winnipeg and QPOC Winnipeg on Saturday, May 6th that ended the week off big. They sponsored a sold-out event with Dr. Angela Davis, speaking at Winnipeg’s Knox United Church.

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Check out BlackSpaceWpg.ca and QPOC-International.com to check out more about the event and about both amazing organizations.

Continue to support the community.

Much love,

Kelechi A.

Visual Director, Co-Founder of ÉZÈ STUDIO

 

Blog No. 4 Sunday Chat w/ JustLatasha

Last Sunday, Niasha and I were fortunate to have a chat via Skype with filmmaker, vlogger, and content creator, Latasha Mercer. In our discussion, we learned about Latasha’s passion behind filmmaking, the challenges with making a web series on a limited budget, and the importance of black representation and storytelling in film. We also got to talk about Jordan Peele’s new film, Get Out and it’s impactful depiction of the horrors of racial oppression.

Last Sunday, Niasha and I were fortunate to have a chat via Skype with filmmaker, vlogger, and content creator, Latasha Mercer. Latasha is known more commonly on social media as JustLatasha, with over 10,000 subscribers on her YouTube channel of the same name. Latasha was born in  NYC where she currently lives and is filming her web series titled Sit Black & Relax. The show follows its main character, Maya, a black woman whose story is inspired by elements of Latasha’s real-life as a woman of colour. In the series, Maya deals with issues of race, gender, sexuality, and relationships while navigating through adulthood in New York. In our discussion, we learned about Latasha’s passion behind filmmaking, the challenges with making a web series on a limited budget, and the importance of black representation and storytelling in film. We also got to talk about Jordan Peele’s new film, Get Out and it’s impactful depiction of the horrors of racial oppression.

Question No.1:

What inspired you to get into vlogging and to make videos?

“I wanted to talk about our issues but on a bigger scale,” Latasha explains. “So, I did the web series because it came from a very personal place.”

Latasha told us that much of the issues on race that she covers in her YouTube channel are based on actual arguments she’s had with her white friends in the past. She feels that making creative content can be useful for explaining her point of view about race. She even said her channel has become a useful tool for both black and white people she knows. Her videos have helped them and others to make a positive influence; learn how to build better relationships with one another.

Question No.2:

What are some challenges with being an independent filmmaker?

“Honestly, asking people for favors – your friends, your network, everyone becomes really integral and important to helping you get your resources.”

Latasha was candid with us about the struggles to find funding and the ways she’s problem solved production issues to create her web series. She also talked about some people’s willingness to work for free so long as they feel your show is an opportunity for them to showcase their talent(s) and be part of a film project they believe in.

SitBlackAndRelax_01
Scene from web series Sit Black & Relax Episode 1: “Eggplant”

 Question No.3:

Visibility vs. Representation.

In your experience, who/what do you see that authentically depicts black people in television and film?

This was a topic we talked about with Latasha at length on our Skype chat. Visibility vs. Representation was the concept I used to express my observations to her on how black characters are often portrayed in TV and film. 

Visibility refers to how certain film companies may cast black actors but don’t fully develop their characters, or how companies develop their black characters around harmful racial stereotypes. Their appearance on screen gives the perception of diversity. However, their character has little depth or complexity and often reaffirms common racial prejudices.

London actor, Idris Elba, has talked about his career often being cast to play the same drug dealer or thug-type characters in numerous film projects. In an interview on the CBC News show The National, Idris was asked about some of his most famous roles and if he’s been limited to roles that can only be played by a black man. Idris responded by saying how some of his roles are more complex characters than what some may seem to realize and are not simply “black characters”.

Idris Elba_interview

Actor Idris Elba talks about the complex characters he portrays and why they aren’t simply black stereotypes – CBC News

Representation is about characters who are played by people of colour that are more developed and display the complexities of their racial identity. These characters may also undergo certain experiences of marginalization in a way that mirrors the marginalization of that same environment or time period.

With Latasha, we talked about how there were certain black entertainers who we worried were being misunderstood or mocked for their performances in front of white audiences. Using the example of SNL cast member Leslie Jones, Latasha explained that she, at times, has struggled to watch Leslie do her work.

