In the News: McMaster grad Aaron Parry on helping launch the Hamilton Black History Database

A headshot of Aaron Perry smiling at the camera. There is greenery in the background.

Aaron Parry, a McMaster graduate, helped launch the Hamilton Black History Database. (photo courtesy McMaster's Black Student Success Centre).

“I have been in love with Black history all my life, since I was a little kid,” said Aaron Parry in an interview with Global News.

“I’ve always been asking my aunties about our history,” said Parry.

And that’s why the McMaster University graduate says he was excited when he was approached last year about a research opportunity looking at the impact and legacy of Black history in Hamilton, Ontario.

“I knew that that was an incredible responsibility to be bringing those stories to light and to tell these stories,” said Parry.

That research has become the Hamilton Black History Database – a joint venture between The Hamilton Black History Council (HBHC), Hamilton’s Afro Canadian Caribbean Association (ACCA) and the Centre for Community-Engaged Narrative Arts (CCENA) at McMaster.

The database, which will include a searchable catalogue of personal testimonies, music, photos, videos, newspaper articles and website links, will officially launch Monday, February 21st.

A speech to be delivered at Hamilton City Hall in the 1800s is one of the oldest pieces Parry found in his search. The writer, Paola Brown, is believed to have run away after having been enslaved on a southern U.S. plantation and later worked as a handyman and town crier in Hamilton.

Parry, who has a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in Anthropology and Indigenous Studies with a minor in African and African Diaspora Studies, says seeing sources like these helps to dispel the myth that Black communities haven’t been in this area for that long.

“I think it’s incredibly important to have something like this especially for youth because […] a lot of the Black stories that we are telling are often from an American perspective,” he told Global News.

“It’s important to recognize the fact that Black Canadians have just as much a rich history here.”

“As someone who is still kind of a youth, I think that it’s our responsibility to carry those stories. Sometimes people in my age group might forget to honour the people that have come before us […] but I think that it’s very important to honour […] the people who are still here and honour our ancestors,” Parry told CBC Hamilton.

Parry, who is now a youth development program coordinator with ACCA and works at the Black Student Success Centre at McMaster, hopes that the database serves as a rich educational tool for young people.

“I put in as much work and as many resources as I would have wanted to see when I was eight or nine years old. And I think that that kind of helped me at the end of the day and helped me feel that kids will get a lot out of this,” Parry told Global News.

“It also meant a lot for me emotionally,” Parry told the CBC. “Black history are our stories, it’s all of us.”