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GBHS to focus on past, present and future during Black Heritage Month

'We have to think about the past, present and future, and we want to encompass all three of those things when we celebrate our Black heritage:' Denise Francis
2019 08 21 GT – Following Up Heritage Hall Denise Francis – TB 02
Denise Francis stands in front of Heritage Hall on Essex Street GuelphToday file photo

With February approaching, the Guelph Black Heritage Society is launching a series of virtual events celebrating the past, present and future of the Black community for Black Heritage Month 2021.

Black Heritage Month aims to recognize the history of the Black community, along with its present achievements and future. 

“We want to acknowledge the role the Honourable Jean Augustine played in getting Black History Month recognized in Parliament, because she was in Parliament for 13 years and did some amazing stuff,” says GBHS president Denise Francis.

“But when we think about Black History Month when you’re in school and taught about it talk in schools, they’re focusing so much on history and the slavery mentality and the slavery narrative.”

She says they want to rewrite that by putting into people’s consciousness about what’s happening today and what people have to look forward to in the future.

After the social justice movements of last year, and Black Lives Matter march in Guelph that happened in June, Francis says so much happened for the Black community, that people also have to think about the present and the future.

“By no means are we saying that we are ignoring our history,” Francis explains, “but life is in three parts, we have to think about the past, present and future, and we want to encompass all three of those things when we celebrate our Black heritage.”

This year, GBHS has partnered with the University of Guelph’s Cultural Diversity Office, and the Guelph Black Student Association, to put together virtual programming throughout February. All online events are free, but registration is required.

Black Heritage Month will kick off  Feb. 1 with an event called AFTERSHOCK Art Show, a mixed-media art installation featuring creations from youth artists from Guelph and the surrounding areas. Francis says it was important to collaborate with young people for this exhibit.

“We’re thinking of the future when we have our AFTERSHOCK arts show,” she says, “We’re focusing on the youth of the community, because they really are our future.”

After that, the next three events will feature two different workshops, one on anti-Black racism workshop and the other on Black mental health, and a talk on Black leadership in an anti-Black space. 

“Mental health has been such a struggle for so many communities,” mentions Francis, “Which was why it was important for us to include a mental health session for our community.”

The final event is a musical performance from Aisha Burrow, which will livestream from the Guelph Civic Museum on the evening of Feb. 26. 

Having also launched their education initiative, #ChangeStartsNow, the GBHS will also be seeking donations throughout the month. Donations can be made here.

“For me, education is key,” she says about the benefits of programs like Black Heritage Month, “With education, we have a better understanding of each other and better relationships.”

For 2021, Francis says the GBHS is also planning to host more virtual events, including an Anti-Racism Summit at the end of April.

“This is not the end of us,” says Francis about Black Heritage Month, “We’re definitely going to be putting out more educational programming throughout the course of the year.”

To learn more about the events, and to register, go to


Ariel Deutschmann

About the Author: Ariel Deutschmann

Ariel Deutschmann is a feature writer and reporter who covers community events, businesses, social initiatives, human interest stories and more involving Guelph and Wellington County
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