“…She’s authentic to us in our space. When white people give her a stage and a platform, I don’t know if they’re laughing with Leslie Jones or at her and that makes me upset…I really want to support her and I really want to see her win but I don’t know if they’re receiving Leslie in the way her comedy is supposed to be received.”

Latasha is not the only one to have shared this sentiment. In 2006, Dave Chappelle went on the Oprah show where he shared a story about a similar experience from working on The Chapelle Show. While in costume, a white crew member laughed at Dave in a way that he said made him feel very uncomfortable. That moment made him realize that certain people are watching his show who may only understand its comedic antics. However, they may not notice or understand the underlying commentary that the show makes on race relations.

Leslie Jones SNL
Comedian Louis CK (left) guest stars on SNL with cast star Leslie Jones

However, Latasha does believe artists and filmmakers such as Barry Jenkins, Donald Glover, and Issa Rae have recently stood out as shining examples of black filmmaking in mainstream Hollywood. Their shows and movies tell authentic stories of what it means to be black in various ways that are also engaging for all audiences. Barry Jenkins, director of Moonlight, won at this year’s 89th Academy Awards for Best Adapted Screenplay as well as Best Picture.

Question No.4:

Has there been any feedback from your followers that has helped you improve your content?

Making a mistake on social media can be embarrassing. Latasha told us she’s had her fair share of mistakes while on YouTube and her subscribers are always there to let her know when she’s messed up. At times, her audience has corrected her on certain videos she’s made regarding issues of racial identity and intersectionality.  Her followers have taught her throughout her journey as a content creator and help to expand her boundaries of knowledge. She says, “They’re teaching me too – my [YouTube] audience teaches me just as much.”

Latasha’s willingness to stand corrected has helped her to build a loyal following of viewers who feel they’re being listened too.

Jordan Peele’s Get Out: An Analysis

(No Spoilers)

Earlier this March, Niasha & I saw the movie Get Out made by actor, writer, comedian, and now director, Jordan Peele. The film, which was released Friday, Feb. 24th, was filmed on a $5 million budget and, in less than a month, has already reached over $130 million in box office sales. This makes Jordan Peele the first black writer-director to have a film earn over $100 million in its box office debut. We ask Latasha about some of the observations she made while watching the film herself.

Question No.5

GASLIGHTING

We asked Latasha,

What was something in the film that stood out to you as something you’ve experienced?

She admitted there were far too many (I can say the same for myself as well) but the first one that stood out to her was a scene in the beginning of the movie. The beginning of the film has main character Chris, played by Daniel Kaluuya, packing for a trip with his girlfriend Rose, played by Allison Williams, to visit her parents outside of the city. In the scene, Chris asks Rose whether or not she’s told her parents that he’s black. He suggests that this should be something worth telling them and Rose responds to him by mocking the idea; sarcastically dismissing it as something irrelevant. Latasha explained to us how Rose’s response here sparks an ongoing trend between the two characters throughout the film: Rose constantly gaslights Chris.

She noticed, at several times, Chris would bring up concerns to Rose about how he is being treated or how he feels while at Rose’s parent’s estate. Each time, Rose would fail to comfort Chris, often questioning Chris’ feelings and making him second guess himself. This puts the burden back on Chris and makes him choose to either ignore the issue or just get over it and not let it affect him. This is just one example of the many subtle and overt race issues Jordan Peele addresses in the movie.

justlatasha_getout
@JustLatasha Get Out: The Dissection (SPOILERS)

 There was much more we discussed on the movie but I don’t want to go into any spoiler territory. If you haven’t already, go see Get Out and then go watch Latasha’s deep dissection of the film on her YouTube channel – spoilers and all. Follow Latasha on YouTube, Instagram (@JustLatasha), and Twitter (@JustLatasha404), and be sure to watch her web series Sit Black & Relax.

Much love,

Kelechi, Visual Director of ÉZÈ STUDIO

 

Cited:

Idris Elba on Stepping Away from Stereotypes – http://www.cbc.ca/news/thenational/idris-elba-on-stepping-away-from-stereotypes-1.3273513

Chappelle’s Story – http://www.oprah.com/oprahshow/chappelles-story

 

Blog No. 3 BLT, Black History, and 28-days…

This year’s Black History Month (BHM) has officially ended as of this week. This was ÉZÈ Studio‘s first year putting on an annual event and I’m proud to say BLT Winnipeg was a huge success. I know I have told every person a thousand times but I want to thank each one of you that attended and that was involved. This past month came and it went so quickly; it’s only because of every one of you that this was possible. February has been an incredible month of Winnipeg’s black community coming together in new exciting ways – one that combines our talents and skills to create our own unique spaces.

