Maintaining the momentum: Black History Month at McMaster launches with a memorable kick-off event

A group of students take a selfie at the Black Expo

Inspirational moments. Moving speeches. Electric beats. Welcome to the Black Expo: Maintaining the Momentum. (All photos: Georgia Kirkos/ McMaster University)

The Sankofa bird, generally depicted as a bird with its head turned backward, taking an egg from its back, is a metaphorical symbol used by the Akan people of Ghana.

This image – featured prominently on the poster for the Black Expo, the kick-off event for this year’s Black History Month celebrations at McMaster – expresses the importance of reaching back to knowledge gained in the past and bringing it into the present in order to make positive progress.

And, as you took in the moving sights and profound sounds of the McMaster University Student Centre (MUSC) atrium on Wednesday, it became clear just how fitting of an image – and message – the Sankofa bird was for this event.

An immersive art installation, curated by Francis Jeffers from the Canadian Multicultural Inventors Museum, located at the heart of the Student Centre highlighted the stories of Black innovators throughout time. An electric spoken word performance from Hamilton poet and McMaster graduate Eddie Lartey and inspirational speeches from members of the McMaster and Hamilton communities spoke to the importance of reflecting on and celebrating Black excellence. And, underneath it all, a rhythmic, groovy soundtrack courtesy of LuckyStickz had attendees moving to the beat of a steelpan – literally.

Black Excellence: Maintaining the Momentum was truly a kick-off event for the ages.

Here are a few moments from the day that captured the expo’s electric energy.

A group of students and attendees walk through the Black Expo
Attendees take in the sights and sounds of the Black Expo

The day-long expo, a joint initiative between the Black Student Success Centre (BSSC); the Equity and Inclusion Office (EIO); Alex Montague, Project Coordinator for the African-Caribbean Faculty Association of McMaster (ACFAM) and co-founder of BLKOWNEDHAMONT; and Student Affairs, served as the launch event for this year’s Black History Month programming.

A student listens to a keynote address
A student listens to a powerful speech from keynote speaker Kojo Damptey, executive director of the Hamilton Centre for Civic Inclusion

Keynote speaker Kojo Damptey concluded his moving, passionate speech by saying: “Reclaim your space and come up with new ways of talking about yourself and your stories no matter what is put in front of you. Because you are your ancestors’ wildest dreams, and nobody can take that away from you.”

A group of professors and administrators pose in front of the Black Student Success Centre booth
(From left to right) Alpha Abebe, Sophia Holness, Marlice Simon and Selina Mudavanhu
Renata Hall speaks to the crowd
Renata Hall, manager, inclusion and anti-racism programs, Equity and Inclusion Office

“Black Excellence is a term used across Black communities to celebrate success, to advance Black leadership mindsets and actions, and to continue to fuel pursuits to overcome inequalities within, and is a term both salient and sacred,” said Renata Hall, manager, inclusion and anti-racism programs in the Equity and Inclusion Office, reading a statement from Sonia Anand, acting associate vice-president, Equity and Inclusion.

A DJ poses with his laptop and steelpan
Toronto-based musician LuckyStickz provided the soundtrack for the event, treating attendees to a live DJ set and steelpan performance
Students snap along to a performance of spoken word poetry
Event attendees and members of the McMaster chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers and the Black Students’ Association respond to Eddie Lartey’s spoken word performance
A group of speakers and event organizers pose for a photo
(From left to right) The Black Student Success Centre’s Jordan Lentinello and Faith Ogunkoya, spoken word artist Eddie Lartey, civic advocate and keynote speaker Kojo Damptey, Black History Month Planning Committee member Wahi Mohamed, associate professor Ameil Joseph and Renata Hall, Manager, Inclusion and Anti-Racism Education, McMaster University
A student orders from the Jamaican Patty Shack food truck
A student orders from the Jamaican Patty Shack food truck

For those brave enough to weather the cold, the Jamaican Patty Shack was outside of MUSC ready to warm everyone up with some delicious food.

The president of McMaster University delivers a speech
McMaster president and vice-chancellor David Farrar spoke to McMaster’s commitment to combatting anti-Black racism on our campus and in our communities

Speaking to the importance of events like the Black Expo, David Farrar, president and vice-chancellor of McMaster, said:

“Events like this help build community and help students feel that the university is a place where they can thrive. We have made real progress in taking initial steps to improve the experience of Black students and scholars and remove barriers to full participation in all aspects of the University, but we are on a long road, and we have just begun our journey.”

A student delivers a speech to the crowd
“Please know that your work matters. Your work is important. Your work has created change. And your work will live on even after you graduate from McMaster.” – Anuoluwa Popoola, fourth-year Health Sciences student and president of BAP-MAC

The Black History Month Planning Committee has organized a series of events throughout the month of February. Click here to learn more information about the month-long programming.

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