A small but powerful presentation brought members of the community together for Black History Month. An event was held at Southridge Community Church on February 22 to shed light on black history in the Lloydminster area.
Black History Month is recognized every February across Canada. Communities are encouraged to explore and celebrate black history across the country. This presentation brought together people to share their stories of coming to Canada, the challenges they faced and how they integrated with the community.
The small event was put together by Charles Balenga. He opened the presentation by asking who knew the names of black figures in history. Martin Luther King Jr., Michaëlle Jean and other figures prominent in black history were recognized for their work. Balenga also shared his own story of coming to Canada from Africa in 1996. To him, Black History Month is a way to help break down barriers between people and learn more about each other.
“The more we know about people, the more we can embrace them. Because what you don’t know, you usually get scared of. The more we get to know each other, the more we see that they’re humans like us, they have aspirations like us, they want to raise a family like us, they want to live a good life like us. There should be more awareness of who everybody is,” says Balenga.
Balenga shared how white families included him when he arrived here in Canada. Being welcomed by other Canadians when he arrived here helped him feel part of the community and grow a desire to participate. Balenga says that his warm experiences when he first arrived in Canada were helpful for his own integration.
“The one who is embracing them, and the one who is being embraced, it’s really a win-win situation. They’ll both feel like this is our community. Right now in Lloydminster, I feel like this is my home. I’m not visiting here, this is my home. I’m sitting here and asking, what can I do to contribute to the building of Lloydminster?”
The Lloydminster Regional Archives were also present to discuss the Shiloh Church. This old church is a historic site just north of Maidstone and marks where the first black community in Saskatchewan settled in 1910. Looking ahead to next year, Balenga hopes to expand on that local heritage to tell the story of black history in the Lloydminster area.
“I’ve heard that there’s a man who’s a descendant of the Shiloh community close to the Maidstone area. Right now I’m working on how we can have him come and share his story, and be part of a larger black history celebration for next year. This was really to give us launch, and we want to build that and invite more people to celebrate.”
Mayor Aalbers was also present to celebrate local black history. Aalbers attested that he’s learning just how much black history is apart of the Lloydminster area. He explained how valuable it is to celebrate our local history, not only for how much it can teach us but as an opportunity to bring the community together.
“Our community is made up of people who have come from around the world. Those that are black, Caucasian, from countries in Asia or South America, and it’s an incredible part that brings our entire community together. To have the opportunity to learn one piece of that is a great opportunity,” says Aalbers. He adds that he’s looking forward to celebrating black history next year.