Emancipation Day

By: The Hon. Jim Munson, The Hon. Wanda Thomas Bernard

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Hon. Jim Munson: Honourable senators, I rise today in the name of my colleague in the Progressive Senate Group caucus Senator Wanda Bernard. These are the words of Senator Bernard:

Honourable senators, August 1st will mark 186 years since the emancipation of enslaved Africans! For several years I have visited various communities for celebrations, and this year I will miss being surrounded by people remembering, reflecting and celebrating the ‘freedom’ of our ancestors.

As organizations pivot their usual plans consisting of public education, community picnics, live music, dancing and gospel, they have also shown innovation and flexibility, shifting their celebrations to online events. An unanticipated benefit of COVID-19 is that these virtual events are accessible to more people.

Recognizing Black history year-round is vital in honouring the experience of Black Canadians. For Emancipation Day 2020 we have this incredible opportunity to embrace new traditions. The following 5 activities are suggestions from Team Preston:

1. Centre the principle of “Sankofa” in your activities. “Going forward guided by the past”

Research your local Black history, and as you learn, create a trivia game to engage your family!

2. Encourage local representatives and colleagues to publicly recognize Emancipation Day, emphasizing the importance of recognizing this part of Canadian history.

3. Hold a vigil and plan an action to help lead change at midnight on July 31st to honour the enslaved Africans who did not live to see emancipation. During this vigil, reflect on the current racial climate and plan an action that you will take to help lead change.

4. View online events, celebrations, and engage in conversation about Emancipation Day. Share why Emancipation Day is important to you as a Canadian with friends and family!

5. Share recipes online for “Soul Sustaining” foods that you are making for your loved ones.

Honourable colleagues, we have witnessed the pandemics of racism and COVID-19 collide. This is a reminder that although slavery was abolished, we are still fighting Anti-Black racism. Let us follow the principle of Sankofa and envisage a future justice for African Canadians guided by our history of emancipation and freedom. Freedom Delayed is Justice Denied!

Those were the words of Senator Wanda Bernard.

Briefly, I was curious about Sankofa. I looked it up. It comes from the Akan people of Ghana. It is an Akan term that literally means “go back and get it.” It expresses the importance of reaching back to knowledge gained in the past and bringing it to the present in order to make positive progress.

One of the symbols depicts a mythical bird flying forward with his head turned backward. Honourable senators, there is always any day, someday and this day, to learn something new. This is that day. Learning the meaning of Sankofa is one of them. Thank you.

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