There was nary a boring black dress in sight at the African Day on the Hill Gala, which infused energy and life into the downtown core on Saturday night with live cultural performances, African cuisine, and elegant and exotic fashions.
Attendees came dressed to impress, adorned with headwear, traditional bangles and other jewelry, to the Sir John A. MacDonald Building. The former bank at 144 Wellington St. is now a federal heritage building located across from Parliament Hill.
The evening celebrated the richness and diversity of Africa’s culture and traditions. As the second-largest and second-most populated continent (after Asia), Africa is made up of 54 countries, thousands of distinct cultures, and more than a billion people.
Elder Claudette Commanda, from the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nation in Quebec, took part in the formal land acknowledgement that has become common practice for recognizing the Algonquin peoples’ ancestral ties to the land on which a ceremony or gathering is taking place. “Black is beautiful,” she enthused at the podium. “Brothers and sisters, you are beautiful. You’re so vibrant and so colourful, it puts me to shame because here I am, dressed as I am.
“I’m honoured to be here to celebrate, to celebrate who you are.”
The evening — held during Ottawa Black History Month — was hosted by Nepean Liberal MP Chandra Arya.
Among the attendees were: Valérie Assoi, the first woman of African descent to be elected as a school board trustee for Ottawa’s French Catholic school board; Camille Williams-Taylor, the new director of education at the Ottawa Carleton District School Board; and Sahada Alolo, co-chair of the Ottawa Police Service’s new Community Equity Council.
The evening began on a powerful note as Ottawa music teacher Ferline Regis wowed the room with her singing performance of O Canada. She’s just landed herself a contestant spot on the Quebec reality talent show La Voix.
On hand was John Adeyefa, president of the African Canadian Association of Ottawa (ACAO). The group is made up of more than 50 community organizations with origins from Africa.
“We are proud to enrich the Canadian social fabric,” Adeyefa, who works in IT and cyber security management for the federal Department of Finance, told the room.
Adeyefa spoke about the contributions African-Canadians have made in the fields of business, professional services, health care, education, music, sports, and literature and journalism. He also touched on some of the common challenges they face, such as social integration for new immigrants, systemic racism, and the glass ceiling effect for public sector employees. As well, there are issues of high rates of unemployment and high school dropouts.
ACAO has devised an action plan with recommendations for government, media, law enforcement agencies and the African Canadian community.
“Together, as Canadians, we need to address those challenges,” said Adeyefa. “They are interrelated and affect us all, directly or indirectly.
“We are positive we can overcome these difficulties by working hand in hand with governments and organizations.”
Addressing the issues is a win-win solution, added Adeyefa. “Everyone benefits when the African-Canadian community is prosperous.”