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Black history event was a feast for the senses

Author: Kayla Cormier

Posted on Feb 28, 2024

Category: UNB Saint John , UNB Fredericton

“Pray tell: What sight? What sound? What smell?”

These were words recited by spoken word artist Sochane Campbell at the Black History Through the Senses event last Thursday evening.

The event took place on the Fredericton campus on Feb. 15 and in Saint John at the Hans W. Klohn Commons on Feb. 22. as part of a series of Black History Month initiatives at the University of New Brunswick (UNB). It was brought to life through a collaboration with the NB Black History Society (NBBHS), Battle of the Arts NB and UNB’s Human Rights and Equity office.

It was truly a feast for the senses and took attendees on a journey from Africa around the turn of the 20th century to the arrival of the Black Loyalists and Quakers to New Brunswick in 1783, and through a history of Black people in New Brunswick.

Upon arrival, guests were met with the soothing and rhythmic sounds of a trio of djembe drums played by cultural advocate and educator, Saa Andrews. The drumming continued throughout the event and complimented the storytelling that followed.

Tables with artwork, artifacts, and flags of African countries were laid out for attendees to observe, while the vibrant colours of Ankara cloth were draped throughout the event space.

Guests received menus with six culturally significant food items along with six corresponding figures in Black history. The connections between the two became clear as the event unfolded. The food was served in creative and delicious ways, all prepared by chef Chioma Chikwendu of Saint John.

Introductions were made by Nadia Richards, associate vice-president of human rights and equity at UNB and closing remarks by Mutiat Adeleke, project and centre coordinator for the NB Black History Society.

Sochane Campbell took the podium and brought attendees through a visceral narrative journey that gave a glimpse into the trials, hardships, triumphs and joys of figures in Black and Black-Canadian history.

Sochane performed six poems by Nigerian poet Ifeyinwa Matt, each followed by an interlude of rhymes introducing the dishes that were then served to guests.

The poems told the stories of Black heroes in New Brunswick who were committed to improving the lives of others while enduring colonization, enslavement and racism. Sochane captivated the audience, delivering these stories with emotion and grace.

Black History Through the Senses was an inspiring and moving celebration of Blackness and Black joy in a new and innovative way. There was a palpable air of calm and connectedness that permeated the space while guests were delighted by the sights, smells, tastes and sounds of Black artists and Black voices.

“Black History Month is a time to remember the hard work carried out by the Black community to create equitable spaces and communities of belonging,” said Nadia Richards, associate vice-president of human rights and equity at UNB. “By honouring our history, we can cultivate a rich and diverse culture within the walls of the university and beyond. Black History is about aspiring toward a different future.”

Banner photo: The Honourable Brenda L. Murphy, Lieutenant Governor of New Brunswick, with Her Honour Linda Boyle to the left, and Ralph Thomas, founding member of NBBHS and Nadia Richards, UNB’s associate vice-president of human rights and equity to her right.