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Black spotlights, Zoom cameras, and joy in action

Why going to Black events makes me smile so brightly
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Black excellence should be celebrated year-round. ASIF AISHA IBRAHIM/THE VARSITY
Black excellence should be celebrated year-round. ASIF AISHA IBRAHIM/THE VARSITY

Black History Month celebrations come in various different forms, but they share many commonalities — unity, joy, and a sense of belonging. In classes where I am the only Black person, or one of few, I have to keep reminding myself that there are Black students all over campus. Connecting to my culture in a school setting has also been a challenge, even though I was born and raised in Toronto. 

Now, in the era of ‘Zoom university,’ fostering that same connection with Black peers requires extra effort from all parties involved. After the events of the past year, Black History Month events are more important than ever. Support and collaborations between organizations were needed to a greater extent than usual in order to bring Black joy into the online setting. 

Events held by Black clubs and academic departments at universities are of dire importance. Not only are they important for representation, but they also simultaneously create a platform to raise other Black voices. Furthermore, the collaborations between these organizations, such as the ‘speed friending’ night two clubs hosted, allow more students to find each other. This helps make us feel less alone, especially at such a large institution like the University of Toronto — we get to bring joy to each other. 

These platforms allow for so many opportunities: students are able to express themselves and dive into their culture within their academic environment; faculty members are able to tell their stories, as well as simply get together to celebrate the diversity of those who look like them. These opportunities can come from a mention of a Black artist on an Instagram story, watching a movie with an all-Black cast, or holding a study-and-jam session. 

Whenever I filled in Google Forms, tapped ‘interested’ on Facebook events, or logged into Zoom, I found that I was jumping from excitement. Yes, I am an extrovert who is craving social interaction, but the fact that it was with other Black students made me even more excited. Before the events, I had to prepare to ensure that all of my enthusiasm would not pour through my camera and that I wasn’t talking so much that I would cut someone off. 

Needless to say, my preparation was for nothing, as my family heard my cackles from all angles of our home. But thinking back to it, these events were meant to excite me. This feeling of joy — Black joy — is what was supposed to happen. 

Black History Month inspires me to take a deeper look into history. Informative events, such as talks on microaggressions and racism on campus, are crucial for me to attend. But sometimes, I feel as though I need a breather. My Blackness is something that requires balance — I need to face the hard truths, but I need to celebrate it all at the same time.

I have met a lot of interesting people this month through these events, and with them now popping up on my Instagram timeline, I get a little bit of that spark back. Though February is a short month, these connections will help me continue exploring the themes of Black History Month for the rest of the year. 

Throughout February, Black voices are uplifted through these celebrations — especially those of Black creators. As a spoken word artist, I have been involved with Black History Month initiatives time and time again. This year, I am involved with the Consulate General of Canada in Los Angeles where I was one of seven Black Canadian poets being featured throughout the month on their Instagram page. Being involved in this initiative allowed me to take part in my Blackness in my poetry and love it instead of viewing it as an inconvenience. 

It has also allowed me to have confidence in my art and continue to pursue it. Support for Black History Month events means more than just acknowledging the wrongful past and erasure of peoples and their histories. It means that Black people can take part in loving their identity and sharing that love with those around them.

Black events are taking place year-round. Black joy exists at all times. Continuously discovering that joy is a goal that I encourage Black students to partake in alongside me. Whether or not that Zoom call is connected to the month of February, take part in it and enjoy yourself. You are worth celebrating.