Each week, Black Space held a screening a Forth featuring some of the best in black American film. This included well-known films such as The Color Purple and Spike Lee’s Malcolm X, followed up with a double-screening at Cinemateque of I Am Not Your Negro by Raoul Peck. QPOC Winnipeg held the amazing Pink + White dance party at The Good Will Social Club. But that was not before an inspiring evening of the Open Mic Night – a live show for members of the QTPOC community to share their stories and spoken word. Black History Month Winnipeg had a calendar full of exciting events and activities. From luncheons and basketball games to Bob Marley music tributes. Truly, there was no reason to have stayed home this month.

Now, as we come into March, a common question throughout February is what does it mean to have a BHM? I came across some interesting perspectives on the very notion of there being a black history month at all. More specifically, that black history in Canada was dedicated to the shortest month out of the year…

As Founder of Black Space, Alexa Potashnik, put it, “It is not ‘Black History Month,’ it is ‘Black History 28-days.'” In some way, holding BHM in February is quite symbolic of the level of recognition black history has normally received in the context of western civilization. Even when our history and people are recognized, it’s often done decades later and to the smallest extent possible.

During February, there tends to be far less of anyone other than people of colour (POC) who attend BHM events unless they were with a partner or a family member. However, there is often a more diverse embrace of Canada’s history across most demographics during other Canadian celebrations like Festivale du Voyageur – also in February. Despite Canada being seen as a multi-cultural society, Canada’s BHM continues to fall short of receiving a similar universal embrace by all Canadians. Why is that? Why is it that Alberta, who has the third largest black population, has only now chosen to celebrate Black History Month in the year 2017?

Even when our history and people are recognized, it’s often done decades later and to the smallest extent possible.

From what I can tell, the story of black people in North America is, as the late James Baldwin put it, “…not a pretty story.” It is a history filled with oppression, violence, and injustice that spans multiple generations. That’s not something most white Canadians are going leave their homes to go celebrate as quickly as winter festivals or summer concerts. But this has created a disconnect from not just Canada’s perception of black history but its general perception of the present status of black Canadians.

For the first time last summer, a vigil initiated by Black Space was put together at the Manitoba Legislative Building to peacefully show solidarity for the recent police shootings of black men in the US. This vigil was meant to be a peaceful time for Winnipeg’s black community to come together for one another and strengthen the bonds of our community in Winnipeg.

Each year there is significant turnout and support for other black and Afrocentric cultural events like Folkarama or Reggae Fest. However, when we held space for Winnipeg’s first vigil for black victims, it was openly mocked by some Manitoban’s online:

blm-winnipeg-sun-fb-01

blm-winnipeg-sun-fb-02

…This is “Friendly Manitoba,” right?

Look, I love both Canada and Winnipeg’s multiculturalism. Despite racism becoming a much more relevant topic, many Canadians see little-to-no need to acknowledge Canada’s black history in February. Common arguments include the, “if there was a White History Month,” reverse scenario. Others claim it creates divide to have black history dedicated to a whole month since no other ethnicity is formally given one.

First of all, white history is presented in every form of media 24/7/365, so one’s fragility is not a valid reason to dismiss the concept of BHM. Second, other ethnicities do have their own months: Asian Heritage Month takes place in May, Indigenous Heritage Month in June, etc.) Third, in no way does having black history dedicated to February somehow make it inaccessible during the other eleven months out of the year.

One is free to study black history from March to January instead if that works best for them.

Although, there are some concerns within the black community about how effective BHM has actually been in sharing the significance of black history and the contributions of black people in Canada. Bee Quammie, of CBC Radio, feels that BHM reduces the value of black people’s contributions in context to the rest of Canadian history.

“Canada has become complacent when it comes to black history. We try to cram everything into the shortest month of the year…Black history is Canadian history. Let’s talk about it year-round.”

