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Black History Month and a reluctant local hero

Lorraine Graves   Feb-01-2018

Mary Wilson saw a need to educate Richmond residents about the significant contributions made by Black Canadians.

Photo by Chung Chow


The woman who sparked Richmond’s recognition of Black History Month is quick to spread the glory around, even asking that this article not be about her but rather all the programs on offer through our community.

“All I have done is partnered with other people and look for people in the community who have the knowledge and the resources,” Mary Wilson says.

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The program has grown over the years.

“Originally we started with just a couple of programs in the library for a round table where we talked about our lives in Canada. It just grew from there,” she says.

Richmond Public Library is partnering with the City of Richmond, Richmond Arts Centre, Chimo Community Services to present a series of programs in celebration of Black History Month.

This year’s opening ceremonies are on Friday, Feb. 2 at 4:30 p.m. inRichmond City Hall council chambers.When doors open at 4 p.m. students from Mitchell Elementary School choir will perform as the audience is being seated.

Canada Post will unveil the 2018 Black History Month stamp.

“I do want to give black people the idea that they come from a strong and a contributing culture,” she says.

Asked about her journey, Wilson, who grew up in North Carolina says: “I married a Canadian and immigrated back east and somehow ended up in Vancouver.”

A medical social worker, Wilson is retired and has lived in Richmond for 20 years. Her involvement in our community’s Black History Month flows not just from her interests but from her values as well.

“I just have an interest in history. I got started to educate everybody about the contributions of the black people of Canada. I try to involve people of black ancestry, black people from Canada, many mixed, and from many places, so that we get to know one another’s histories as well as share that history with the larger population and to have the children in schools be aware of black history. That’s important as well.”

There were a large number of “free blacks” invited to B.C., she says, by our first colonial governor, Sir James Douglas, himself black. The creator of Richmond’s first cannery was John Sullivan Deas, after whom the island and slough are named. He was a tin-smith who came from California at Douglas’s invitation.

Wilson says her upbringinginfluenced her to start Richmond’sobservances.

“People from the black community have a sense of community and family. You didn’t sit at home doing for yourself. You did for your community. You contributed to your community, usually through volunteering. Those are the beliefs that are instilled in me. You are out there helping someone else because it is a privilege.”

The black community sets a good example, often encouraged in the rest of Canada, with a strong history of volunteering, of pitching in and of helping out neighbours.

“We have a lot more in common and a lot more connections than we realize,” she says.

Registration is required*

For info or to register, visit rpl.yourlibrary.ca/events_calendar or speak to a library staff member.

• Sat. Feb. 10, 10:30 a.m. – 12 p.m. Afro-Canadians and their Contributions to the Canadian War Efforts Speaker Carmen Lake

• Sat. Feb. 10, 2 – 4 p.m. Story-Powering our Youth through Dance and Storytelling Youth performance

• Sat. Feb. 17, 11 – 1 p.m. Hogan’s Alley Historical photographic display (drop-in, no registration required)*

• Sat. Feb. 17, 2 – 3:30 p.m. Inspired Inventions African inventors and 3D printing

• Sat. Feb. 18, 2 – 3 p.m. To be Seen and Unseen: The Duality of Growing up Black in Vancouver Singer Dawn Pemberton shares stories of her childhood experiences.


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