February 11, 2023
February is Black History Month. The theme this year is Ours to Tell. Africah Rukundo, Counsellor here at St.Amant and member of the People of African Heritage Committee is sharing his story. If you’d like to share your story for Black History Month please reach out to the Communications team.
Black History Month: Ours to Tell
In the Book of Exodus (3:8), God promises to take the Israelites out of slavery and bring them to that “good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey.”
The verse above meets the narrative of what was circulating among us (asylum seekers}: “There is plenty of food and money in Canada, and life is so easy!” Perhaps, it was the same story with the first white settlers too! I heard those who immigrated in the 18th and 19th centuries wanted security and freedom and hoped they could have free farms to grow crops (food and money).
The settlement of Blacks in Canada had different trajectories and reasons. Olivier Le Jeune could have been the first Black person to settle in Canada around 1629. Historians say he was transported directly from Africa to Canada (Quebec). About a hundred years later or so, enslaved Black people settled in the east part of Canada during the American revolution. They all wanted a place where they could freely live and feed their children in dignity. No one can underestimate that, at the time, Canada was not only the land of freedom but also the land of milk and honey.
Is Canada really a land of honey and milk where life is so easy? Here comes my story:
I landed here in the spring of 2007. I was very excited that, at last, I had arrived in the land that many people have painted the biblical image as “a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey.” In the morning, the settlement worker brought many immigration papers to sign and some money. I told myself, this is it; I have arrived in Canada.
A few days later, my hopes began to wonder if this was a dream or a reality. Someone in my orientation program said that there was nothing for free in Canada. You earn what you work for! In fact, another immigration officer told us that the money used to bring us to Canada would be paid in full! That was fine, given that I was in Canada, the land of milk and honey.
As the days passed, I realized that perhaps the word “land of milk and honey” could be replaced by the “land of opportunity!” Yeah! Opportunity.
Really? Hear me well! I am not saying that there is no opportunity! Not at all! Opportunities exist but not for everyone. I once thought to get an opportunity, you have to be well-educated! Somehow it was true! But in a society where discrimination, prejudice and racism still exist, you must be miraculous to get one.
After graduating, I worked in some fields where I was consistently asked if I really had a degree. Many African graduates are used to this question! I told myself not to give up. If society is set as such, what else could you do? I once tried to raise the issue and was told it wasn’t a big deal! Really? Yeah, no big deal. My resilience has become my adrenaline to go the extra mile and be the person I want to be.
On the contrary, anyone raising concern against me, I would be called and warned about my behaviour. Could you believe that? Yes, it is a shared story among Black people. Acculturation at stake!
That being said, I believe there are good people out there. Yes, they are, and I have met some. They are curious about us and do their best to make us feel welcome and included. Shout out to you if you are one of them. It is hard to be in someone’s shoes, but you make the effort! This Black History Month is for you as well. There is something for all of us in this country.
Even though the milk and honey should be shared in a given way, let each person get something. Let’s all look each other in the eye and claim we are all one. We are all winners if no one is left behind. Let us not favour the colour of our skin, where we come from, or how well we speak English. We are in this to win and make our nation, or St.Amant, a place of opportunity for all!
Happy Black History Month to all.
That was my story to tell!