– Bee Quammie, CBC

Bee further states that the problem with BHM is that each year, February is jam-packed with events and programs for only 28 days. Then, by the time March 1st arrives, most school curriculums are set in place; leaving no space to include additional time to Canada’s black history.

Personally, I agree that this is a problem but it doesn’t mean BHM should be done away with. This very problem of black history not being included in Canadian studies all year is part of what started BHM in the first place. Even though this was my first year being directly involved in BHM,  I really never saw February as the start-and-end points for all events and discussions about black history.

How I see it, BHM is an incredible annual time to celebrate our community’s achievements and move forward – reconnect and support one another ongoing. I wouldn’t expect our government nor our school systems to take up that mission or even know how to execute it.

Canada’s academic system ranks among the top countries in the world. However, much of its teaching of world culture and national history is often taught from a Eurocentric perspective. This leaves a challenge of how black history could be taught in the classroom in a way that is done both accurately and authentically. To teach black history year-round in an authentic way, there would need to be enough resources for specialized educators from that field of study to do so. Considering how long black history in North America has not always been proficiently taught in schools, it would seem impractical to expect our education system to be solely responsible for taking on that process.

BHM can be a sort of starting point for those to begin their journey of learning and I think the emphasis is to create the desire within our youth to continue that journey for themselves. BHM can also be the starting point for difficult conversations around race both within the community and with white Canadians. These are conversations that may not always be initiated within a classroom environment.

bhm-winnipeg
Board members of Black History Month Winnipeg

Recently, I did an interview on CBC Radio with Alexa. She expressed on the show how she felt that part of her mission during BHM is to start the difficult conversation around race; this meant white people getting uncomfortable in the discussion. As black people and POC, we are made uncomfortable every day and don’t have the privilege to simply leave the conversation and no longer deal with racism.

With all that being said, this isn’t to state that BHM is the best way to celebrate black history or that things can’t be done better. But BHM goes beyond teaching history lessons and making events where all Canadians can feel comfortable about this nation’s history of oppression. I just feel that February could become a time where we as POC can be ourselves, where we can and should connect with one another.

Despite not always having our history seen through the same lens the rest of Canada’s history, we have an opportunity to utilize these 28-days (29 if we’re lucky) for our own needs as black Canadians. How we each choose to do that is up to us.

Much love,

Kelechi, Visual Director of ÉZÈ STUDIO

Cited:

Alexa Joy Potashnik, Founder of Black Space Winnipeg – http://www.blackspacewpg.ca/speakers

Black History Month officially recognized in Albertahttp://www.edmontonsun.com/2017/01/31/black-history-month-officially-recognized-in-alberta

“Time for Black History Month to go” by Bee Quammiehttp://www.cbc.ca/news/opinion/black-history-month-1.3998493

Blog No. 2 Music, Marches & Much Needed Discussions

We’re just days away from February which means Black History Month is soon approaching. But this past week was already in full swing with numerous projects and major events.

Friday, Jan. 27th, 2017

We’re just days away from February which means Black History Month is soon approaching. But this past week was already in full swing with numerous projects and major events. From the musical jams in the North End to the march for women’s rights at Portage Place Shopping Centre, POC took center stage all across the city of Winnipeg. More importantly was that women of colour lead much of the movement this past weekend.

Alexa, Founder of Black Space (@blackspacewpg) along with many inspiring Manitoba women made Portage Avenue theirs on Saturday. The US inauguration of President Donald Trump was on Jan. 21st. This lead to the single largest protest in United States history with 2.9 million taking to the streets. Although, the demonstrations didn’t stop at the border. Winnipeg also participated with an estimated 3,000 attendees meeting at Portage Place Shopping Mall and marching down to Portage and Main intersection.

Speakers included, as mentioned, Alexa Potashnik, who kept it all the way real with calling out the initial lack of racial inclusion in the planning of the Women’s March – a march meant for all women in the city. Uzoma Chioma of QPOC Winnipeg (@qpocwinnipeg) also shared some of her thoughts on the recent US election and what this march means. She urged the crowd to not just show up for this march but actively reach out to marginalized groups and provide meaningful support ongoing.

Johise Namwira is a local activist and a representative of Equal Voice Manitoba who was selected to attend at this year’s #DaughterOfTheVote in Ottawa. She took to the stage with a powerful message making the whole crowd erupt into applause.

