The weekend marks the end of February, which also means the end of Black Heritage Month. Marking the occasion, Guelph MP Lloyd Longfield announced two new grants for the Guelph Black Heritage Society, money that will help GBHS improve their Heritage Hall headquarters on Essex Street, and other funds that will help the group expand their virtual programming.
Along with Longfield, Denise Francis and Kween Gerber took part on the announcement. Guelph Black Heritage received a total of $76,702 from two different granting streams. From the Cultural Spaces Fund, GBHS received $26,603 for the purchase of equipment to live-stream programs and events as the pandemic continues, and to send local Black programming to points around the county once the pandemic is over.
“It will really allow us to look good and sound good,” said Francis, who is the President of Guelph Black Heritage. “In addition to the wireless video streaming equipment, we’ll also be getting some cameras, and that’s important for us dark skinned people, to get some improved lighting so that were really shining when we’re doing our online events.”
The rest of the money comes from the Supporting Black Canadians Communities Initiative Capital Fund, a grant program that gives community groups money to improve common community spaces. The funds will go to renovating the bathroom and kitchen, as well as protecting and improving the historical flooring of the Heritage Hall, a former British Methodist Episcopal Church that welcomed many of Guelph’s Black settlers when they first arrived in the area.
“As you know, the Heritage Hall is the only Black-focused facility in the county, so we realize the important role it holds in the history of Guelph and Wellington,” Francis added.
“In the past few years Heritage Hall has been literally transformed one of Guelph’s iconic buildings into one of Guelph’s most important cultural spaces,” Longfield said in a statement. “Soon it will be home to cultural performances, theatre, music, and story telling that reflects stories from our BIPOC community keeping alive our history and celebrating our diversity.”
The celebration, and the work for inclusion, is far from over though just because Black Heritage Month is coming to end. Guelph Black Heritage is already looking ahead to their next major event, the Change Starts Now summit that’s being held from April 29 to May 2.
“This initiative came from a place that’s aimed at preventing and responding to racism in Guelph and Wellington County,” explained Kween Gerber, Executive Director and Community Engagement Co-ordinator of Guelph Black Heritage. “This is being achieved by developing community resources and educating the community about racism, local Black history, and methods that members of the public can enact themselves to prevent racism and to prevent hate crimes.”
But the summit will not just be about the serious work of racial equality. “It’s going to be an opportunity to celebrate and dance and bring joy,” Gerber added. “It’s really important that we also engage in all the positivity that’s within our Black communities and within our Black area in Guelph and the county.”
While looking ahead, both Francis and Gerber looked back at the year it’s been, and how this year’s Black Heritage Month has been affected by the new drive for racial equality stemming from last summer’s Black Lives Matter march and protests.
“It’s the 10th anniversary since we founded the Guelph Black Heritage Society and this past February has been like no other we’ve experienced,” said Francis. “For one of our events, we registered over 400 people, and that’s unprecedented for us for an online event. When we have our tribute concerts and other amazing events you realize that people not only want to be engaged, they want to learn, and they’re also very active.”
“I think we’re seeing people really want to step up and educate themselves in our community,” Gerber explained. “I am so impressed with our youth, this whole new, refreshing, robust group of students from all these different schools who are really working together to raise their voices, and that has empowered me to continue the work that we’re doing. They’re out there, they are protesting, they’re doing the work, and they are challenging us”
“I think that’s where we need to be, we need to keep challenging ourselves and Guelph is a city that wants to grow and learn,” Gerber added.