I’ll admit it—my cranial cup doesn’t quite runneth over when it comes to Black Canadian history. I mean, I wasn’t exactly surrounded by Black folk growing up, with many of the opportunities my parents afforded me not exactly aligning with the archetype of how the world saw Black people at the time.
Or even how many of us saw ourselves.
I think it took me longer than most to grasp the full impact of my Blackness on my life, but now that I’m older and a little more woke, it’s time to examine it all a little more closely—and that’s why I’m starting Black Fridays.
The discussion doesn’t have to stop in Black History Month—there’s no end to the issues Black Canadians face and what we need to overcome as a community. In the hopes that I can do my part to point us in the right direction, each week we’ll take a look at an aspect of Black Canadian culture, starting with a piece by one of my youngest brother’s best friends—artist Stephanie Konu of Mississauga, ON!
Enjoy her words below, and I’ll see you tomorrow for the next #Chronicle150 instalment!
When you think of Black History Month, what are some of the stories and images that come to mind?
I think that Black History Month is the time to celebrate achievements and reflect on how far Black people have come in this society. Having said that, I often reflect upon the story of my parents who both came to Canada in the late 1970s in pursuit of education. My father came from Nigeria, while my mother came from Jamaica and they met each other while on scholarship at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. I will always have the image of the street corner near HUB Mall that my mother pointed out to me as the location of the first time she was introduced to my father. I’m very much a romantic, so I think that there is a profound magic in first meetings.
As two young black people living in Western Canada, my parents faced many struggles including assimilation to a new culture (as well as to each other’s cultures) and eventually raising a family when my older brother was born. Of course, there were many things that helped them along including family and strong bonds with other black people in their networks; but the most important ingredient to their success was a relentless pursuit of education. Without the pursuit and attainment of education, I know that my parents would never have met, and I wouldn’t be here today.
The Black Experience we’re largely exposed to in the media is that of our southern neighbours and the struggles they’ve faced. What’s your experience been as a Black person in Canada, and what have you learned from it?
As a Black person in Canada, I have had both negative and positive experiences. Shortly after I was born, my family settled in a town called Port Credit in Mississauga. Although there were other minorities in our neighbourhood; mysteriously there was a time when my brother and I were the only Black children attending our elementary school. During grades one and two at that school, I can recall numerous times where I was singled out by teachers and labelled a “troublemaker”. Interestingly enough, when my parents took me out of that particular school, and I attended a larger and more racially diverse school down the road, my reputation was downgraded and I was simply labelled as an “energetic and creative” student by my teachers.
I try to maintain a high level of positivity in my life, so reflecting on all of the bad things people have ever said or done to me is definitely not something that I habitually do. Having said that, I feel that the faith and spiritualism I grew up with plays a big part in how I interact with people and I use that as a measuring stick to judge myself. I have learned from my experiences thus far that I must not immediately assume that bad things happen only due to racism. I must be rational and try to look at the situation in another way, otherwise, I cannot conduct my life in any meaningful way by allowing that fear to take over.
In sharing your voice with the world, what impression do you hope to leave on the world with everything you do?
As an artist, I would hope that the impression people have of my personality is a fun loving and intelligent person who strives to make the world a better place for those around her.
We all benefit from good mentors who guide us along the way to make sure we reach our potential in life. Who was your mentor to teach you from a cultural standpoint, and what’s the greatest lesson you learned from them?
My father has always been a very important mentor to me from a cultural standpoint. When he was very young his father died suddenly. As was the custom in Nigeria at the time, my father’s mother had to remarry soon after, and he was sent to live with his aunt. In his life, it was the strength of the women around him that enabled him to move past the obstacle of being a young orphaned African boy. Growing up and into my adulthood, my father has always told me that being a woman is not a hindrance to my success in life. His mentorship has always been one that encouraged me to try everything at least once, and not to allow anyone to tell me that I cannot or should not achieve something that I desire. Thanks to him, I have knowledge of the many strong African women who have come before me in my family, and I know that the strength is also within me.
If you could say just one thing to the rest of the 2.9%, what would it be?
I would love to say that anything is possible and that you should always follow your dreams.
I am a professional artist from Mississauga, Ontario, who has too many hobbies and interests to commit to any single title. I design and sell garments, I paint acrylic and mixed media on canvas that I build, and I dabble in music production and songwriting in addition to writing short fiction. After surviving a cancerous mass on my Thyroid gland in 2012, I decided that life is simply too short and that in order to accomplish everything I have ever wanted or dreamed of doing, I would have to start right away. My blog can be found at www.anieksteph.com. My Twitter handles are @anieksteph for my personal tweets and @lillybochic for my creative company.