[VIDEO HERE]

This January, we started working with Pajaro Dulce (@pajarodulce) and leaders from Winnipeg’s North End Cultural Resource Centre (NECRC). We were asked to document their work with four young musical talents in the north end of Winnipeg as they rehearse and record their songs. The first rehearsal was this past Monday with help from local established artists including Marisolle Negash (@itsmarisolle). To be in the studio space during that creative process was a special experience.
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This past Thursday evening, Fool’s & Horses hosted a panel discussion on the work to create safer spaces in the music community. Uzoma and Alexa were both featured on the panel – Uzoma shared her knowledge from her own experiences in event organizing and Alexa with hers in activism and performing as an award-winning vocal percussionist.

There was far more to see than what we saw this week. There will be plenty more to see all of February. Details about events in Winnipeg for Black History Month can be found on:

Black History Month Winnipeg (@bhmwinnipeg)

QPOC Winnipeg (@qpocwinnipeg)

Black Space (@blackspacewpg)

Also, be sure to attend BLT Winnipeg: Black Leaders of Tomorrow on Thurs. Feb. 23rd. Tickets available soon.

 

Much love,

Kelechi P. Asagwara

Visual Director, Co-Founder of ÉZÈ Studio

Blog No. 1 #4WORDPROJECT

The #4WordProject is just one of the many black art projects that will be featured at BLT Winnipeg this February.

Less than three weeks into January and our calendar is looking pretty full. We have a lot of new dope things around the corner for 2017; this is one of them. We just launched a WordPress blog to share with you monthly updates on what’s coming up in ÉZÈ Studio.

Excited? We thought you’d be.

You may be wondering about the reason for the title. Well, for our first post, we want to share with you a project we’ve had in the works for weeks. Something we plan to reveal at our first live event for Black History Month in Canada.

On Thursday, February 23rd,  ÉZÈ Studio will be hosting BLT Winnipeg: Black Leaders of Tomorrow at the Fleet Galleries on Albert St.

When it comes to black history, it’s common for us to look to past leaders and social activists. At BLT Winnipeg, we want to flip that concept and look to those in the present day. With this event, our goal is to showcase different black leaders, artists, and social advocates.  In our city, there are creators and artists from different cultures and backgrounds who use their skills to make a difference. BLT Winnipeg is about showcasing people of colour (POC) making a positive impact and knowing how we can support one another going forward.

The #4WordProject is just one of the many black art projects that will be featured at BLT Winnipeg this February. For the past several weeks we had scheduled photo shoots on Sunday afternoons. The idea was to come together for a creative project but also take some time to connect as a community. We took portrait photographs of each person who came. We shot in monochrome so they would be all be black and white. The idea is to showcase diversity within black people, reclaiming how we are defined while showing what makes us connected. Each photo is captioned by the person in the photo. The reason for the hashtag 4WordProject was because we gave each person only four words to use as their caption. It goes like this:

World – How do you define your nationality?

Ex. African-Canadian, Zimbabwean, Euro-Jamaican, etc.

 

Occupation – What defines your career?

Ex. Lawyer, Teacher, Accountant, Musician, Student, etc.

 

Relationships – Most significant person in your life & your relationship to them.

Ex. If Grandmother, then your word is Grandchild, Grandson or Granddaughter

 

Definition – One word that means the most to you about life.

Ex. Honesty, Courage, Laughter, Family, Love, Adversity, etc.

Through this outline, people selected their four words for their photo. The words people from the community have selected have been inspiring. Not to reveal too much (You got to come to see the full collection) here’s an example of one person’s four words:

W: Ugandan

O: Artist

R: Son

D: Determination

In case you didn’t notice, the first letter of each of those words spells “word.” Hence the term 4WordProject. Also, “4Word” means to move “forward” together. Through this processes, there’s been tremendous love and support from countless individuals. It’s not only spread the word about EZE Studio and BLT Winnipeg but the significance in what makes us unique and united as POC.

Personally, I want to thank everyone who took the time to be involved. There’s plenty more to be seen at BLT Winnipeg come Feb. 23rd. Tickets will be available soon!

Much love,

Kelechi P. Asagwara, Co-Founder & Visual Director