February is Black History month. Most of us are aware of the racial tensions, not only south of the border, but also here at home in Canada which have been brought to light by the “Black Lives Matter” movement. While I shudder at thoughts of racism, believing that all are created in the beauty of God’s own image, colleagues who are part of Black Clergy Network of the United Church remind me that there are many ways in which the dominant culture and race in Canada participates in implicit racism. Sometimes we are not even aware of our racist actions.
Since moving to Kamloops, I have been amazed at the number of people of different races who are part of our community. There are a large number of students at Thompson Rivers University who are from other parts of the world. There are growing ethnic communities. I know I am not going to solve all the problems that Black Lives Matters points out, but I think a starting point is awareness. Awareness of my own actions in the community and my own thoughts.
Perhaps there are small steps we can do to raise our own awareness. Awareness is becoming conscious of something. Perhaps getting to know the name of the young man from Nigeria who is pouring your coffee at Starbucks. Think of how he feels leaving his family behind to study at TRU, unable to return home until COVID is over. Or the woman from Bangladesh checking out your groceries. Perhaps she is working a long shift so she can put food on the table for her young family. When was the last time someone gave her a smile and asked how she was doing? Or the guy from Central Africa serving you in the clothes store. He came to Canada because of the freedom to be who he is as a gay man. He will never see his family again. Put yourself in his shoes for a moment. These people, while the details are changed, are examples of people I have met here in Kamloops. I wonder how we can be better in our encounters and exchanges with one another? Sometimes being aware can change our perceptions and actions.
Another thing I have decided to do is inform myself a little bit more on black culture this month. I am going to read “The Prophets” by Robert Jones Jr. A new book, recently reviewed on CBC radio, it talks about the lives of young slaves on a plantation in the American south prior to the civil war. Netflix is airing the movie “Harriett”, the story about Harriett Tubman who brought many slaves to Canada through the underground railway.
The United Church of Canada has been involved with ministries to black communities in different ways. In British Columbia, a group of black people left California in the late 1850’s and settled on Salt Spring Island for they formed a Methodist Church which in turn became Salt Spring Island United Church. Members of this group also formed what is now Shady Creek United Church north of Victoria.